sister mary agnes puricelli
Sister Mary Agnes Puricelli
August 22, 1928 – September 12, 2010
Humility—the word that comes to mind when one characterizes S. Mary Agnes Puricelli. She would not appropriate it to herself, but as she lived her life and served in ministry, she was always unassuming, putting others before herself and being “neighbor with neighbor.”
S. Mary Agnes was the second of three children and raised by Italian parents, Caesar and Assunta Crespi Puricelli. She grew up in that storied neighborhood of the Hill in St. Louis. Baptized Dorothy Caroline, she attended St. Ambrose School, which she loved. When she learned that her beloved teachers, the Sisters of Loretto, were leaving the school, she joined with other seventh grade children in holding a “strike” by not going to school. Her father’s words, “You are going to do what the pastor asks. I don’t want any of you not going to St. Ambrose,” and the “strike” ended. They all grew to love their new teachers, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart.
During her school years, S. Mary Agnes nurtured a desire to be a sister, but told herself she was not holy enough. When her sister, Agnes, announced she was going to be a Sister of St. Joseph, she was surprised and dismayed. Two years later, she joined her sister at Carondelet. In those novitiate years, while the two were not allowed to converse with each other, they found ways to steal a few moments together in cozy corners.
S. Mary Agnes had expressed a wish to be a nurse, but that was not to be. Instead she was to become an elementary teacher. She loved teaching and was missioned in Waco, Denver and St. Louis. For nine years, she was principal at Holy Guardian Angels School; she was fearless there, trying her best always to instill pride in the students and their school. Eventually her ministry took her to Carondelet where she was provincial secretary for 14 years and then later to Nazareth Living Center where she volunteered with S. Rita McGovern.
S. Suzanne Giblin loved to joke with her about how S. Mary Agnes always made her “look good” as a provincial team member. At Carondelet, S. Mary Agnes worked quietly and well, never giving a thought to attract compliments; instead she was interested in and supportive of others. While she never seemed to take herself seriously, she had a great influence on others with her personal ministry of hospitality, especially when she helped S. Rita McGovern at Nazareth Living Center. Her genuine smile greeted everyone.
A trip to Europe with S. Pat Flavin must have been a highpoint of her life. That journey of four weeks she often recalled with great joy. It was a time for returning to her roots by visiting Cujourno, a small town outside Milan, where her father had been born. There she touched into her family’s heritage by standing near the graves of her grandparents. But not only that. The two went to LePuy and Lyon. In all those travels, especially in Switzerland, S. Mary Agnes basked in the beauty of it all. She and S. Pat capped off their travels by going to Ireland—welcomed this time by S. Pat’s family.
The death of her sister, Agnes, was a profound sorrow for her. Agnes had contracted breast cancer and had supposedly overcome it. However it recurred after several years and had metastasized. Agnes’ suffering injury from a traffic accident probably precipitated her death according to S. Mary Agnes. Not long after Agnes’ return to Nazareth, she died peacefully. Within six months, their only brother died. So S. Mary Agnes was left the survivor among her siblings.
After a fall, she recuperated at Nazareth Living Center and eventually decided that living at Nazareth would not be too bad. Again she could be of service to S. Rita McGovern.
S. Mary Agnes’ heart was filled with love but physically it grew weaker and weaker. Her heart finally gave out on Sunday, Sept. 12 when God called her to Himself. As she did throughout her life, she listened and responded to God’s desire for her—this time it was for eternal happiness.
S. Rita Louise Huebner