Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Sister Mary Josepha Murphy, S.C. Oral History




Date edited:

Sister Francis Maria Cassidy, SC
Sister Mary Josepha Murphy, SC
July 1, 1983
Sister Noreen Neary, SC
November 6, 2020

Sr. Francis Maria:
I'm visiting down at Saint Anne Villa with Sr. Mary Josepha. We're sitting in a very bright room.
Is this the back of the house, Sister? On the back of the house…is a very pretty pink spread on a
pretty blue bed and all around is color and brightness, and of course, the brightest thing in the
room is Sister herself. Sister was an [inaudible]. [Archbishop Robert Seton] was at Convent
Station in his retirement and she had the privilege, and I think she regards it as a privilege, of
serving him in the dining room. And she's agreed to recall a few of her memories. Sister, what
year did you become a Sister of Charity?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
January 6, 1926. And the day I got the habit, I went to take care of the Archbishop, and I was
with him until he died, that one full year. I always considered the Archbishop a lonely person
with no friends, except the college girls [students at the College of Saint Elizabeth] who were
very nice to him. And they used to take walks with him sometimes on the grounds. He was very
thin, medium height, white hair, a long nose, just points for teeth. He was a very quiet man, wellspoken, courteous. Always wore a cassock with a cape edged in red and a red skull cap. I think
he was quite eccentric in his thoughts and words. Although he was 87 years old, beginning to get
a little senile, he never missed saying Mass. I had nothing outstanding in my dealings with the
Archbishop, except maybe a few interesting and humorous incidents.
For instance, we had rules and customs that if we were in a room with a member of the other sex,
we must [never] close the door. Well, our Mistress of Novices came over one day to see how I
was [inaudible] me.
Sr. Francis Maria:
What was the door?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
The door out to the room where I used to sit and wait for him and then a door out into the hall;
there were two doors.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Up to his room?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
No, no, downstairs in his private dining room. So the next day, I opened the door a few inches,
the Archbishop noticed it and said, "Close that door." So I went over and I closed the door with a
bang and then opened it softly; his back was to the door and he didn't notice.

Sr. Francis Maria:
You played a trick on him.
Sr. Mary Josepha:
I really pleased everyone.
Sr. Francis Maria:
It's still there?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
It's the dining room in the front hall. As you come in the main front door, to the left there's a
small room that I used to sit in and then a very large dining room that was his room, no one else
used it. Downstairs, that was his room, no one else used that room. I had to tell the chef each day
what to prepare for him. So I'd ask him and I'd say, "Now, Your Grace, what do you want for
dinner tomorrow?" And he never called me Sister. "Josepha, a gentlemen eats to live, he doesn't
live to eat," so he'd never tell me. Then he usually had like mashed sweet potatoes, which he
called Carolinas, with a poached egg. And this day he said, "Take this back to the chef, it's
terrible." So I took it into the next little room, put it on the radiator, took a fork, mixed it up a bit
and took it back.
Sr. Mary Josepha:
He had it at noon time and he had his dinner at night, and he always came dressed for dinner
with his white cuffs, and that was dinner. Now, I'd bring him a tray at noon time, then I would go
back. He would like to detain me, but I used to try to get out as fast as I could. One day he was
down and his dictation, I had to write into his, what was it?
Sr. Francis Maria:
His diary.
Sr. Mary Josepha:
His diary. And a few weeks ago, 57 years later, I read it, his dictation with my name signed to it,
Novice, that I would promise to take care of him, et cetera, I forget what the rest said. And also,
sometimes, when I would go back for the tray, he wouldn't be there, but it'd have a note on it. I
can remember one note in particular that the soup tastes like dishwater, but sometimes he liked
his lunch, but sometimes. But he'd leave a note and I kept putting them in my very large pocket.
And one day I'm in the classroom, cleaning out my pocket and [Sr. Rita Dolores Simons] came
in and said, "Oh, you're cleaning your desk?" I said, "No, my pocket." She said, "Well, what's
this?" I said, "It's Arch...", so she gathered them all up and put them in the basket. I probably
would have done the same.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Wouldn't it be nice if we had them today?
Sr. Mary Josepha:

They were his writing.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Sister Josepha, when you brought him his tray, you brought that up to his bedroom?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
Yes. He had a bedroom and a sitting room.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Yes, would you tell us where that was?
Sr. Francis Maria:
Sister Josepha, toward the close of his life, I believe that the Archbishop had an accident and
then became ill. Would you tell us something about what you remember of his illness and his
Sr. Mary Josepha:
Yes, he broke his hip and the complications set in. And this particular day [Sister Mary Ellen
Mangan] said, "Don't go to class today, we're going over to see the Archbishop." So we went
over and in his room that he used as his living room, a sitting room, there were a group of sisters
were sitting in there, just outside of his bedroom. And when we went into his bedroom, [Mother
Mary Alexandrine Jackson] was there and a nurse sitting beside his bed. Now, Mother
Alexandrine and Sr. Mary Ellen blessed him with Holy Water. They came over and told me to sit
beside his bed until I was sent for. So that was about three o'clock in the afternoon. And I sat
there until six. And during that time, he came to once and he spoke, but I couldn't understand
what he said. But the nurse leaned down and said, "He recognized you and he wants you to hold
his hand." "Oh," I said, "I couldn't do that, I'm a novice." But she said, "He's an old man and he's
Well, he died the next morning, about 10 o'clock. And that evening, the day he died, I was on my
way back to the novitiate from the dining hall. The sisters met me in the hall and took a hold of
me by the arm and said, "Oh, come on, come into the parlor there, the Archbishop's body is
going to be in review." So I went in the parlor with them and there were about 25 professed
sisters standing there, the folding doors were closed, and I was a little nervous, being a novice, I
felt I didn't belong there, especially when I saw Sr. Rita, who was over the education in the
novitiate. Finally, the folding doors opened and Sr. Rita Dolores said, "We'll let his friend go in
and kneel and say the first prayer." So I went in, and I still remember how he was laid out on a
couch. He was in a lace alb with a skull cap on, and beside him, there was a large vase, a very
tall vase, with American beauty roses in.
Sr. Francis Maria:
That was a lovely tribute, wasn't it, to be called Archbishop Seton's friend? Mother Seton must
have loved you. You became more familiar with Mother Seton as the years went on.
Sr. Mary Josepha:

I didn't tell about going to Rome, did I?
Sr. Francis Maria:
No, would you tell us a little something about the beatification, Sister?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
Well, the Archbishop used to speak about Mother Seton, but I didn't know too much about
Mother Seton until I went out on a mission, and I really listened to him very politely, and he
spoke frequently of his parents, also. But I didn't recall…he used to talk about Seton annex that
he was so happy that that was named after his grandmother. Also, he gave a desk, told me about
the desk he gave to Mother Alexandrine that had belonged to Mother Seton. Now, when I went
out on a mission and I read and knew about the canonization of Mother Seton, and we received
word from the provincials that they would send one from each province. And if she was
interested, just send her name in.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Now, Sister, this would have been in the 1960s, so it was probably the beatification, was it?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
No, it was the canonization.
Sr. Francis Maria:
It was the canonization?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
In 1975.
Sr. Francis Maria:
I see.
Sr. Mary Josepha:
It was the canonization.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Did you not go to the beatification?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
I didn't go to the beatification because the principal of the school I was in [Sister Mary Angelina
Meyers of Saint Cecilia School, Englewood, NJ] wanted very much to go, and she asked me. She
said if I went she felt she couldn't go, so I didn't go. But later at the canonization, I didn't think
much, when they said someone, if you want to put your name in. But one day when I was on my
way to school with my books in my hand, I walked past the telephone booth and I just had an
inspiration. I went in and called [Sister Therese Dorothy Leland]. I said, "Sister Therese, would

you put my name in that basket for the canonization of Mother Seton?" Then I went on to school
and said a little prayer; I said, "Now, Mother Seton, you know I took care of your grandson the
last year of his life, so maybe you could send me to the canonization.”
Sr. Mary Josepha:
Nights later, the telephone rang at 10 o'clock. Sister said, "It is Sr. Therese Dorothy." Ooh, I said,
"What would she ever want me for at 10 o'clock at night?" So I went to the telephone and Sr.
Therese said, "Are you seated?" I said, "Yes." She said, "You won the trip to Rome." So I feel
that Mother Seton sent me.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Do you pray for Archbishop Seton, Sister? Do you think about him sometimes?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
I do think about him, but I don't say that I pray too much, but I do once in a while. When I think
of Mother Seton and that's…I never think of Mother Seton without thinking of the Archbishop.
And he would speak to me about his father; I wish I had paid more attention to it. But I never
considered it a bother. And I was never impatient with him.
Sr. Francis Maria:
That's a nice memory. Sister, I know that you didn't encourage long conversations with him
because your Mistress of Novices certainly gave you your orders, I'm sure about that. But apart
from the things you've already told us, do you ever remember any little things that he said to you
or anything you said to him or did for him?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
Well, I had very many interesting and humorous things we used to talk about them when I went
over to the novitiate. I don't think I spoke about the dessert, did I?
Sr. Francis Maria:
Sr. Mary Josepha:
No. He used to want me to sit down and have dessert with him, which I never did. This particular
evening, he had delicious cake and he tried hard to have me sit down, but I didn't do it. After he
left, [Sister Ursulina McKeon] came over from the other side to help me carry his dishes over.
But before we did it, we finished the cake. And also Sr. Francis Maria:
Do you remember that dessert, I suppose, better than almost any other dessert?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
Oh, yeah, I always remember. It was the only time I ever ate his dessert. Did I talk about the
notes…I did…on the tray?

Sr. Francis Maria:
Yes, you did. You told us about the notes that he used to leave for you on the tray, and how we
wish we had them today.
Sr. Mary Josepha:
When I went in for his tray one day, he asked me to go into the next room and get him a brush
and wet it and a hand mirror. I said to myself, "Well, now, if he wants me to brush his hair, I'm
not going to do it." I went out, and I held the mirror up and he said, "You have a spot on your
cape. Now, you know, when you wait on the Archbishop, you mustn't have any spots.” Well, I
removed my spot, picked up his tray and returned with it.
Sr. Francis Maria:
He was very fastidious. Now, did you ever attend his Mass, Sister, in the chapel?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
Oh, yes. I went to his Mass and when we were, and one time in particular, there were four of us
in the band, four postulants. And I guess Sr. Mary Ellen didn't know what to do with us this time,
she said, "Go over to the Archbishop's Mass." He said the Mass on Our Lady's altar, way over to
the side. When he turned around, he was very happy to see that he had an audience…he didn't
usually. And I think it was the Feast of St. Peter's Chair at Rome, because he saw when he had an
audience, he gave us a homily. Now, we were kind of young and just entered, and we really
giggled a little bit, we thought it was quite something for him to give us a homily. We went back
to the novitiate, we told Sr. Mary Ellen we giggled, and she said, "Well, that was all right."
Sr. Francis Maria:
She was understanding. But he did like the young, didn't he, Sister? I think that he didn't like the
idea of growing old himself; no one does. But I think he liked to surround himself with the
young and the happy.
Sr. Mary Josepha:
He was always happy if the college girls would stop and talk to him and sometimes they'd walk
around the grounds with him. And they were very, very kind to him. Even occasionally they
went into his living room and he showed them different things that he had, but that was his real.
Oh, he liked [Mother Mary Benita Kane]. Now, Mother Benita was a librarian then in the big
library. And he used to get the Times every day. And I used to give it to Mother Benita when he
finished the Times. But he did like Mother Benita; she was Sr. Benita then.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Yes. Well, that's a very nice thing to recall. Sister, you said he used to walk with the college
girls. I know his diary mentions many times the girls coming to visit him and he'd mention them
by name and he would look out the window and see the [Academy of Saint Elizabeth] girls
returning and he'd feel lonesome when they'd leave at the end of the summer. Also, I think they
used to escort him to movies that were held over in the auditorium. Did he ever speak to you
about being lonely?

Sr. Mary Josepha:
Yes, because he'd say that he would try to stop people to give them, and they would just go right
by. And we did have little conversations, never too long. But another time it really didn't, no one
just sympathizes with it, but he had these points for teeth. And one time he called me because he
bit his lip and it was bleeding and he wanted me to look at it and he said, "Now, look at it, feel
it." I said, "No, I don't have to feel it, Your Grace, I can see it." But you see, he was just looking
for a little sympathy.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Yes. He was probably a little frightened, too, and wanted someone to give him a little bit of
attention and take care of that for him. And you were so sweet and young with him. Now, Sister,
did he use a cane?
Sr. Mary Josepha:
No. He didn't use any cane, he used to shuffle along. You could hear him come along the hall
shuffling. But if I remember rightly, I don't think he had eyeglasses. I'm sure he didn't have
eyeglasses and he didn't use a cane. He walked slowly. He used to go to Morristown once in a
while, and he'd hire a car and take him to Morristown and he'd come back with boxes of candy
and jars of jelly for me to put away for him. And one time he gave me a half a pound of candy.
He said, "I'd give you a pound, but I know the Mistress of Novices will take it from you." So,
you know, although we had plenty of candy in the novitiate. Every once in a while, he'd give me
a book and different things and I hesitated and I said, "Sr. Mary Ellen, what will I do if he
wants?" She said, "You take anything he gives you."
Sr. Francis Maria:
He knew all about the inner workings of the things, but he was kind.
Sr. Mary Josepha:
He was very kind.
Sr. Francis Maria:
He was lonely.
Sr. Mary Josepha:
He just wanted a little attention and someone to speak to him.
Sr. Francis Maria:
Well, thank you, Sr. Josepha, for sharing those memories of Archbishop Seton with us. They're
memories, of course, that no one but yourself has. There are other sisters who remember other
things, but these are your personal memories of him. Thank you very much, Sister.

Dublin Core


Sister Mary Josepha Murphy, S.C. Oral History


Murphy, Sister Mary Josepha, S.C.; Mother Seton; Archbishop Robert Seton


Description of Sister's interactions with Archbishop Robert Seton during her novitiate year


Murphy, Sister Mary Joseph, S.C.; Cassidy, Sister Francis Maria, S.C.


Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth


July 1, 1983


Neary, Sister Noreen, S.C. (Editor)


Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth






Oral History


Sister M. Josepha Murphy describes her interactions with Archbishop Seton


July 1, 1983

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Cassidy, Sister Francis Maria, S.C.


Murphy, Sister Mary Josepha, S.C.

Original Format

cassette tape




Murphy, Sister Mary Joseph, S.C.; Cassidy, Sister Francis Maria, S.C., “Sister Mary Josepha Murphy, S.C. Oral History,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed July 14, 2024,


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