The Catholic community is mourning the loss of a diocesan student turned Sister of Mercy who dedicated her life to nursing and social work.
Sr. Mary Leo Webster, RSM, who was also known as Sr. Frances, died Sept. 14. She was 90.
Sr. Mary Leo was born Frances Margaret on a farm outside of Phoenix. She was the youngest of four girls and attended what was then St. Mary’s Grammar and High school. She entered the nursing program at St. Joseph’s Hospital but joined the Sisters of Mercy before completing it.
Sr. Frances professed vows in 1949 taking the name of Mary Leo — but later returned to her birth name — and spent 18 years as a nursing supervisor in California and Phoenix. She returned to Arizona State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1969 and a master’s in social work two years later.
Her ministry took Sr. Frances back to California. That’s where she met Madonna Marie Bolton who would become a lifelong friend, a convert and a fellow Sister of Mercy.
“She was an excellent nurse. People loved her. Patients loved her. Nurses loved her,” Sr. Madonna Marie told The Catholic Sun a good week after planning her friend’s funeral services. “She had the skills of listening to people and being aware of their pain and being a special person to them.”
Even local hospital staff who didn’t work with her or know her real well, knew her impact and offered condolences when they heard of her passing. Beginning in 1980, she directed a hospital’s outreach program for low-income families and supported the local health services for Catholic Charities.
Sr. Madonna Marie noted Sr. Frances’ listening, compassion and “first above all, her love of God, which transferred to those she cared for” as her strengths as a woman religious. Sr. Frances was even known to visit the neurology floor at St. Joseph’s Hospital and ensure Sr. Frances got to medical appointments before moving to the Sisters of Mercy retirement home in California in 2011.
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Sisters of Mercy
2300 Adeline Drive
Burlingame, CA 94010
Sr. Frances’ online obituary highlighted her success as a gardener, her love of the Arizona desert and her quiet sense of humor. Sr. Madonna Marie recalled once testing her friend’s sense of humor. One spring after Sr. Frances planted seeds and inserted small signs marking the fruit that was to come, Sr. Madonna Marie placed large watermelons and cans of corn in the garden for her friend to discover.
“Her whole garden grew up overnight,” Sr. Madonna Marie quipped.
Sr. Frances spent her last months at Huger Mercy Living Center in Phoenix.