Sister Antoinette Marie Keyes, CSJ
Born to Irish immigrants Richard and Brigid Keyes, Antoinette grew up in Astoria, Queens where the focal point of her life was the vibrant parish community of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She and her sister Josephine, who entered the community 3 years after Antoinette spoke passionately and proudly about the lively faith and active involvement in parish and family life that nurtured their religious vocations.
For 58 years Antoinette taught primary grades in the Diocese of Brooklyn and in Puerto Rico. Can you imagine all the seeds of future leaders and educators she planted! Preparing children for First Communion was Antoinette’s specialty both in school and in Religious Education classes. Her deep reverence for the Eucharist was the center of her spiritual life.
Thirty of her 58 years of teaching were spent in her beloved Astoria in Most Precious Blood School where she became a legend – known for her kindness, simplicity of life and incredible teaching skills.
She was a true Sister of the Neighborhood who brought out the best in everyone with whom she shared life.For some insight into Antoinette’s last decade of life, Phyllis who was privileged to be her Regional, will share her wisdom and experience of this holy woman. S. Tesa Fitzgerald, CSJ
My first memories of Antoinette came shortly after I had become a Regional Superior in 2011. My image is of four friends sitting together on the convent porch: Ceil and Antoinette, Mary Ellen Noone and Rosemary Wood. Two of them lived in the convent and two lived in their little house in Stony Brook. But whenever Antoinette and Ceil would come to Brentwood to visit Mary Jo in Maria Regina, they would make sure they had time to visit with Mary Ellen and Rosemary. Depending on the time, they would have tea and cookies in the dining room, or they would join the other two for the rosary on the porch. Whenever there was a large celebration, Ceil and Antoinette were there, too – in Sacred Heart Chapel or in the Joan De Lourdes Room, it didn’t matter, as long as they were part of the community.
In 2016, we began a new round of the Deepening Groups, and Ceil and Antoinette, Catherine Cunningham, Margaret Kohler and I joined Anne Lorraine Hanna in her home in Bluepoint to start a new group. Even with Covid, we kept on meeting – and we kept on sharing. It was through those meetings that I learned a lot about Antoinette –
– her simple faith, love of her Irish heritage, family and friends, stories of her little ones, her gentle manner, her sharp sense of humor and her deep gratitude for her vocation.
And then in June 2020, Antoinette got sick and Ceil brought her to Stony Brook Hospital. As so often happens, there were a series of hospitalizations, and then Antoinette came to the convent “just until she was strong enough to go home.” Everyone was so kind and she had the best of care, but it became clear that Antoinette would never get strong enough to go home. Then we had an example of God working in strange ways – much to everyone’s surprise, it was Celie who died suddenly on March 31 so Antoinette would never have been able to go home. But she already had a new home. In her final hospitalization this past July, Antoinette just kept on saying “I just want to go home to my friends.” Who were those friends? The Sisters who stopped in her room just to say “hello” and the nurses and aides who loved her and cared for her.
Ultimately, Antoinette just gently slipped from the loving arms of those around her to the loving arms of God .And I will use her cousin Marcus’ words to end this reflection:
“We’ll join you in thanksgiving on Thursday as we place Antoinette’s soul in God’s embrace forever. In the Irish language of her ancestors, all her cousins in Ireland might whisper (but I will speak these words in English) ‘May her noble soul be among the saints.’”And to this we say AMEN!
Sister Phyllis Esposito
Sister Antoinette Marie Keyes, formerly Sister Assumpta, died on October 24. 2021 in the 72nd year of her religious life.