Catherine was born in Racine, Wisconsin on April 4, 1919 to Daniel and Ellen Slattery Ryan. They had two daughters, Mary Frances and Catherine. The Ryan family was proud of their Irish heritage. Catherine attended first grade at St. Patrick’s School taught by the Racine Dominicans. After they moved into their own home, she attended St. John Nepomuk taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. She returned to the Racine Dominicans for two years at St. Catherine High School. By this time, her sister, Mary Frances had already entered the School Sisters of St. Francis.
Her sister Mary Frances was received in 1933 and given the name Sister Agna. She was an excellent musician. Catherine began to think about following in her sister’s footsteps and there was a pull between St. Francis and St. Dominic. As the old saying goes, “Blood is thicker than water,” and Catherine followed her sister to St. Joseph Convent.
Catherine was received on June 13, 1937 and given the name Sister Marcella. She was a very happy and busy novice. In her second year novitiate, she started college at Alverno, but on October 10th while doing her daily work - Sister Marguerite popped in to say: “Sister, remove your apron, Mother Corona wants to see you. You are going on Mission.”
In a few short hours, Sister Marcella was on a Greyhound bus with Sister Marguerite headed for Allenton, Wisconsin. And so began her mission life at the age of 19. She lived with four other wonderful Sisters. They gave her a real foundation in Franciscan community living, and they helped her with everything. In June, Sister Catherine returned to the Motherhouse to complete her novitiate.
After making her first vows, she began her long career as a musician - August 13, 1939. She spent her first year at St. Catherine’s in Milwaukee as an assistant to Sister Huberta. One year later she was sent to Blessed Agnes (now St. Agnes of Bohemia) where for seven years she assisted Sister Majella. This Irish Sister learned to teach Czech songs, give piano and violin lessons, and play at liturgies for the Children’s and Young Ladies Choir.
After seven happy years at Blessed Agnes, she was transferred to St. Matthias on the north side of Chicago where she would be head musician. This would begin 19 years of a happy and fruitful ministry with wonderful Sisters, a good Pastor, and three great assistant musicians: Sister Janet Shurr, Sister Raymondine (Sister Maureen Whelan) and Sister Marie Josephine (Sister Mary Louise Miller). Sister Marcella was a great mentor to her assistant musicians. She was an example of community life, faithfulness to prayer, and a guide as they shared all musical events.
During these years Vatican ll changed everyone’s life. We began to pray and sing in English. It was an exciting time to implement these changes. Religious life also went through renewal. Many Sisters returned to their Baptismal names and so now Sister Marcella became Sister Catherine.
During these 19 years at St. Matthias, Sister Catherine’s parents grew older and needed care. Mother Corona suggested they move into our Sacred Heart Sanitarium. What a wonderful decision for all. Both parents remained at Sacred Heart until their death. Meanwhile, the Monahan family at St. Matthias realized Sister Catherine had no family in the States, so they decided to add the two Ryan Sisters to their large family. And even to this day they remained part of the Monahan’s. This family is also very generous to all School Sisters of St. Francis.
In August 1966, Sister Catherine was transferred to Our Lady of Charity in Cicero, Illinois. Her sister, Sister Mary Frances was also there. They both shared in the Music Ministry. Many changes were beginning to take place in the parish during her years there. Finally Sister Catherine only had the Funeral Choir and did Pastoral Care to the homebound. She even learned to drive!
In 2001, with only three Sisters left at Our Lady of Charity, they knew it was time to close the convent. All were sad to leave Cicero but all three were blest to find home again at St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee.
Sisters Catherine and Mary Frances were always very proud of their Irish heritage. All their relatives remained in Ireland. After their parents’ death, they continued to keep close contact with their mother’s cousin. An invitation to visit Ireland was offered and accepted. Off to Ireland! All in Ireland loved the two Sisters and they were invited back several more times during these years. AND, in 2008 five of her cousins arrived at Sacred Heart for the 75th Jubilee of Sister Mary Frances. What a celebration! Sister Catherine was a good communicator and even learned to do e-mail so she could keep up with all the Irish cousins.
Later, Sister Catherine suffered a “nasty fall” at St. Joseph Convent and after several weeks of therapy at Sacred Heart she knew that Sacred Heart was the best place for her. Sister Mary Frances was already there so the move made good sense. Catherine was happy to be with her sister again.
And, on September 20 in 2009, her dear sister, Mary Frances died. Sister Catherine missed her dearly but she knew she had to go on living her life. Sister Catherine faithfully spent time in the little chapel often during the day. After morning Mass, she always enjoyed a cup of coffee, spent some time reading, writing letters and sending her e-mails.
The years moved on and in 2017 Sister Catherine celebrated her 80th Jubilee as a School Sister. She was able to attend the Mass and dinner at the Motherhouse. Later she celebrated at Sacred Heart with members of the Monahan family and some of her closest friends.
In 2019 Sister Catherine celebrated her 100th birthday. What did she want for her party? Leon’s Ice Cream! Leon’s it was, along with delicious cake!
Then the pandemic set in, and everything changed.
Sister Catherine kept wondering why the Lord didn’t call her home. Ready and waiting, Sister Catherine heard the call early Sunday morning on January 30, 2022. AND, after a few short breaths she was in heaven.
Sister Catherine, we will miss your bright eyes and your Irish smile! AND now in this 2022 year, you can celebrate your 85th Jubilee in heaven as a faithful School Sister of St. Francis!
May the road rise up to meet you. May God hold you in the palm of His hand. REJOICE and REST in the LORD! Amen