Sister Gladys Murphy, SSND
May 12, 1932 – May 13, 2019
Natalie Mary Murphy was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on May 12, 1932, the youngest of four children of Nathaniel John Murphy and Gladys Gertrude Davis, both natives of Boston. Her sisters, Helen and Gladys, and a brother, Billy, preceded her. When she was three-and-a-half years old her mother died, the beginning of a very unsettled period in her life. At first she was taken to school by Helen but later went to work with her father when Helen went to live with an aunt. She wrote later that her father was very restless after her mother’s death and moved his family several times to other places in Massachusetts, and later to Albany, New York. This made Natalie’s schooling, in both parochial and public schools, very piecemeal and erratic.
Eventually, Mr. Murphy realized that he belonged back in Boston, moved to Roxbury, and registered his children in Mission Grammar School. Natalie was in the fifth grade at the time; she remained to finish grade school and graduate from Mission High in 1951. From the first, Natalie felt at home at Mission, and she loved the Sisters, especially Sister Agathine, her sixth grade teacher. She credited her grade school years as fostering her first thoughts about becoming a Sister. Her brother Billy joined the Army Air Force at 17 and was stationed in Argentina, where he eventually married and raised a family. Natalie wrote that she grew up without knowing him or Helen, but she was always in touch with her two Argentinian nieces.
The August after graduation, Natalie became a Candidate in Baltimore and was immediately sent to teach third grade at St. James School. The following year, first grade was her mission at St. Joseph Monastery School in Baltimore. At Reception, on July 8, 1953, she was received as Novice Mary Gladys in honor of her mother. First vows followed in 1954, and she was sent to teach second grade at Sacred Heart School in Baltimore. In 1957 she renewed her vows, and from 1957 to 1959 she was missioned to St. Brigid School in Westbury, New York.
By 1960, the August of her final profession, Sister Gladys had taught at Madonna School in Fort Lee, New Jersey; Immaculate Conception School in Malden, Massachusetts; and St. Alphonsus, Brooklyn, New York, where she spent five years. An Obedience in 1969 sent her to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School (OLPH) in New York City, where she remained until 1981, teaching grades five, six, and seven at various times.
At OLPH, Gladys had “quite a bit of surgery,” and the doctor insisted she take a leave of absence, during which she taught at Our Lady of Sorrows School on the Lower East Side of New York. She also worked in the Archdiocesan School Office. In 1983 she went to live at St. Patrick’s Convent in Long Island City, where she “spent five happy years with the Sisters of St. Joseph,” and was Associate Administrator at Most Precious Blood School in Astoria.
Gladys was on exclaustration in Brooklyn from 1988 to 1991. In 1989, the Principal of Most Holy Trinity School asked her to open a Pre-K class. Later she wrote, “My most memorable teaching was with the little ones in Pre-K. Decorating my classroom was always fun for me.” This led her to take classes in ceramics, oil painting and stained glass.
Some of this work was on display during her wake and funeral. Also on display was a basket of medals and ribbons Gladys had received as a runner. She had previously written about this part of her life:
Probably the most life-changing event for me was being involved in
the New York City Marathons over 34 years. When I lived at 62nd Street,
I had angina and the doctor told me I needed to exercise. I saw people
jogging along the East River. So I slowly started to do the same. One
day while jogging, I met someone who told me about the New York
Running Club, and I joined. After a year of running I signed up to do the
26.2 mile New York City Marathon. I did it in 6 hours and 20 minutes. In all,
I ran 34 NY Marathons and two in Boston.
In an earlier, shorter race, Gladys was limping badly from pain in her heel. A man nearby told her to hop as he was doing, and she was able to finish the race. He was Dick Traum, an amputee and founder of the Achilles Track Club for Disabled Runners. Through his friendship and coaching, Gladys’ running career took off. Later, as her health changed, she walked the races, and then in 2002 she started to use a hand-cranked wheelchair. This was a very difficult challenge, requiring a great deal of upper body strength. Numerous newspaper clippings show her, with Achilles friends accompanying her, as she crossed finish lines.
Gladys wrote that every year she got “Marathon fever,” and began to prepare. “Something happens to you when you’re out in the air. You just feel healthy. Do your best and go out to enjoy!” (You can read more about Sister Gladys' "running nun" days here.)
When she came to Villa Notre Dame in 1995, Gladys gave service in the Day Room that had been set up by the Pastoral Care Staff for Sisters with dementia. For “five rewarding years” she was very good at this ministry and loved it. Later she had many different responsibilities, as well as her baking.
As accomplished as Gladys was as a teacher and an athlete, she was always a bit of a worrier who tended to see difficulties. While the community was devouring her cookies and brownies, she often pointed out some tiny defect in them or difficulty in making them that they never would have known otherwise.
Sister Gladys died at Lourdes Health Care Center on May 13. Her Wake Service was held on May 14, and the Liturgy of Christian Burial was presided over by Father Tom Elliott, CSC, Villa Chaplain, on May 15. Burial followed at St. Mary Cemetery, Bethel, Connecticut. A relative and several women from Achilles were present at the funeral.
Sister Connie Carrigan led the wake service with a fond description of Gladys’ acceptance of her recent time in Lourdes. It ended with, “Gladys, you knew that winning wasn’t the goal, it was how you ran that counted. You did win and now you have your prize.”
Clippings From Sister Gladys' Running Nun Days