Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Sister Marie Devota Gately, S.C. Oral History

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Sister Marie Russo, SC
Sister Marie Devota Gately, SC
January 28, 1996
Sister Noreen Neary, SC
November 19, 2020

Sr. Marie:
It’s 3:15 p.m., Saint Anne Villa in Sister's room 204, regarding Sr. Marie Devota while she was
living in the Caritas community, a house of retirement for the sisters in [Jersey City, New
Jersey].
Sr. Marie:
You lived at Caritas in Jersey City from 1982 to 1995. Sr. Devota, would you like tell us about
some of the volunteer work that you did during this time?
Sr. Devota:
Well, during my time there, I was involved quite a bit of volunteer work My first thought when I
went there in 1982 was to give something that I could be of help to other people. So I
accompanied one of the sisters from Caritas over to the Visiting Homemakers Service because
she was [seeking] help for her brother. And while I was there it occurred to me that possibly they
would need some volunteer work done and they were delighted. So that was the beginning of my
work with the Visiting Homemakers Service. I used to go there every week for a few hours. And
I would call people who previously had homemakers, just to find out how they were doing, if
they needed some more help and just in what way could homemaker service be of more
assistance to them. It was really very interesting work and very gratifying work, too.
After I was there for a few months and enjoying the work very much, I received a call from the
executive's office and asking me if I would serve on a new council that they were forming, a
services advisory council of Hudson County. And I was asked if I would serve on this advisory
council. I was amused at first. I remember I was telling [Sister Jo Ann Bromley] about it. She
was our administrator at Caritas and we both had a good laugh about it, not thinking anything
would come of it. I finally was contacted and found out that it was the executive director of
homemaker services who had submitted my name to this council. Well, that was the beginning of
many things. It was really very interesting work. There were about 20 on this advisory council.
And actually our chief work was trying to determine who were the most eligible clients for the
grants that were available.
First they began on a federal basis. Then they went down from the federal to state, then to
county. And we [unintelligible] who were the people in the county who are the most deserving of
the, but it really went into millions to receive these grants. Our job was to discuss what was the
use of the grant. Why is it this particular organization applied for the grant in the first place, what
use they had for the money, and what use did it seem that they were going to make of the
money? And we just got that very interesting discussion about all of these groups. And I was
oftentimes felt that I could give a very unbiased opinion as to whether I felt which organization
would be more deserving and make more use of the grants.
Unfortunately, there were politics that entered into all these things, too. And they all felt that I
was not inclined to be as suggesting any information from a political point of view. So I did the

best I could to help those that I really felt, you did ask me as a Sister of Charity, how I felt that I
could be of use. And I really felt as a Sister of Charity, they appreciated my contributions and my
suggestions and my advice. But they're all just very wonderful people in this group and the
advisory council. They did excellent work and were very concerned about the people whom they
were serving.
Sr. Marie:
Sr. Devota, weren't you also involved in an advisory council for transportation for the elderly and
handicapped from 1984 to 1994?
Sr. Devota:
Yes. You see one of my problems when I got to Jersey City was to find out how I could get
transportation when I needed it. I had to get to the Eye Institute in Newark, for instance, and had
various places that I had to go to and transportation was a little bit of a problem. We only had the
one car. And so I began calling the county offices to find out if they didn't provide any kind of
transportation to take care of handicapped people. Before I knew it, I had a call from the county
executives in the Office of the Handicapped, asking me if I would be willing to serve on a
citizens’ committee who would determine just in what way they could serve the elderly and the
handicapped with regard to transportation. That, too, became interesting. We became involved in
deciding on what kind of vans they needed to provide for all the people. And there were many
things entering into that. What the qualifications had to be for the drivers even. And it was really,
it turned out to be something very interesting.
I always used to feel that while they were talking about vans for transportation, sometimes I felt
that actually they didn't need vans. Sometimes just an individual or two individuals needed
transportation to get to their college classes. And I couldn't see the need of having a van
transporting one or two people. I was always arguing that it would be certainly more economical
and more comfortable for the people using, needing the transportation to sit in just an ordinary
car. Well, at first my request really wasn't heeded very much. But after a while, they began to see
that this was more economical and it would certainly contribute to the comfort of the individuals
who needed the transportation. And we had to go and vans would be purchased. We had to go
and inspect the vans and see how many wheelchairs could fit in. Oh, there was so much involved
in this, but it was interesting, it was good.
Sr. Marie:
What about there was another committee, the Senior Community Independent Living Services.
You called it SCILS which you started working on in 1987 until 1994. How did you get involved
in this and how was this sort of ministry?
Sr. Devota:
Well you see, after I had been going to the homemakers volunteer service, doing my volunteer
work at the Visiting Homemakers Service, I began to feel that it was getting a little bit difficult
for me to walk over to the office where I did my work. And they were concerned too about my
crossing the streets. So they were just about to begin the SCILS program, the Senior Community
Independent Living Services. And at that time I was asked that, instead of coming over to the
office to do the work, would I please just serve on this committee where we could make

decisions as to how people could live independently and not have to come out to work. And just
what way could we be of help in suggesting means to give aid to the elderly people?
I really found this group to be particularly interesting. We became involved not so much with the
elderly people but we became very involved with the volunteers. Those who would go and assist
the elderly. The people would go in and would help them with their shopping and people who
would transit, provide transportation for them. Sometimes they would just go to visit them. And
a couple of times a year, or two or three times a year in fact, we would have group dinners
together with these volunteer people, who would explain to us what they were doing and how
much they enjoyed doing volunteer work for others. It's amazing how many people are really
interested in giving assistance to othesr and the pleasure they get out of it. I think if everybody
were aware of the pleasure you can get out of giving to others, I think more people would be
wanting to volunteer their services.
Sr. Marie:
From 1984 to 1991, Sister Devota, you were involved in a committee an archdiocesan
committee, the foster grandparents program.
Sr. Devota:
Yes.
Sr. Marie:
Could you tell something about that?
Sr. Devota:
That again was an advisory council. I never knew I could ever be on so many advisory councils
at one time. But that again was an advisory council and the Director of the Catholic Community
Services in Jersey City asked me if I would serve on that. We would meet once a month, quite
regularly. And we would just see in what way could people who would like to act as foster
grandparents really help these children. In fact, when I was first invited to be on the advisory
council I said, "Oh, no.” I thought I was expected to work with the little children myself and in
no way did I feel prepared to do this at my age. However, that wasn't it, we were just on the
advisory council for it.
And the grandparents, we used to have a luncheon once or twice a year when they would tell us
their experiences and the joy they received from being foster grandparents and acting as foster
grandparents for these little children. The elderly people themselves got so much happiness out
of it because they said, "Oh, it was so good to see the little children." They'd come in and they
just run up to them, throw their arms around them. And the elderly people got more out of it than
you could ever even imagine. So again I say, giving yourself to others is really very, very
rewarding. You get more reward, I think we got more reward out of the things we do for other
people than they actually get out of it, too.
Sr. Marie:
Sister Devota, would you tell us a little bit more about another ministry that you engaged in,
volunteer work when you were in Caritas?

Sr. Devota:
Well, one of the things I did when I began, when I first went to Caritas, was to visit the jail, the
Hudson County jail. It wasn't too far away from us, it was about, I would say about the
equivalent of about three blocks away from us. And I used to go there, spend most of every
Friday morning. I would visit the women in the jail. It was mostly a male institution, but the
women were very much in the minority. Actually, when I began my work there, we only had
about 40 or 50 women. But by the time I finished and the jail moved about ten years later, it was
the population of the women was up to a hundred. And it was interesting going there. I think
what those women needed more than anything else was someone to listen to them. So I always
gave them a willing ear and occasionally they would ask me for advice on what to do. And they
really needed it.
We used to read. I did provide copies of the New Testament for them and any time I had little
scriptural quotations or leaflets, I always gave them rosary beads. They were just so happy to get
any of these things. And each time I would go in, they would show me that they had them. I had
to teach them actually how to say the Hail Mary and the Our Father. Some of them, of course,
didn't even know that. They weren't all Catholics, but even whether they were Catholic or not,
very often they came to me. The conditions in the jail were really sad. It used to bother me very
much.
Sr. Marie:
Yeah?
Sr. Devota:
Yes, because I mean, they had become so overcrowded and actually there was one big room and
they slept in bunk beds. They were just one above the other. And there were about seven little
cells. There would be about 14 women in one of these big rooms. And they'd have to jump down
from the top bunk and that's the way they slept. And they'd see me they would really, it was
amazing how so many of them would come over to talk to me. And some of them, you'd find out
that they had several children, all by different husbands. And I used to try to talk sense to them,
giving their lives to these men, just letting them, helping them satisfy their own sexual desires.
And I said, "Who is to pay for?" I said, "Do they help you after the child is born?" Of course not.
And I would question them sometimes, I'd find out someone had five and six children, each one
by a different father. This was really sad. And I tried to help them to look into the future and see
the damage they were doing to themselves and to the children. And they liked me for it, believe
it or not.
Sr. Marie:
They didn't mind?
Sr. Devota:
No. And I did teach them the Hail Mary and the Our Father, I think I said that before. And
helped them to know what the Rosary was all about because there was quite a large Muslim
population of women in the jail. And they used to encourage the women to go to them whenever
a Muslim leader would go to them. And apparently they had appealing things to say, because a
couple of the women went over to the Muslims and thought it was really great. But I don't feel

that the women got enough spiritual help there or enough of any kind of help, to tell you the
truth. The men used to have women coming in, tutoring them and helping them prepare for their
GEDs. No one came to tutor the women. I don't know why.
And the men used to have Masses occasionally, but the women weren't invited because they said
the reason why the women weren't invited, because it would be too much of a distraction for the
men, having women at the Mass with them. So the chaplain felt that it was better not to have
them. But occasionally a priest would come and talk with them too. And another thing that we
did sometimes, there was a long time ago and they used to have the privilege of crocheting and
knitting. However, apparently it was abused because that was taken away from them.
But sometimes when a girl would be expecting a baby, she'd say to me how much she wished she
could make a little baby blanket – that she knew how to crochet or knit – or make little booties or
a little sweater for the baby. So I would have to go to one of the authorities in the jail and get
permission to get yarn for her and get all the knitting needles or the crochet hooks or whatever
she would need and get permission for her to do some crocheting.
This had to be done under a certain amount of supervision, but they were really so grateful for
this opportunity they would have to actually do some crocheting or knitting for the baby that was
coming. I could understand why it was a dangerous thing because anything with a point on is
dangerous to put in the hands of one of the inmates.
But we used to read scripture too. We provided, I got them through the jail, copies of the New
Testament. And sometimes we'd read a few passages out of it. A passage I would think would
appeal to them and we'd discuss it. But I found it very satisfying.
Sr. Marie:
I was just thinking of Saint Vincent de Paul with the galley slaves, the way he worked with them.
It reminds me of what something that he would do.
Sr. Devota:
Yes. It's really very interesting. I would have stayed there. Finally, I think it was in 1981 the jail
moved. Well, they had been really working on it and trying to improve conditions there, but then
they moved to, I think it was someplace in South Kearny. Yeah, but it's not there. I think there's
just an empty lot there now. And they were going to make it parking lot out of it or something.
Sr. Marie:
I didn't even notice that.
Sr. Devota:
But I had wanted very often to get someone to drive me to the jail after they moved. But
somehow or other that never materialized.
But I think the conditions there were better than what they had left. I didn't go away from the jail,
the jail went away from me. At the end of it, they really liked, when I would come over, I didn't
go inside the cell, but they would come. A group of them would come over to the gate to me.
And of course there were different parts that I would go into it, go into different rooms.

I'd be able to talk right with them there in the individual rooms. But this one room had all those
bunk beds in it. Other places had the bunk beds, too, but they weren't fenced in, the way some of
them, at the gate.
Sr. Marie:
And were you by yourself when you went into those other rooms?
Sr. Devota:
Oh yes, but the guard didn't like me to go right inside the cell, unless there was somebody
present there. They kind of fear of that. But I never had any problems with the women. They
were always very nice. The Lord always takes care of us.
Sr. Marie:
Yeah, it was like you had your guardian angel protecting you or something.
Sr. Devota:
I got friendly with all the authorities in the jail, too.
Sr. Marie:
Did you really?
Sr. Devota:
Yes.
Sr. Marie:
You were influencing systems there too. Besides your work in the councils, you were working
for the good of the women there by knowing the officials themselves.
Sr. Devota:
Oh, yes. Well, of course I had been into counseling before I retired. In fact, I was in counseling
quite a few years. But then I made use of the counseling again in the parish, in [Saint Joseph
School in Jersey City].
Sr. Marie:
Oh, would you tell us about that, what did you do in the school?
Sr. Devota:
What I did, the principal, Sister Joan McKee, would give me a list of names of some of the
students, all in different grades. And I would go over to the school once a week and meet these
children on an individual basis. And we would just discuss whatever their problems were or
whatever they needed. And some actually range from kindergarten up to the eighth grade.

So, that was a good experience. But there was such a different level, the whole range. I had just
maybe a couple from, not from every grade of course, but I had quite a few who came to me at
about a half hour intervals or whatever.
Sr. Marie:
Sr. Devota, you were also involved in the parish itself, besides being involved in the school.
Would you tell us about the work that you did in the parish?
Sr. Devota:
Well, before I went to Caritas community, I had been a Eucharistic minister already, had been
through that training and so forth. So when I went to Saint Joseph's parish, this parish in which
Caritas community is located, I was Eucharistic minister the whole time that I was there. And
that was really a privilege. Then once a week on Monday nights a group of the women used to
get together. In fact, they used to come over to the convent and we would have the 15 decades of
the Rosary every Monday night. And a couple of the sisters and I always participated in that and
that was rewarding. And, too, they had the annual carnival that we had in the fall of every year.
And sometimes I would go out during the carnival and help sell chances or do something like
that, just to try and make myself useful.
Sr. Marie:
If I remember correctly, you were involved, quite involved in the life of the parish in any activity
they had.
Sr. Devota:
Well, I always liked it. I felt I liked to be part of the parish. But sometimes my other activities,
for instance, the Human Services Advisory Council, we used to have meetings beside our
evening meetings. We used to have meetings on Monday, it used to be mostly committee
meetings on Monday afternoon. I had joined the senior citizens in the parish, but this interfered
with some of the other meetings I had in the Human Services Advisory Council. So I really
couldn't continue that for too long, although I went on some of the activities that they had. One
thing that they had, and this was a parish activity. I just thought of it.
The PATH [Port Authority Trans-Hudson transit system], the trains there that run at Journal
Square Port Authority, they wanted to build something right there at the square in the PATH
terminal, which ran into our parish. There were people living over there and the railroad, when
the trains went right underneath. There was this area of the parish, it was called The Island. And
whatever the Port Authority wanted to build, I don't really know exactly what it was, but I knew
it was going to be very, very noisy.
And people objected very much to it because they just felt that the noise involved, they weren't
going to stay in the parish and they did not want to move. So they organized a trip to Trenton and
asked for a group of us to go to Trenton to fight this. And, of course, I was one of the ones who
went to Trenton. And as a result, the Port Authority gave up the idea of building whatever they
wanted to build that was going to be so noisy and have such a negative influence on the people in
the parish. I was glad of that. And I made some nice acquaintances the day we went there.
Sr. Marie:

So, it sounds as if you not only were involved on councils and in the parish, you were involved
in really helping to change the life of the whole community and of a lot of people in Hudson
County.
Sr. Devota:
I don't know how much I changed their lives, but…
Sr. Marie:
Well…
Sr. Devota:
I was involved in some way in a few things.
Sr. Marie:
And it sounds as if you went out to the poor, as we do as Sisters of Charity. So, thank you for
sharing that with us and thank you for your time.
Sr. Devota:
You're very welcome and…
Sr. Marie:
And for giving us the example.
Sr. Devota:
Very happy to be able to share it because I feel that these are privileges that the Lord gave me,
that I didn't have to sit idle and just twiddle my thumbs after I had retired.
Sr. Marie:
After your retirement, right.
Sr. Devota:
But I'm very grateful for all I was able to do. And it didn't seem like a lot at the time, but now as
I look back, I'm glad I was able to do what I did.

Dublin Core

Title

Sister Marie Devota Gately, S.C. Oral History

Subject

Gately, Sister Marie Devota, S.C.; Caritas Community; Jersey City, NJ; St. Joseph Parish and School, Jersey City, NJ

Description

Description of Sister's varied volunteer activities during her retirement in Caritas Community in Jersey City, NJ

Creator

Gately, Sister Marie Devota, S.C.; Cassidy, Sister Francis Maria, S.C.

Source

Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth

Date

January 28, 1996

Contributor

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

Rights

Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth

Format

Audio/mp3

Language

English

Type

Oral History

Identifier

Sister Marie Devota describes her varied volunteer activities during her retirement in Caritas Community in Jersey City, NJ

Coverage

January 28, 1996

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Cassidy, Sister Francis Maria, S.C.

Interviewee

Gately, Sister Marie Devota, SC

Original Format

cassette tape

Duration

0:22:29

Citation

Gately, Sister Marie Devota, S.C.; Cassidy, Sister Francis Maria, S.C., “Sister Marie Devota Gately, S.C. Oral History,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed July 14, 2024, https://scfederationarchives.org/items/show/64.

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