Sr. Sheila Callaghan (1937-2020)

Sheila P. Callaghan, SNDdeN, passed away at the Kaplan House in Danvers, Mass, early Saturday morning, February 1st, 2020, after a very brief illness.

The beloved daughter of Irish immigrants, the late William and Julia (Lucey) Callaghan, Sr. Sheila was born in Boston, one of four children. Raised and educated in Roslindale, Mass., she was a graduate of Archbishop Cushing High School, in South Boston, along with the Class of 1954.

Sister Sheila continued her education at a Secretarial School in Boston, and had secured herself a position at the Nabisco Company.

Sister Sheila also graduated from Emmanuel College, with a Degree in Education. Her pursuit of knowledge and keeping up with the changes in education were always important to her.

Sheila had been discerning her future and the call to serve God as a religious. In 1956, she joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, becoming one with the Lord and with the Sisters. For over the last sixty-three years, Sr. Sheila P. Callaghan SNDdeN, dedicated her life to God and to the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to proclaim the goodness of God.

Sr. Sheila’s sense of mission brought her to many places, situations, and events. She was a dedicated teacher and principal. She always brought out the best in her students, teachers and all those with whom she came in contact.

In the spirit of her life’s mission, Sr. Sheila traveled to New Mexico, where she spent almost a decade on the Navajo reservation; teaching her students life skills and a lot about love, life, and the presence of God in their lives.

Upon returning to the Boston Area, Sr. Sheila responded to the needs of the immigrant population in the Lowell and Lawrence areas. In teaching to this population, she opened many doors for all her students, assisting them in finding jobs, going to school, church and being able to not just help themselves, but others.

For over the past decade, Sr. Sheila made her home in Woburn, MA, continuing her ministry of proclaiming God’s goodness to the local community and others.

For sixty-three years, Sr. Sheila gave of herself in every way possible, to every person she met along her way. Kindness, honesty, truthfulness, joy, and a sincere and loving nature are qualities that best describe Sr. Sheila. She exemplified these all throughout her life. She lived a life of integrity, prayer, and dedication to the spirit and ideals of Saint Julie Billiart foundress of the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.

We know that Sr. Sheila is now safely home in heaven, resting in God’s arms. Rest in Peace, our dear friend.

Beloved daughter of the late William and Julia (Lucey) Callaghan. Loving sister of William and John Callaghan of West Roxbury and the late Jeremiah Callaghan, his late wife Sandra Curtis. Very dear and special cousin of Maureen Walsh and her family of Hingham. Cherished aunt of Sheila Callaghan, her husband Kevin Scheeler of Wakefield and Kevin Callaghan, his wife Tawny of Marblehead. Adored great-aunt of Patrick, Kristen, Derrick, Dylan and Emma. Sr. Sheila is lovingly survived by many loving cousins, here and in Ireland, as well as numerous friends, colleagues and former students.

A Funeral Mass was Celebrated, on Saturday, February 8th in St. Barbara Church, Woburn, MA. Sr. Sheila is interred in Calvary Cemetery, Winchester, MA.

Reflection on Sr. Sheila's Life

by Sr. Edie Daly, SNDdeN

Sheila loved dates. She probably had something noteworthy to acknowledge for at least 300 days of the year. Many dates were birthdays or anniversaries of loved ones; others were significant moments in her own life such as her birthday, her entrance date to Notre Dame, the day she was named Sr. William Julianne in honor of her parents, her vow dates; still others were Saints days.

Sheila said she came to know St. Julie Billiart, founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the Sisters of Notre Dame when she began high school at Archbishop Cushing High School in South Boston. Personally, I think Sheila had the SNDs in her DNA since the day of her birth! She was Notre Dame. Can you imagine her doing anything else with her life?

Sheila could probably tell you the dates she began her ministries in Hudson, Marblehead, Lowell, Lawrence, Beverly, Somerville and Thoreau, New Mexico. In each of these ministries, she was the consummate educator – as teacher and principal. The impact she made on the students and teachers in these schools is still felt today. Just go to the online guestbook with her obituary and read the comments written by former students and colleagues – some of whom she taught or worked with more than 50 years ago.

She knew the important dates in the lives of those she loved because relationships were at the core of her life. Her relationship with God, with family and friends, with her Sisters, with students and co-workers – in fact with almost everyone she met! She would know all about her server when she went out to eat – would get to know people in the checkout lines at the grocery store. Even during her days in the hospital, she learned the life stories of all her caregivers.

In recent years, Sheila filled empty dates in her calendar reaching out to others, what she called her Ministry of the Heart. She and Nancy helped many a Sister pack up her apartment and assist with moves to new communities. Along with Paula, they made sure our vacation home in Wells, Maine was well-cared for so that others could enjoy it. Perhaps the greatest acknowledgement and tribute of all she did for our Notre Dame community was when, not too long ago, a Sister told me that she wanted to be like Sheila and Nancy when she finished her full-time ministry.

Mission, prayer and community were at the core of her life – a life she celebrated, enjoyed, and at times danced her way through. As Sisters of Notre Dame, we say we are women with hearts as wide as the world. Sheila embodied this tenet of our charism. She welcomed all into her circle, was a mentor to new teachers, mentored new members of our Notre Dame community. If she wasn’t able to be present at a vow day or other important moment in the life of a newer member, she would always call or send a card or candle to mark the occasion.

A couple of years ago, Sue Raymo and Barbara Beauchamp did a video with Sheila and Nancy, a reflection on what our Notre Dame charism to proclaim the goodness of God meant to them. Sheila’s remarks on that day speak eerily to these past months. She said:

Julie just trusted that no matter what she was facing, it was going to be OK – whether it was a good thing or a bad thing – because she walked with God.

It’s clear that Sheila had this same trust she ascribed to Julie, that she knew everything was going to be OK no matter the challenge because she too walked with God.

In the video, Sheila then said:
People said that when they saw Julie they felt they were seeing the walking love of God.

Sheila went on to say she’d love for people to say this of her as well. Well Sheila, your wish is fulfilled because we can say this of you. When those in your life encountered you, they experienced the walking love of God.

And so Sheila, on February 1st, another date was added to your calendar. On that date, the feast day of St. Brigid, the patron saint of your beloved Ireland, you began your new life, joining with the Callaghan and Lucey clans, and with so many Sisters of Notre Dame and friends to continue a life of dancing, celebrating and walking in the love of God.

Sheila, you rarely ended a visit or phone call without saying “I love you”. Today, I say to you – I love you. We say to you – We love you.