Birth: May 4, 1911
Profession: August 6, 1940
Death: July 20, 2011
Louise Lundergan, RSCJ, a senior member of the Society of the Sacred Heart, known for her compassion and “wicked” sense of humor, died Wednesday, July 20 at Teresian House in Albany, New York. Sister Lundergan, who celebrated her 100th birthday on May 4, was an educator, a missionary and a fearless, feisty, no-nonsense force for good. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Monday, July 25 at 1:00 PM in the Teresian House Chapel, with a visitation period one hour before the service. Interment will be in the Kenwood Cemetery.
Born in Marion, Ohio, in 1911, Sister Lundergan was predeceased by her parents, Thomas J. and Helen Kelly Lundergan, her sister, Mary Elizabeth, and her brothers, Edward, James, Francis and Robert Lundergan. She entered the Religious of the Sacred Heart in 1932 and made her final profession in 1940 at the Kenwood noviceship in Albany, New York.
Sister Lundergan’s teaching ministry began in 1935, during her noviceship. She taught at the Sacred Heart Schools in Chicago, Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, Illinois and Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha, Nebraska. She served as Academic Dean at Barat College, also in Lake Forest, and directed studies in English, Mathematics and Latin for students at Duchesne Academy in Omaha and the Convent of the Sacred Heart in St. Joseph, Missouri.
From 1957 until 1970, Sister Lundergan taught at the Sacred Heart school in one of the poorest areas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This service was a watershed period in her life. She worked tirelessly to raise funds to start a school for men and boys and minister to the people of the community.
Bonnie Kearney, RSCJ recalled, “As a student, stories of Sr. Lundergan’s missionary work was part of what made Sacred Heart open, wide, without borders. Later, I saw her with some of the frail Sisters at our convent - open, wide and without borders. I hope she is greeted in English and Portugese upon arrival in heaven!”
Sister Lundergan’s final formal position in education was as director of student services at Lone Mountain College in San Francisco, from 1970 to 1975, but she continued to teach by example throughout her life.
The last years of her active ministry, 1975 to 1998, were devoted to working with people in need: alcoholics, victims of violence and the very poor. She was a social worker for the St. Vincent de Paul Society in San Francisco for 15 years. She ministered to survivors of domestic abuse at the Marian Residence of the St. Anthony Foundation, in San Francisco. She also volunteered 20 hours each week at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, from 1991 to 1997.
“There were many instances of Louise's generous gift of self to the down and out in San Francisco, not only in the poorest neighborhoods where she worked, but in various other places where she walked,” wrote Patricia Desmond, RSCJ. Sister Desmond recalled an encounter with a young couple with a newborn who were begging on the streets. “My companion suggested they might want to go to Sr. Louise for help. Their reply was they had and Sr. Louise had given them everything she had for the baby, but she had run out of diapers.”
In addition to a compassionate heart and a will of iron, Sister Lundergan had a twinkle of joy and mischief in her eyes and a smile that lit up the room. Several of her Sacred Heart Sisters recalled her love of walking – very fast walking. One recalled that she frequently walked miles across San Francisco to Laguna Honda, the hospital for the poor where she volunteered. Anne Wachter, RSCJ reported on one particular walk with Sister Lundergan: about two weeks after Sister Wachter ran the New York City Marathon in 1991, Sister Lundergan invited her to walk the perimeter of Manhattan with her. They set off at 10 a.m. and spent 10 hours walking the streets. While Sister Wachter was ready to relax at the end, Sister Lundergan – then 80 years old and 50 years Sister Wachter’s senior – simply changed clothes and headed off to Mass. Said Sister Wachter, “If it were a competition, she won. And, I think, in her mind, it was and she did … she was a pistol, and I smile whenever I remember her.”
Sister Lundergan earned her Bachelor of Arts in English, with a minor in philosophy, from Barat College, Lake Forest, Illinois, and her Master of Arts in philosophy from Loyola University, Chicago. When she began her social work ministries, she went back to school to earn a certificate in alcoholic studies from Berkeley.