Sister Rita Killoran, SSND
September 14, 1932 – May 23, 2023
Sister Rita Killoran was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to James Killoran, of County Roscommon, and Annie Flanagan, of County Meath, Ireland. She was the youngest of their family of seven girls and four boys, and was Baptized at the Mission Church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a few days after her birth on September 14, 1932. Like all her siblings, Rita was educated by SSNDs in the parish grammar school. Redemptorist Bishop McCarty Confirmed her in 1945 with the name Anne.
She remembered in her autobiography that she “had heard beautiful stories of St. Anne and Mary from my Grandmother, and living under the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I began to form a tender devotion to both of them.” She also wrote, “When I graduated from grammar school, my sister in the convent gave me a book, The Little Adviser, as a gift. “I became quite interested in what it said about God and the religious life and read it frequently during high school.”
During the junior-year retreat, Rita decided that “With God’s grace, I would write to the Baltimore Motherhouse for acceptance.” After graduation in 1950, she followed what was now three of her sisters into the community – Sister M. Annice (Anna), M. Agnese (Agnes), and M. James (Catherine) – becoming a Candidate in Baltimore on August 28, 1950. After a week, she was sent on mission to Sacred Heart Convent in Griffin, Georgia, where her sister, Sister Agnese, was teaching. Rita taught Kindergarten for the two years of her initial formation. Seeing their innocence and simplicity, here she realized what Jesus meant when he told us to be like little children. She also felt that her “vocation was developed abundantly by the good example of the Sisters.”
Two years later, on July 16 at Reception, Rita became Novice Mary Majella, in honor of Redemptorist Saint Gerard Majella. First Profession followed on July 24, 1953, and brought the continuation of her teaching ministry during one year at St. Saviour School in Brooklyn, New York, and two years at St. Joseph in Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island. Majella/Rita then served almost 30 years loving the children of Puerto Rico at three missions--Aguas Beunas, Caguas and Miramar.
Starting with teaching grades 1 to 3 at San Alfonso School in Aguas Beunas, near the Waterfront, where Rita spent seven years, she followed up with three years in the city of Caguas with grades four to six at Holy Name of Jesus School. Then she spent 17 years teaching grades 4 to 6 at the Academy of our Lady of Perpetual Help in prosperous Miramar. This completed her mission to “The Isla Encanto.”
This Redemptorist parish and its devotion to OLPH were so like her home parish in Roxbury, Mass. From 1969 to 1971, she became an administrator in the Miramar elementary school. Everywhere, from 1956 to 1983, Rita was loved by her children and her colleagues. A happy disposition, a love of storytelling and conversation, a natural openness and kindness describe the “way she was.” When she taught in Miramar, she lived in Caguas, and the Sisters remember that she came home every day with funny stories of her adventures on the Publico communal transport.
Rita’s next mission to St John Evangelist School in Watertown, Connecticut, was her calling from 1985 to 2016. Here she added her Confirmation name and was called Sister Rita Anne. During much of this time, she taught Religion and is remembered for being expert at keeping the attention of the children.
When a mother appeared at the classroom door, Rita Anne always said, “Your Mother is here. Give her a big hug.”
Her Sister Catherine (“Kay”) was stationed there with her at the time that Kay died. Together they had been honored in 2000 as epitomizing the “Spirit of St. John.” Principal Margaret Whalen wrote, “These two wonderful women exemplify and live out the mission and philosophy of our school in day-to-day activities. They celebrate the dignity of each individual, be it child or adult, with their patience, their caring, and their loving manner.” At the 100th Anniversary of the School in 2007, Sister Rita Anne was a special honoree, along with our Sister M. Emeliana, who had taught there for 58 years and is lovingly remembered.
Sister Barbara Valuckas – whose family still lives Watertown – and Rita were a community of two, when Barbara was a frequent traveler. Rita had great devotion to saying the Rosary every evening, Barbara recalled at Rita’s wake that one morning at faith sharing, Rita said to Barbara “Last night, when I was saying the Rosary, suddenly I was in a different place.” And then almost apologetically, she added, ‘’That’s all I have to say,” Barbara, because of the look on Rita’s face, remembered paintings of mystics, and was somewhat stunned that Rita had shared this mystical experience so humbly and simply. Several Sisters had heard her say, “When I die, I’m going to run, run, run right into the arms of God,” and then characteristically add, “I have some questions for him.”
Rita spent five years at Villa Notre Dame in retirement, until she brought her energy and deep faith to Ozanam Hall in July, 2021. Here her journey home to God was finalized on May 23, 2023.
As homilist at her funeral, Father John Clooney, former Watertown Pastor, shared some humorous stories and called Rita, “a good and faithful servant.” He recalled “her integrity and uprightness” and expressed the gratitude of the parish “for all she had been and done for us.”
Rita’s Wake Service and Mass of Christian Burial were celebrated at St. Andrew Church in Bridgeport, on June 12. Father Clooney concelebrated with Father Anthony Smith, another former St. John pastor. Barbara Valuckas presided over the Wake Service, at which Sister Peg Regan read from the “Celtic Prayer at Time of Death,” and Niece Judy Furlong spoke lovingly of her aunt.
Kate Whalen read the meaning of the symbols placed on the casket by Rita’s classmates, Sisters Carolyn Stoe, Valeria Belanger, Irene Hughes and Madeline Hanson. Bernadette Piccolo, Rita’s dear friend from Watertown, who had been a very generous contributor to our Octoberfests, was lector for the First Reading at the liturgy; Sister Edna Cole read the Second Reading from You are Sent. Finally, all the sisters present blessed the casket in song, and many accompanied Rita to her final resting place in St. Mary Cemetery in Bethel, Connecticut.
Sister Kay O’Connell, SSND