The Ss. Simon and Jude School community lost a wee bit of its authentic Irish heritage July 17. Sr. Christine Gilsenan, IBVM, peacefully entered eternal rest while surrounded by fellow Loreto Sisters who have staffed Ss. Simon and Jude since 1954. She was 83.
Sr. Christine Gilsenan, IBVM
Born: Dec. 23, 1935
Solemn Profession: Sept. 29, 1954
Service in the Diocese of Phoenix since 1957:
Ss. Simon and Jude School
St. Jerome School
Sacred Heart School, Prescott
San Francisco de Asís, Flagstaff
Died: July 17, 2018
Her own natural sister was also by her side. Sr. Christine left the Emerald Isle for Phoenix in 1957. Just a few years prior she was part of the Irish teenagers who prayed that the Loreto sisters already serving their school accept the invitation to establish Arizona roots.
Sr. Christine vividly remembered the moment a sister announced the Loreto’s answer would be “yes.”
“I knew I had been thinking of religious life and I had an aunt in the Mercy and I wasn’t sure if I should go that direction, but at the moment when she made that announcement, I felt zapped by the Spirit or something,” Sr. Christine explained during a 2014 interview on “The Bishop’s Hour.” “I knew at that moment that I was going to give my life to Jesus and it would be in Phoenix, Arizona where I would spend the rest of my life.”
Sr. Christine was born in Trim, County Meath, Ireland. She was one of four children and had an uncle who was a priest. She earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of San Diego with further studies in theology and Ignatian Spirituality at St. Louis University.
She spent the bulk of her religious life on the teacher side of the classroom. There were some stints at St. Jerome, Sacred Heart in Prescott and what is now San Francisco de Asís in Flagstaff. Ss. Simon and Jude was where she left a deep legacy, however.
“She was the heart and soul of the music and the arts at that school. She was like the ‘Pied Piper’ with the children. If there was a piano or guitar there was Sr. Christine,” said Mary Novotny, a former Ss. Simon and Jude parent who later became a Mary Ward Associate, the Loreto’s third order.
Sr. Christine inspired Novotny’s three sons to learn guitar and taught her daughter in second grade at least 30 years ago. Ss. Simon and Jude students learned all kinds of songs: religious, fun, Irish ballads and classical.
“I can still picture the [school] kids singing, ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ using sign language,” Novotny said.
A former school mom and associate reportedly sang that to Sr. Christine the morning she passed away. When convent visitors learned of Sr. Christine’s musical talent, she’d take song requests. They quickly bridged into sing-alongs.
The Loreto sister also introduced generations to fine art via the Art Masterpiece Program. Volunteer parents carry on the work of sharing insight behind great artists and movements followed by hands-on practice.
“Sr. Christine, even though she was a very little woman, was a very strong woman. She was not afraid to stand up for what she believed and she had a very lovely ‘Irish’ way about doing that,” Novotny said.
She was also a resident expert on Mary Ward, foundress of the Loreto sisters. She shared the heritage on “The Bishop’s Hour.” She’d quiz the associates for fun and prizes. During one of the last meetings Sr. Christine was able to attend, “Novotny described her as “quiet and seemingly weak, but when she got up to share with us, she came alive with an enthusiasm that surprised everyone in the room. It was beautiful. She was our true teacher about Mary Ward and her charisms.”