Sr. Eleanor Agnes Sheehan, CSJ (Aka Sr. Agnes Patrice, CSJ) passed away this month at the age of 90 . She was a beautiful woman inside and out; a faithful Sister of St. Joseph whose life was dedicated to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Sister Eleanor knew not only that she wanted to become a Sister but her reason for saying YES to that vocation stemmed from the fact that she knew she loved God and wanted to spend her life serving Him.
Eleanor Agnes was born October 29, 1928 in Denver, Colorado to James & Mary Agnes Marron Sheehan. Eleanor and her brother, Jim, grew up in the Catholic faith in this scripture-loving family at a time when most Catholic homes did not even own a Bible.
At the age of 18 she left home traveling to Carondelet. She entered the community on September 15, 1947. The following March she received the habit and name Sr. Agnes Patrice. While at Carondelet she worked on her first degree from Fontbonne College and her first years of ministry were teaching in various grade schools in St. Louis. From 1950-55 she taught primary grades at Saints Mary & Joseph School; in 1955 she was thrilled to be able to leave the Carondelet campus and taught intermediate grades at Nativity School; a year later she went to Holy Rosary School. Impressed with her knowledge of and love of Scripture the community asked her to begin studying theology in 1957. She was chosen to study at Regina Mundi College in Rome, Italy. From 1958-1964 she was on the teaching faculty at Fontbonne where she influenced not only the young sisters in formation at the time but also many of the girls who she knew would be future wives and mothers. Her dream and goal was to help all of her students learn to read, study and love the Word of God.
From 1964-67 she worked on her Masters degree in theology and was preparing to return to teaching at Fontbonne when she was offered the chance to get her Doctorate in Dogmatic Theology….another degree from the Catholic University of America. She felt blessed to influence not only the girls in the college but also the young sisters who were in the Juniorate on the Fontbonne campus.
Students commented on her sparkling blue eyes and her ready smile. Many of them asked for her help and she found herself beginning to give them spiritual direction too. Eager to be able to get closer to students on this deeper level caused her to seek out a new ministry…that of Campus Minister at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. For the next six years she taught scripture classes; helping plan liturgies that appealed to the young students and partying with them. They would invite her to their house parties and cook outs because she was a sister who knew and appreciated them. She was there for them in good times and difficult times. Many parents thanked her for guiding their sons and daughters when they were on the East Lansing campus. She really liked being available to the students and in fact found herself almost “on call” 24/7 because college students felt comfortable calling her any hour of the day or night to talk over a problem.
Always a committed Sister of St. Joseph she accepted being called to serve as a Provincial Councilor from 1977-1980. This ministry gave her more contact with the sisters throughout the province because she also served as a Regional Superior. She didn’t particularly like living out of a suitcase but if that’s what God was asking of her, she was willing to do it. She liked having the opportunity to meet with the sisters and especially to pray with them.
In September of 1980 she boarded a plane to Oahu, Hawaii where she began to work as the Adult Education Consultant for the Diocesan Religious Education Office in Kaneohe, Oahu. It was challenging for her because she was so far from home but never homesick because she had other Sisters of St. Joseph to be with. Learning and being exposed to other cultures was a gift for her too.
Sr. Eleanor felt that she had much more to learn especially if she was going to be able to be available as a Spiritual Director. In 1983 she studied at the Jesuit Renewal Center in Milford, Ohio. And the next year she went to the LEBH House of Prayer in Sarita, Texas where she tried to discern where God wanted her to share her gifts.
She went to St. Mary Parish in Littleton, Colorado where she taught adults and was so happy to be back home in Colorado. Her parents were deceased but she got closer to her brother Jim and his family. They always made sure they spent holidays together.
She said, “After serving all of my religious life in Missouri, Michigan and Hawaii, I now have the great happiness of ministering in my own state of Colorado. It is a joy to serve the Church which was the source of my vocation.”
She was now a staff member at Sacred Heart Retreat House, a beautiful place in the foothills of the Rockies in Sedalia, Colorado. There she worked with eight Jesuit priests and brothers. She preached and directed retreats. She surprised herself when one day, she said, when it dawned on her that she had always loved teaching theology and never thought anything else could give her as much joy as that until she got to Sacred Heart Retreat House.
She lived with her friend, Wendy Ebert, in a townhouse about 20 minutes drive from the Retreat House. Wendy shared the faith and life values of the sisters of St. Joseph and especially enjoyed the times the sisters would come to visit Sr. Eleanor. Wendy was faithful about visiting Sr. Eleanor in St. Louis, as well, until her own health gave out.
Besides really liking her new ministry at the Retreat House, it always gave her great joy when sisters of St. Joseph would choose to do their annual retreats in Sedalia. As the first woman director of the Retreat Center she was always so warm and welcoming. Some said of her, “It isn’t the range of her topics, which appeal to both women and men. It isn’t merely that she speaks with the authority of a theologian. Nor is it simply because of her spiritual maturity. People flock to Eleanor because she exudes the very spirit of Jesus. Like the Jesus she follows, she loves, respect, and accepts each person just as he or she is. To experience one of Eleanor’s retreats is to get a glimpse of the great love God has for us" ... a beautiful testimony to a life well-lived.
Even during the years when Eleanor was afflicted with dementia, she always had a smile on her face and, in her own way, let others know that she appreciated the loving care given to her. What a wonderful embrace she must have experienced when she was welcomed into the loving arms of our Lord.
Please pray for us Eleanor, that we can be as happy and holy as you were and are. May she rest in Peace. AMEN!!
A memorial mass was celebrated on February 20, 2019 at the Nazareth Living Center with burial at Resurrection Cemetery in St. Louis, MO . Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis Province, 6400 Minnesota Ave., St. Louis,MO 63111-2899.