Sister Loretta McAndrews

Sister Mary Loretta
Mary Hilda McAndrews
1924 - 1983

“Have you a place in your Community for a girl like me?” with this question Hilda McAndrews began her letter of inquiry addressed to the “Reverend Sister of Novices” at Heathfield. We did, indeed, have a place for her! In fact, she fitted in very well, having in good measure our charism of compassionate service, with supporting elements of joy and hospitality. It would have been greatly our loss if she had not come.

Hilda, daughter of Michael McAndrews and Anastasia White, was born July 28, 1924, on a farm near beautiful Westport, Ontario. She had two sisters and six brothers, but two of the latter died as children. One other brother predeceased her by some ten years.

Her elementary and high school education was completed at St. Edward’s School, Westport, under the watchful eye of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. In 1943 she graduated from Ottawa Normal School, but it was an event marked by some sadness for during that year she had suffered the tragic, sudden loss of her father.

Hilda took her first teaching position at S.S. # 19 Hungerford. During the three years she was there the family farm was sold and her mother moved into the village of Westport.

Seeing that her mother was now comfortably settled, Hilda felt free to investigate the call she had been hearing from the Lord to her heart. She had endeared herself to the people of the area where she was teaching; so when she got an encouraging answer to her letter of inquiry, she waited until the fall to come to Kingston, rather than enter in the middle of a school year and perhaps leave the school without a qualified teacher.

On August 15, 1946, Hilda, later to be known as Sr. Mary Loretta McAndrews, began her religious life. At some periods during her years of training and during temporary profession, she taught in the schools of Kingston and Chesterville. After final profession, she was missioned to Smiths Falls and lived there for the next sixteen years. During that period, in 1956, with momentum provided by Msgr. J.J. Fogarty, high school classes were initiated at St. Francis School. With Sr. M. Bernard (now Sr. Rose Collins) Sr. Loretta shared the heavy burden of teaching many subjects in those first years, but her preferred areas were geography, Latin and English. While at Smiths Falls, Sister completed her B.A. degree from Ottawa University through summer sessions. When the Sisters engaged in teaching moved from St. Francis Hospital to St. Francis Convent in the converted town Post Office, in 1966, Sr. Loretta was still with them, but in the fall of 1967 she was transferred to Perth as principal of St. John’s School.

During her ten year tenure in Perth, Sister Loretta was ever anxious for the growth of the school and its students. She did all she could to secure good teachers, and, skilled in organization, she was able to get the best from her staff. She saw that courses were attractive and truly helpful, making use of electives, the rotary system and auxiliary classes. Often she taught slow learners in her office. To up-grade her own knowledge, while in Perth, she earned her High School Assistant’s certificate, her Elementary School Principal’s certificate and certificates in Guidance, Learning Materials and Family Life. To improve facilities, she led the way in adding to the school in 1971 a library, gymnasium and science room as well as three more classrooms.

It was during this time period that the Ontario government introduced greater freedom in the choice of courses for High School students, and so there were very lean years in St. John’s Grade 9 and 10 rooms when students went in greater numbers to the local public high school to avail themselves of the options. Sr. Loretta worked closely with all the parents to help them guide their children into the educational situation that would best provide for their needs and talents, having a concern for their souls as well as their minds. Today the enrollment at the school is higher than ever, and the flourishing Grade 9 and 10 set-up is being studied by other separate school boards.

The strain of administrative responsibilities, however, was taking its toll and in 1977 Sister Loretta asked to be relieved of her work as Principal. She then came to Kingston to join the volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul outlet. Little did she then suspect that she was beginning a whole ‘second career’.

Her time at St. Vincent’s almost came to an end in January, 1978, when she responded to a Community request for Sisters to help in the foreign missions and was assigned to Guatemala. This apparently was not where God wanted her – for the following summer, when she came to Kingston for the Summer Renewal Program of the Community, her doctor advised her to remain in Canada.

In the course of her life as so far related we have made little reference to Sr. Loretta’s periodic bouts of ill health – and that is an integral part of her story, now it must be told.

As a child Sister suffered from scarlet fever and quinsy and during the physical examination required for her entrance to normal school it was discovered that she had developed a heart murmur, apparently as a result of these childhood illnesses. The defective valve caused her to be short of breath during vigorous activities, and so on October 21, 1980 she decided to have open heart surgery for a valve replacement. It was always a cause of amazement to those who knew of her heart condition that she could play the harmonica for long stretches without becoming winded. Harmonica playing was skill she ‘inherited’ from her father, and his instrument, her most treasured possession, was her favorite one to play. And play she did! Whenever and wherever music and fun were called for, she would be there leading the way. She could also call off square dances and loved to join in them or teach others the steps. Her fine alto voice was a welcome addition to many a choir. In the end, it was not clear whether death came as a result of her heart condition, or from the breast cancer which was discovered in the spring of 1979, or from the interaction of the two conditions.

Sister Loretta’s battle with cancer was a long and painful one as she proved to be highly sensitive to the medications and treatments prescribed in an effort to curb the progress of the tumors. She remarked one day that, in all, she had tried ten different types of treatment, none of which gave hope for more than a short time. During the four and one-half year of cancer therapy, she courageously continued with her work, arranging, as far as possible, to have her treatments on a Thursday or Friday so that she would have the weekend to recover from the side effects and be ready to return to work on Monday. Keeping this health picture in mind, we continue her story.

Unable to return to Guatemala, Sister Loretta threw herself wholeheartedly into the service of Kingston’s poor at the St. Vincent de Paul depot. In January of 1979 she was appointed director. Both the Sisters who worked with her and the group of devoted lay volunteers that she soon gathered were inspired by her dedication and attracted by her warn personality. Her skill at organization transformed the appearance and operation of the depot.

In order to be available to those she served and anxious to try a simpler life style, which the Chapter of 1977 supported, Sister requested and received permission to move in May, 1980, to a small bungalow belonging to the St. Vincent de Paul Society and on the same property as the warehouse. Sr. Inez Donovan was appointed as her companion. Their furniture, as St. Loretta put in the annals, consisted of odds and ends and they determined to live frugally out of a common fund.

In the flowing summer Sister Loretta was still well enough to spend six weeks in the inner city of Detroit – St. Agnes parish – on a program of Prayer and Evangelization directed by Fr. Edward J. Farrell. This program brought her into further direct contact with the poor and she also met some of the Sisters of the order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She came home inspired to do even more to assist Kingston’s needy people.

By September, 1981, the little bungalow at 83 Stephen Street boasted of a small chapel. Sr. Loretta and Sr. Kathleen Morrell, who replaced Sr. Inez, tried to spend a Holy Hour every day to pray for the work of St. Vincent’s and for a cure for Sr. Loretta’s cancer. The work did move ahead, but unfortunately, the cure did not.

In January of 1982 a Hospitality Centre was added to the St. Vincent de Paul complex. One hot meal is served each day to all who come. Fr. William Burns, local president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, was the originator of the idea and he was a constant support to Sr. Loretta in seeing it through to full operation.

By the end of the second year at 83 Stephen Street, it was clear that Sister Loretta’s illness required that she return to residence at the Motherhouse where the infirmary facilities would be readily available each time she needed them. Nevertheless, until a few months before her death, she continued to go to work as regularly as she could. Her interest in St. Vincent’s depot continued unto the end.

As the cancer advanced, spreading to the bones of the spine and pelvis, Sister required more frequent hospitalization for brief periods. When she was taken to the Hotel Dieu on the afternoon of November 7, most presumed it was yet another of these trips. Sister, herself, asked not to have company so that she could rest. About nine o’clock the following morning she lapsed into unconsciousness and died shortly afterwards. There was not time for any of the Sisters to go to her bedside, but Fr. Brian McNally, the hospital chaplain, was quickly summoned and Sr. Dorothy O’Neill, newly appointed to the Hotel Dieu pastoral care staff, arrived shortly after her death.

The Funeral Mass on November 10, 1983, was celebrated by Archbishop F.J. Spence, with thirteen priests concelebrating. The homily was given by Fr. Brian Price, Sister’s spiritual director. His remarks that God uses frail human nature with its faults to spread the Faith, reminded us of the efforts Sister Loretta had made in the weeks just prior to her death to be reconciled to everyone whom she felt she might have offended in the least way. Father also pointed out that sister accepted the idea of offering her suffering for the needs of others. About a week before she died Sister Loretta had said to Sr. Muriel Gallagher, our Superior General, “I am trying not to lose one bit of my suffering.”

Four of Sister Loretta’s eight living classmates served as pallbearers, with four nephews as honorary pallbearers. The ladies of St. John’s Kingston, CWL formed a guard of honour – the St. Vincent de Paul outlet being located in that parish. Words of tribute were presented by Mr. Greg McNally, principal of St. John’s School, Perth. A large number of relatives, friends and work associates were present as well as the Sisters. Sister Loretta’s mother was the subject of her devoted attention even while she was ill herself, but at 94 years of age, her mother was too feeble to attend the funeral. Prayers for the interment in St. Mary’s cemetery were led by Fr. J.R. Rowell of Westport.

The charitable efforts recounted above were supported by Sr. Loretta McAndrew’s innate love of people and by a strong spiritual life. Sister often recited her own version of Pere Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment. In it she says, “For me it is a necessity of love, this gift of myself, this placing of myself in your hands, without reserve, in boundless confidence, because you are my Father.”

Archbishop Spence, at the close of the Funeral Mass, said, “She saw Christ in others, and now He will show Himself to her.”