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Sister Ellen Murphy

Spirit of Invigorating Wit and Joy

Irish to the tip of her toes and Presentation to the core of her being, sharing hospitality by the armloads – that was Sister Ellen Murphy. Sister Ellen was born February 28, 1921, in Ada, Minnesota, to parents John and Rose Reilly Murphy. She entered the Sisters of the Presentation in September 1940.

It would take a litany of adjectives to describe Sister Ellen: prayerful, practical, loving, sincere, compassionate, considerate, and happy – so happy! The rising tides of her life, it seems, were faith, family and fun – gifts she shared with community, family and friends. These gifts were expressed in her friendly ways and outgoing hospitality, often inviting others for a meal and conversation.

Sister Ellen went “wherever need called,” meeting the obligations and expectations of 17 different mission assignments in numerous Iowa parishes, including Algona where she was assigned four different times for a total of 14 years. Her 54 years of teaching took her also to Presentation schools in South Dakota, Illinois and Minnesota.

As a primary teacher Sister Ellen prepared hundreds, even thousands of children for Reconciliation and Eucharist, including the children in her regular classroom assignments, as well as those attending religious vacation schools. Among other locations, she was a faithful religious vacation schoolteacher in the parishes of her priest brother, Father Joseph Murphy.

Retiring to Mount Loretto in 1997, Sister Ellen volunteered at the Young-Uns Child Care Center, where each week she rocked babies and read to young children. She tutored at the Presentation Lantern Center, assisting and bonding with friends from other cultures. Every week, for the last 12 years, she did a variety of office tasks at the Archdiocesan Center for The Witness, the Catholic newspaper of the Dubuque Archdiocese. Her colleagues there called her a “treasure,” and said that she “lit up the room when she entered.” Her smile and her “sparkle” brightened the days and the lives of all she encountered.

When there was an opportunity to go to Mason City or Dougherty, Sister Ellen knew about it and took advantage, a chance to visit her family who rejoiced at her arrival. Writing thank you notes, messages of encouragement or concern, birthday and anniversary greetings, over the years Sister Ellen kept in touch with friends and family: siblings and their spouses, nieces and nephews, grand nieces and nephews, and great-grand nieces and nephews. They all loved her and they all came to pay their respects when she died. Relatives, friends, associates and colleagues came from a variety of places because of the multiple connections Sister Ellen had made over the years. Forever young at 89 years, her life and her charm were like a magnet for those she met. There was standing room only for her funeral liturgy, an appropriate tribute to a well-loved woman.

Small in stature, large in heart, loving everything Irish and garnering any occasion for fun and laughter, Sister Ellen donned her leprechaun costume each St. Patrick’s Day, complete with green suit, picture-perfect green and black striped stockings, elf shoes and a suitable bright green elfin hat. She offered a change of pace for folks here and there, as she paraded her outfit, and her delight, for a variety of groups and celebrations.

Sister Ellen gave a kind of Irish lilt to the pronunciation of some of her words, but sounded particularly Irish when, with a wave of her hand and an “Oh, go on with you now,” she readily dismissed any compliments offered her.

While her six brothers and two sisters preceded Sister Ellen in death, her few days in the infirmary made it seem as if she had rushed off to Heaven, before we could realize what was happening, before we were ready to let her go. Her 70 years in the community seemed all too brief. We will do well to keep her spirit alive among us, a spirit of invigorating wit and joy.

Considering the great loss she represents in many lives, we must also ponder the merrymaking that will take place in Heaven on St. Patrick’s Day, with a Presentation leprechaun leading the singing and dancing, her Irish eyes smiling.

If you would like to make a memorial gift in memory of Sister Ellen, click here.

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