PHILADELPHIA – Sister Francis Louise Sheridan of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, M.S.B.T., the first non-clergy director of the Diocese of Charlotte's Catholic Charities agency, passed away Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, aged 85.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Feb. 18, 2016, at Blessed Trinity Motherhouse Chapel in Philadelphia, followed by burial in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
Born Agnes Theresa Sheridan on June 20, 1930, in Brooklyn, N.Y., she was the youngest of four children of Mary and William Sheridan. She was baptized at St. Agnes Church in Brooklyn on July 15, 1930.
Sister Francis Louise, as she was known, entered the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity on Sept. 24, 1949, made her first profession of vows on March 25, 1951, and her final profession of vows on March 25, 1954. She was familiar with the community from early on because her older sister Mary had also entered the order. Even before she formally entered religious life, Sister Francis Louise described that she “never felt happier” than when she was with the sisters, “not even on my birthday or when I get a new dress.”
Sister Francis Louise graduated from Seton Hall University in 1966 with a degree in sociology and received a master’s degree in social work from The Catholic University of America in 1969. She was continually updating in her field of social work as well as spirituality, and she was a deeply prayerful person. Once when asked what she could not live without, she answered, “Prayer and quiet.” She once noted it was the Catholic Charismatic Movement that was the “thread that helped her make the connection between her activities and the spiritual dimension.” In 1971 she wrote, “(I am) drawn towards a desire for a more intense union with God and one another that will not just individualize us more but would bring corporate holiness and strength.”
Her missionary service began in 1951. From 1951 to 1969 she ministered at Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., first in the city of Trenton, then in Fords, N.J., and returned to Trenton in 1960. In 1969, she was missioned to Catholic Social Services in Harrisburg, Pa.
In the Charlotte diocese, Sister Francis Louise was the founding director of the Charlotte diocese's Refugee Resettlement Office and the first non-clergy director of Catholic Social Services (now called Catholic Charities).
The Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity came to Charlotte in 1950 at the invitation of North Carolina Bishop Vincent Waters to staff a new branch office for what was then called the Bureau of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh.
A community of professionally trained social workers, the Trinitarian sisters served as caseworkers and supervisors for the fledgling Charlotte branch office, particularly caring for unwed mothers, refugees and the elderly. The sisters provided pregnancy support, maternity care, foster care and adoption services to families throughout the state.
Sister Francis Louise came to Charlotte from the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., in 1975, along with Sisters Gail Lambert and Sister Barbara DeMoranville, to introduce a Team Ministry model of social services under the leadership of the agency's then director Father Thomas Clements. She later took over the top position, serving as the first non-clergy director of Catholic Charities. She was known for her skill in launching “pilot” programs to address unmet needs and then developing funding to sustain them successfully long-term.
Sister Francis Louise also served as chairperson of the diocesan Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
An article in the Catholic News & Herald once noted of Sister Francis Louise: “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.”
When more than a dozen counties in western North Carolina experienced severe flooding in 1977, she directed the diocese's disaster response efforts, raising money, recruiting volunteers and working with other area churches in what was a broad ecumenical relief effort.
In 1977 Sister Francis Louise was named the founding director of the diocese's Refugee Resettlement Program, established in coordination with the U.S. bishops to resettle refugees fleeing Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War.
In 1980 under her leadership, according to historical accounts, the diocese was resettling an average of one refugee per day in the Charlotte area. Over the eight years Sister Francis Louise served as director, the Refugee Resettlement Office resettled more than 2,000 refugees. Most were Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong and Cambodian refugees from Southeast Asia, but there were also some from Poland, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Cuba, Haiti, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia.
The refugee resettlement program in Charlotte under her direction became known as one of the most successful in the United States.
In recognition for her work, the mayor of Charlotte proclaimed June 20, 1983, as Sister Francis Louise Sheridan Day. 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 U.S. Government and the National Office of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. She also received a humanitarian award from the Migrant and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Sister Francis Louise also helped Cambodian refugees, many of whom were Buddhist, to establish a temple for their worship in Charlotte. The temple was named in her honor by Buddhist monk Maha Ghosananda, a renowned Cambodian Buddhist leader and peace activist, upon his visit to Charlotte. Known as “Cambodia’s Ghandi,” Maha invited Sister Francis Louise to visit a refugee camp in Thailand with him; she later called it one of the most memorable trips of her life.
In 1993, Sister Francis Louise was sent to Mobile, Ala., to serve as director of Catholic Social Services for the Archdiocese of Mobile and later as a social worker at the Allen Memorial Nursing Home, until 2015 when she returned to the Trinitarian Sisters' motherhouse in Philadelphia.
Over the course of her ministry, she served on various committees in her community and was in regional and local leadership as well as a consultant to the Holy Name of Jesus Trust.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity at 3501 Solly Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19136.
F. Fluehr and Sons Inc. was in charge of the arrangements.
– Catholic News Herald. Photo courtesy of Diocese of Charlotte Archives (M.C. Wessling, photographer)