Sister M. Josepha (Mary Rita Cullen), CSC
(March 4, 1915 - September 28, 2013)
Word has been received of the death of Sister M. Josepha (Mary Rita Cullen) who died at 3:45 a.m. on Saturday, September 28, 2013 in Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana.
Gregarious and joyous are the words that immediately come to mind as descriptive of Sister Josepha’s bubbly personality. She loved people and they in turn responded to her outgoing and welcoming attitude.
Her gentle and loving nature was clearly manifested in her deep devotion to her biological family, her friends and to the members of her Holy Cross family—she loved them with an intensity that was typical of her total embrace of the everyday events of life. Those whose lives she touched never forgot her and she never forgot them.
Even today, Steve, Tom, Michael and Jack (Fr. John, S.J.) Donald, the four sons of her childhood “soul mate”, Elaine, kept in touch with “Sister Rita,” as they familiarly called her, right up until the time of her death. Steve wrote on Tuesday: “After knowing Sister Rita for so long, and her sense of devotion to our Lord and the Sisters of the Holy Cross, I know her reward will be great. We can only hope and pray that we will be received with such reward when our time comes as well.” And Father John, on Friday, wrote from his mission in Honduras, “I thank you for your updates on Sister Josefa. She is one of our family from the beginning when she was my mother´s best friend. She is in my prayers and I am sure she will have a special place in heaven.” What devotion for this loving and dedicated religious.
Though her early education was with the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Denver, Colorado, where she grew up, her father’s transfer to California necessitated her change to Saint Agnes High School in Los Angeles, California for her senior year. This was the “hand of God” as she described it because it was here that she first met the Sisters of the Holy Cross and decided, “This is the community for me.” And she then dedicated 81 years of service to the Lord in Holy Cross.
The first 33 years of Sister Josepha’s teaching career were spent in the elementary grades of the schools in the West. She acknowledged that her greatest love was teaching junior high students where she was a genius at drawing out the best in the teenagers in her charge. However, the richness of her artistic talent and her master’s degree in fine arts gave a new direction to her teaching life when in 1968 she was assigned to teach art at Holy Cross High School in Mountain View, California. For the next 20 years she cajoled and guided the sometimes reluctant high school students to exercise their own creative talents in producing works in a verity of artistic mediums. No matter what grade level or subject material she taught, her engaging, joyous and compassionate nature made the atmosphere in her classroom more of a “love fest” than a strict teacher-pupil relationship. The students loved her.
This same beautiful spirit was carried into each local convent where she lived. Because of this wonderful amiable disposition Sister Josepha was often appointed superior and or principal in her various mission assignments. Success was her middle name but it was never taken for granted. She worked tirelessly to maintain a joyous and forgiving atmosphere wherever she was.
Sister Josepha’s talents extended in many directions. Even in her retirement years she was often asked to design cards for special occasions or produce massive amounts of name tags or table placement cards in her delicate calligraphy which were in themselves works of art.
Cooking was another talent she used to enrich the lives of those fortunate enough to live with her. Because of the fame of her various dishes she was asked to produce a cookbook that became a collector’s item. As long as the supply of books lasted, she sat at a table at the annual Christmas bazaar to personalize her autographs for each book purchased. Sister Josepha shared her many talents generously.
She writes of herself, “I would like to be remembered as a happy person grateful to God for all his gifts to me, especially the parents and family I had and the gift of a calling to a religious state of life in the Congregation family of Holy Cross where I have made many kind friends.” Sister Josepha is definitely remembered for these and for the exceptional gift she was to all who met her.
Funeral arrangements for Sister Josepha are as follows: Reception of the body and wake on Wednesday, October 2, 2013, at 4:00 p.m. with the Mass of Resurrection on Thursday, October 3, 2013, at 10:30 a.m. All of these ceremonies will take place in the Church of Our Lady of Loretto. May Sister Josepha rest in peace.