Sr. Francis Louise Sheridan of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was born Agnes Theresa Sheridan in Brooklyn, NY to Mary and William Sheridan. She was baptized at St. Agnes Church in Brooklyn on July 15, 1930. She was the youngest of 4 children. Francis Louise was familiar with the Cenacle from early on because her sister Mary, entered our community when Francis Louise was only 10 years old. Francis Louise was also part of the MCA before she entered. In a letter to her sister Mary when she was still in high school, she wrote of her apostolic work with the MCA, “I really love the work, though, and never, I can honestly say, do I feel happier than when I’m doing work with the Outer Cenacle. Not even on my birthday or when I get a new dress.” Francis Louise entered on September 24, 1949, made her first profession of vows on March 25, 1951 and her final profession of vows on March 25, 1954.
Sr. Francis Louise graduated from Seton Hall University in 1966 with a degree in Sociology and received an MSW from Catholic University in 1969. She was continually updating in her field of social work as well as spirituality. She attended workshops on Disaster Training, Refugee workshops, Legalization Training, Post- abortion Counseling, Serendipity groups, Transactional Analysis, Appalachian workshops to name a few as well as many workshops and courses in the Catholic Charismatic Leadership. Sr. Francis Louise said that it was the Catholic Charismatic Movement that was the “thread that helped her make the connection between her activities and the spiritual dimension.” She was a real community person. She served on various committees in our community and was in regional and local leadership as was a consultant to the Holy Name of Jesus Trust. Sr. Francis Louise’s Missionary life as an MSBT began in Attleboro in 1951. She was there for a few short months. In September 1951 until September 1969 Sr. Francis Louise ministered in Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Trenton, first in the city of Trenton, then in Fords, New Jersey and returned to the city of Trenton in 1960. Eighteen years! In September 1969, she was missioned to Catholic Social Services in Harrisburg, Pa. and worked in the York office. In September 1975, she was missioned to Charlotte, North Carolina for the next 18 years; eight of those years as Director of Refugee Resettlement Office and also Director of Catholic Social Services. In September of 1993 she was missioned to Mobile, Alabama, first as Diocesan Director for Catholic Social Services until 2004 and the next 11 years at Allen Memorial Nursing Home as a Social Worker. Twenty two years in Mobile. You can definitely say, Francis Louise had ‘staying power.’ As she said herself once, “I am more of a settler than a pilgrim.”
Sr. Francis Louise’s goals on our ministry evaluation sheets each year were imbued with Cenacle values. “Be a light in the darkness”, “Be good, do good, be a power for good.”, “to stay attuned to the Spirit within:,” “to stay open to the promptings of the Spirit,”, “ to be a channel of grace for residents and staff.” She was so creative in ministry which she saw as responding to unmet needs and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As Director of Catholic Social Services in two dioceses, Mobile and Charlotte she began many ‘pilot’ programs while she searched for adequate funding. Many of these ‘pilot’ programs developed into successful responses to unmet needs. One newspaper article from The Catholic News and Herald in Charlotte, North Carolina described her this way, “Typically, she sees a need and fills it, finding competent people to manage the project. She delegates, She is not controlling but in control. She guides. She doesn’t dictate.” Monsignor Kerin of Charlotte said of her once, “What I consider so special about sister is she seems to be the one who seeks out needs of people that aren’t being met. She’s available and flexible.” She was steeped in the Cenacle Charism.
Francis Louise was perhaps known especially for her ministry as the Director of the Refugee Settlement as part of Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Charlotte from 1975 through 1983. Over these eight years she directed the settlement of more than 2000 refugees. Most were Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong and Cambodian but there were also some from Poland, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Cuba, Haiti, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The resettlement in Charlotte under her direction was one of the most successful in the entire country. The Mayor of Charlotte recognized her work and proclaimed June 20, 1983 as Sr. Francis Louise Sheridan Day in the City of Charlotte. She received many awards and honors for her work in resettlement, from the Governor of North Carolina, the National Council of Christians and Jews in Charlotte, The Refugee Resettlement Office of Region IV of the Federal Government and the National Office of the Campaign for Human Development. She also received a humanitarian award from the Migrant and Refugee Services of the United States Catholic Conference.
Not only was Francis Louise concerned about the physical and material welfare of the refugees, she noted that the Cambodians were relocating to other cities. Francis Louise said they weren’t sure how to respond to this and one refugee suggested that they provide a place a worship for the Cambodians, many of whom were Buddhist. In keeping with the spirit of Vatican II, the Diocese of Charlotte offered spiritual hospitality by leasing a house which the Cambodian community could use as a Temple. This coincided with a visit to the States by a Buddhist Monk, Maha Ghossananda. For her efforts in helping them open this temple, the Buddhist community named the temple the Sister Francis Sheridan Temple. This was only the beginning of her connection with Maha, who was known as Cambodia’s ‘Ghandi.’ Maha had requested an appointment with Pope John Paul II regarding a Peace Walk into Cambodia. Maha invited Sr. Francis Louise to join him in the appointment. She did. She visited a refugee camp in Thailand with him where many Cambodians had sought refuge. They had meetings in Rome with the Apostolic Delegate and those in the office of Non-Christian Religions about the Refugee situation. And they were granted the opportunity of a general audience, a special box at the general audience and a private audience with the Holy Father. This is a much bigger story than can be told here. In a newspaper article profile about her, she was once asked, “What was your most memorable vacation? “ Her answer: “Visiting refugee camps in Thailand with a wonderful Buddhist monk and journalist Gail Sheehey.” “What you would like to get around to doing one of these days?” Her answer: “Staying at Refugee Camps.”
Her last ministry was at Allen Memorial Nursing Home in Mobile and she described it this way in a letter a few months after she started there, “Allen and I have become a very workable match…It reminds me of the Service Center, the Refugee Office and ER rolled into one on one of their busier days. The staff are very skilled and supportive and to my own surprise I feel very much at home.” She retired officially from the Allen on June 30, 2015. Her letter of resignation was typically a Francis Louise letter. She wrote to the administrator, “During the month of June, I will reach the age of 85. For me to stay at ALLEN longer would feel ‘like I came to dinner and did not know when to go home.’” Although she left there formally on June 30th she continued to be involved until her last day in Mobile, August 31st 2015. For the last four years she was being treated for leukemia as well as lung cancer but still working 6 days a week with the staff and residents she loved at Allen, and of course, the animals!
On August 31st Sister Francis Louise closed the Cenacle in Mobile and began her ‘mini sabbatical’ that she had planned for quite a long time. She had hoped to reconnect with friends and family and had the opportunity to do a little bit of that but in October she was too weak to continue. She journeyed to the Motherhouse, and then to Wesley in December on Hospice Care. Although she was unable to continue her journey to visit all of the people she hoped to visit, they came to her. In the last months and weeks of her life Francis Louise received many visits and calls from people whose lives she had touched.
Anyone who knew Francis knows that saying goodbye was always hard for her. She wrote once that when she learned that ‘good bye’ was short for ‘God be with you’. It made it easier. We say good bye knowing you are with God, Francis Louise and we thank you for your life as a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity.