By Angela Cave
When TV executives predicted that college football’s Bowl Championship Series title game would attract a record number of viewers, maybe they sensed that Sister Catherine Marie McGranary, DC, would be enlisting a pack of her fellow senior sisters to watch.
At Monday night gatherings in a common room of St. Louise House in Menands – the Daughters of Charity religious order’s residence for senior sisters – the 92-year-old sister watches every Notre Dame game and even some repeats.
Besides, she explained with excitement, this was her beloved team’s first national championship attempt since 1988. She remembers that season, too.
“This is a big year because they won every game,” Sister Catherine Marie said before the game. “I am so happy for them. They look so nice when they get all dressed up in their suits.”
Some of her neighbors have gradually joined Sister Catherine Marie in her game-watching devotions since she retired to Albany in 2007. But most of the sisters simply “enjoy my enthusiasm about it,” she said with a laugh.
“There’s not too many sisters that are interested in sports,” she added with incredulity. “I am amazed. And some of them have brothers!
“I get a lot of joy [from watching football],” the senior sister continued. “I think it’s great that [the players] are interested in getting involved because it teaches them a lot of things” – like respect, fitness and how to accept a loss.
“I love football because it moves fast,” she said. Though she’s a big Red Sox fan, baseball doesn’t quite measure up: “It feels like everything is dragged down.”
Sister Catherine Marie’s “Fighting Irish” fandom was passed down by her father. “I have every banner and poster that you can think of all over my walls,” she boasted.
There’s a healthy dose of religious paraphernalia in her room, too, and the sister prioritizes daily Mass, morning and evening prayers and other meditations throughout the day. She also crochets blankets and procures clothing donations for a daycare center in Niagara Falls, reads novels by the likes of Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts and takes advantage of local trips and activities sponsored by the house.
Sister Catherine Marie entered the Daughters of Charity in 1947 after sporadically discerning a childhood call brought on by the sisters who taught her in elementary school in Wilmington, Del.
“I really fell in love with the sisters” from that religious order, she said. “They were so kind and so supportive and I really felt like God was calling me.”
She accompanied a teacher on a home visit to a poor, elderly couple and “felt attracted to [the service]. The more I did it, the more I thought, ‘This is something worthwhile.'”
The vocation fizzled a little toward the end of high school, after which she worked as a secretary for six years. But the grade school nuns kept in touch and advised her to pray about her vocation. She did, and came to a decision by the age of 26.
“I wanted to be able to help people, and I loved children,” she said. “Those were the two big things I had in mind.” Nursing and teaching are specialties for the Daughters of Charity.
Sister Catherine Marie taught elementary and high school and was a childcare worker, a religious educator and a parish minister in more than a dozen assignments all over the northeast. She has a bachelor’s degree in secretarial science and a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Catholic colleges.
She remembers when the Daughters wore religious habits, didn’t offer vacation time and prohibited sisters from visiting family.
“It was strict,” she said. “Our community was known for that.”
Gradually, the rules softened, and Sister Catherine Marie welcomed the changes: “I thought they were healthy.”
She fondly recalls vacations to the Jersey Shore and anniversary trips to Paris and Ireland – and that time in 1965 when sisters were asked to pray for 65 new postulants.
“And didn’t we get 65!” she said. “I never forgot that.”
Vocations are a little less impressive these days, but Sister Catherine Marie has faith that young women can defy the odds and answer the call. She’d do it all over again today.
“You’re well taken care of – physically, spiritually, in every way,” she said. “You know you’re safe. I’ve been surrounded by people that love me – and God gave me the health to do a lot of good for all the people and all the children I taught and hopefully bring them closer to God.”
A recent call from an elderly parishioner she used to visit in Holbrook, Mass., reminded her why she chose religious life.
“She said, ‘Sister, I just had to hear your voice.’ And tears were streaming down my face. I felt like I did something.”
Originally published 1/10/2013