Sister Aquinata McGrath, CSJ

.We come together to celebrate and give thanks for the graced life  of Sister Mary Aquinata, a Sister of St. Joseph for 73 faith-filled years.

Born Joan Marguerite to Julia and Michael McGrath, Aquinata grew up in her beloved Brooklyn with the vibrant parish life of St. Brendan’s as the center of her world.

Her deep love for her family, her community and her ministry were evidenced at every step along the path of her life. Aquinata’s father died when she was young and  she assisted in the care of her 2 younger sisters, Eleanor and Patricia enabling their mother to work at Ebinger’s to support the family.  Aquinata herself would work at the famous Ebinger’s at a later date.

Upon graduation from St. Brendan’s HS, Aquinata entered the community.  On her application she was asked why she was choosing to enter ~ and in a simple declarative sentence she responded, “To serve God   in the best way possible” ~ and indeed she did exactly that ~  humbly, faithfully and lovingly for the next 73 years of her life.

Working with children and their families at the elementary school level was Aquinata’s specialty.  She taught in seven schools from Brooklyn to Belle Harbor with Kew Gardens in between.  Aquinata also spent many years in Elementary School Administration affording her the opportunity to share her leadership skills and her unique ability to build a faith community that encompassed school and parish life.  Her stories reflected the love she had for children.  Her kindness and respect for students, faculty and staff alike were reknowned.

Aquinata served as principal in seven schools, yes, 7!  ~  St. Joseph, Hewlett, St. Philip Neri, Northport, St. Frances de Chantal, Wantagh, Sacred Heart Seminary, Holy Redeemer, Freeport, St. Patrick’s Smithtown and the Academy of St. Joseph ~ no small accomplishment!

It should also be noted that for a six year hiatus, perhaps for a rest ~ between Elementary School Administrations, Aquinata served as Coordinator of Curriculum and Testing in the Rockville Centre Diocesan Office of Catholic Education.

Aquinata’s life of service planted seeds of a Gospel valued life that blossomed in the lives of countless young people!

When Aquinata moved to St. Frances de Chantal Parish in 2007 she found a peaceful welcoming home and a renewed sense of ministry as a “Sister of the Neighborhood.”  The loving support system offered by Lauren Hanley and Alice O’Shaughnessy was a treasured gift.  Her graceful and warm presence brought a sense of God to everyone she encountered.

Meaningful relationships with family and friends gifted Aquinata’s life with joy and a deep sense of God’s incarnational face.   Her nephew, Stephen, recalled how he always knew when Aunt Joan was coming to visit because his mother would be cooking all day.  A powerful memory of Stephen’s was when he danced the Mother/Son dance at his wedding with his Aunt Joan; something he cherishes until this day.

Her niece, Julie, especially remembers her Aunt Joan’s wit.  She had a quick and great sense of humor, was always good with a retort and her facial expressions were priceless.  Just thinking about that now brings a smile to Julie’s face.

Aquinata’s friendship with Pat Doran that spanned over 40 years was a mutual gift that brought out the best in each other ~ a rich relationship that overflowed into an inclusive community of the dear neighbor.  Pat recently said that if she had one wish for our world it would be that every person have an Aquinata in their life!

In 2019, due to failing health, Aquinata came to Maria Regina.  It was believed that death was imminent but God had another plan ~ and so for the next  2 ½ years Aquinata’s genius as a teacher was in action.

In her gentle way, lessons were taught about humility, graciousness and gratitude all in the context of great pain and suffering.   The staff at Maria Regina Residence often said that everyone should be like Sister Aquinata ~ pleasant and grateful!  Her iconic words: “How are you today?” meant the world to them.  Aquinata’s welcoming smile and words of comfort spoke volumes about her deep faith and loving relationship with her God

When asked “Why is it so hard to die,” her answer ~ indicative of her classic humor was  “Jesus must work for the LIRR ~ he’s late ~ that’s why.”

In the end, the Master Teacher called her home, with Pat at her bedside.  Aquinata had indeed excelled in serving God “in the best way possible” for 73 years.

May she bless us all as we strive to be a reflection of the awesome wonder of God reflected in Aquinata’s life.

Sister Aquinata McGrath, CSJ died on March 1, 2022 in the 73rd year of her religious life.

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