Sister Mary Raphael

Catherine Slavin

1854 - 1905
Sister Mary Raphael Slavin

“Blessed is the servant who treasures up in heaven the good things which his Lord hath shown him, and does not seek to manifest them to men in the hope of present reward.“

The feast of the Annunciation 1905, was rendered sadly memorable in the history of the Institute by the untimely death of Sister M. Raphael, who was in very truth, one of its best loved and devoted members, but it was especially by the Sisters of the mission house in Brockville, to whom she was extremely dear and where the sad event occurred, that the sudden and appalling sorrow was most keenly felt.

A rapid glance over the comparatively short career of this humble religious reveal nothing singular or startling, yet, so striking were her characteristics that the mention of her dear name elicits our deepest admiration. Forgetfulness of self and benevolence towards others were her favourite virtues.

Of Sr. M. Raphael’s life in the world there is little to record; she always served God in purity of life, even more fervently than the generality of edifying Catholic girls. She was born at Kingston, Dec. 20, 1854 of parents who were perfect types of what true Christians ought to be: generous, noble-minded, devoted to the church and to Christ’s poor. Almighty God blessed their union with a large, pious and industrious family of whom three daughters happily responded to the call of the Divine Master and embraced the religious state; Rose and Mary chose the Monastery of the Good Shepherd, and Catherine, who was doubtless attracted to our Community through her love of the poor and compassion for their sufferings, entered the Novitiate, Dec. 31, 1882. In this new sphere of life her fervour, her simplicity and uprightness made her the model and admiration of her Novice companions. With her heart fixed wholly on God she lived up to all that her Superiors and the rules required.

The abounding grace of God and the joy of an assured vocation carried our ardent Novice through the usual probation when the feast of the Purification 1885 witnessed the completion of her holocaust by uniting her pure soul in holy profession to her heavenly Spouse. Under the guiding care of the great Archangel Raphael whom she chose as her special patron she continued to give stronger proofs of solid virtue, greater love of prayer and of a hidden, laborious life. Devotion to the Immaculate Virgin, the fond Mother of all Christians, was inherent in our good Sister and it seems to have been the foundation of her piety and her subsequent angelic life.

By some years of experience in her paternal home she had almost reduced household economy to a science and her usefulness in the Community was increased in an acquired knowledge of pharmacy and gardening. In Sister M. Raphael’s life we have an exquisite blending of labour and prayer, she followed in the busy footsteps of Martha’s zeal serving the poor and lowly, without however, neglecting to nourish her soul with Mary’s restful peace in holy mediation and pious aspirations.

After the sad and unexpected withdrawal of our Treasurer in November 1892 the Council of the Community wisely appointed Sister M. Raphael to fill the vacancy. The responsible charge was accepted with great distrust in self but unbounded confidence in Divine Providence and as an evidence of her success in conducting the financial affairs of the Community the Chapter re-elected her to the office in 1896. Like the humble servant praised by St. Francis, Sister was ever wont to exaggerate her inability and unworthiness and conceal the good accomplished. Her compassion for the afflicted was resourceful, ready at all times to relieve the destitute and soothe the suffering with angelic patience and goodness, in her own tactful way she knew how to cheer a faint-hearted companion and to correct wrong-doing. Her whole-souled kindness extended itself to all who needed a Sister’s help in sweet Charity’s cause. Ah! If we could only interrogate those silent corridors, cellars, furnace-rooms, etc., which she vigilantly guarded while others slept, the answer would doubtless cast our zeal for the progress and security of our Institute into confusion, such hidden deeds of sterling worth are well known to the Recording Angel by whose divine agency all wearisome cares are rapidly transformed into merits that win eternal joy and peace.

Like all faithful followers of the cross, Sister met with many and severe trials, she suffered much even from the well-meaning, but by patience and superabundant grace she overcome all. She had her defects – who has not? Her words were not always stingless she struggled to conquer the evil by means of her particular examine to which she was most faithful. She looked upon the faults of others through a kindly medium and often endeavoured to brighten the face of a doubtful action, and it was this leniency she humbly sought for herself from her charitable superiors and forgiving companions.

At the General Elections held in 1902, Sr. M. Raphael was again appointed to a six years’ term in her office of Treasurer, but for reasons known only to her Ecclesiastical Superior and herself she positively declared, in presence of the assembled Chapter, her unwillingness to accept the honour and responsibility. Fearing God’s will had  been thwarted she at times bitterly lamented her action, however, the scene of her past labours changed and she gratefully received the appointment of cellarist at St. Vincent de Paul Hospital, Brockville. Constant labour and mental anxieties were beginning to tell their tale on her once robust constitution and it became necessary to give her more congenial employment which was readily found among the sick in the hospital. Her great heart went out in compassion to every form of suffering, making herself all to all with wonderful simplicity. Later she was appointed to fill the office of assistant to the Local Superior and pharmacist, positions for which her qualities of heart and mind admirably fitted her, and it was the discharge of these duties that death summoned our loved Sister to her reward. Her exemplary character was to the Sisters of that mission a social blessing, patients coveted her gentle ministrations, physicians commended her intelligent and scrupulous exactness in filling prescriptions and executing orders. Three hours before closing her eyes in death she was busily compounding medicines for the alleviation of suffering patients. She longed to die and alas, her prayer was granted, but it came all too suddenly!

By way of preparation for the feast of the Annunciation she received the sacrament of penance on the eve of our Blessed Mother’s day and at mid-night a violent attack of suffocation caused her by valvular disease of the heart, alarmed the Sisters. Hastily medical aid was applied, but to no purpose, respiration could not be restored. The Confessor arrived in time to administer Extreme Unction, but what appalling sorrow pervades the little religious family when announcement is made that Sr. M. Raphael is dead? Tears were shed and many loving hearts were crushed with grief at this cruel separation by taking away our much-loved Sister from us, but God knoweth best! In place of waking hours of care and labour He hath given His beloved rest and sleep eternal. Our suffrages for one so lovable and unselfish should be liberal for well may her Community perpetuate her name and treasure her memory!

In death a calm serenity beamed on her angelic countenance, expressing the candour, modesty and goodness which characterised her during life. Deepest sympathy was manifested for the sorrowing Community in Brockville by the clergy, physicians and citizens. A solemn Requiem Mass was chanted in the parish church, by Very Rev. Dean Murray, and the following morning the funeral services are conducted by His Grace Archbishop Gauthier in the Chapel at the Mother House. Four weeks later the remains of our cherished Sister were reverently interred together with our late venerated Mother Edward in the Community plot in St. Mary’s Cemetery and all who witnessed the touching scene sighed for the happiness which they confidently felt was now enjoyed by those generous souls, who in life, so fondly and truly loved each other.

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