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91-year-old nun directs school during the pandemic



Magnús Sannleikur - published on 05/13/21

She's been a shining light in Catholic education for 55 years, and the pandemic wasn't about to stop her work.

Sister Mary Stephen Healey, R.D.C. is a 91-year-old nun who has been the principal of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Elmsford, New York, for 55 years—and who has not ceased to be present with her students even during the COVID-19 pandemic. She knows she’s needed, and God has given her the grace to continue.

As she says, “I guess I have a lot of those moments when I really believe I’m in the right place at the right time.” The students who see her daily in the school hallways are in awe of her courage, and hope that her health will not be affected.

Michael Deegan, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York, describes the sister, who has been part of the Religious of the Divine Compassion congregation for 71 years, in these terms: “A compassionate, devoted woman who frankly puts the needs of children before the needs of anyone else, including herself.”

Current News shared on YouTube a series of testimonials from students, teachers and diocesan officials about the nonagenarian nun, who, for her part, says nothing about herself. She prefers to praise the teachers and keep thinking about how to help students, particularly during the pandemic. She says in the video,

“So many people tell you, ‘Oh, children are so resilient.’ Yes, they’re resilient. But I can tell you, from the lowest grade up, these children are very much affected by what has happened.”

And the children rely on Sister Mary’s example to keep them strong and hopeful. In fact, one of the students says that he’s counting on her for a long time to come. Sr. Mary also talks about how long she will still be in charge of the school:

“Only God knows that. I can’t predict that. But I think I’ll know, and I think He’ll help me”.

This impact she has on her students is far from new. Jesuit priest Anthony Andreassi published a tribute to her this March, in an article on the America magazine website. “My hero-worship of Sister Stephen (and I do not use that term casually) began decades before my witness of her leadership during the pandemic … Sister Stephen has been my hero ever since I met her 40 years ago. And I know I am far from alone,” he writes.

He highlights her dedication both during the pandemic and during her previous decades of service.

“So much of our success at Mt. Carmel was thanks to the person of Sister Stephen and her fierce commitment to the students in her care by providing a Catholic education that forms the whole person.”

Her attitude has remained the same as the school demographics have changed over the years, from children of European immigrants to a much more diverse group including many Hispanic Americans. “As Sister Stephen so generously welcomed me more than four decades ago, she has continued to welcome this newest generation of students,” Fr. Andreassi writes.

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