Sister Mary Kayleen Heffron
From the tribute to Sister Mary Kayleen read at her funeral vigil.
Tribute: Sr. Mary Kayleen Heffron
Date of death: March 6, 2023
We gather to remember and celebrate the life of Sister Kayleen Heffron who, it seemed, was in a hurry to enter the kingdom, once she got in hospice care. We remember her as a very kind and considerate person, and one committed to anything she undertook.
Mary Catherine Heffron was born on April 4, 1931, to Michael Joseph and Agnes Murphy Heffron in Georgetown, Iowa. She attended St. Patrick school in Georgetown, as well as high school there, where she was taught by the Sisters of Humility. She studied nursing at the St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing in Ottumwa, completed the program in 1952, and became licensed in Iowa soon after. For several years she worked at St. Joseph Hospital and at the Monroe County Hospital in Albia, Iowa.
In September 1959 Mary Catherine entered the Congregation of the Humility of Mary while the sisters and college residents were living at the former Naval Air Base, outside Ottumwa. A devastating fire had destroyed the entire Ottumwa Heights complex – Motherhouse, Novitiate, Junior College, and Academy – in October 1957. She received the habit and her name in religion, Sister Mary Kayleen, the following summer, at St. Mary’s church. Congregation ceremonies were held there until the new Heights buildings were completed. In all, there were 22 new novices in her class. Some of the time she was among those who rode a school bus to and from the Heights property, where they worked in the laundry, which was intact after the fire, and did other projects under the direction of whoever was in charge of the job. During the last year, novice-mistress, Sr. Florence, had them do landscaping projects, in addition to the usual laundry and kitchen duties.
Sr. Kayleen professed her commitment to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in July 1962, in the beautiful new chapel at Ottumwa Heights. They made final vows in 1967, not long after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Surviving members of that class are Srs. Rae Elwood and Jude Fitzpatrick.
While in the novitiate, Sr. Kayleen completed the Associate of Arts degree at Ottumwa Heights College. She completed requirements for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing from St. Ambrose College in 1963. At that time any CHM nurse would expect to be assigned to serve at St. Joseph Hospital. Following changes adopted by the community after Vatican II, nurses, as well as all CHMs, could make other choices of location to serve in their current ministry, or to plan and prepare for a change in ministry. However, Sr. Kayleen continued at St. Joe’s until the hospital was sold to Ottumwa Regional Hospital in 1987. During her last two years she was the supervisor of the Emergency Room. Sr. Kaye Holland described her as “a delight to work with” when she was a student in the nursing school then. Sr. Kaye added that the students liked having such a young sister to work with, as most of the hospital sisters had been there for years. Sr. Kaye said she was never surprised to find Sr. Kayleen late into the evening, faithfully cleaning and sterilizing operating instruments used that day.
One reason Sr. Kayleen stayed close to home in Iowa was that she continued to visit her brother, Michael, who was a long-time resident in a nursing home in nearby Albia. She treasured that relationship that may have contributed to his long life as well.
Sr. Kayleen had a sabbatical year following the sale and spent part of it at the Weber Retreat Center on the Motherhouse property of the Dominican Sisters in Adrian, Michigan. She also listed having an enriching living experience in Massachusetts during that year. These were opportunities available to sisters after Vatican II for updating themselves in theology, Scripture and the Church’s call to the renewal of religious life in response to the “signs of the times”.
From 1988 to 2003 Sr. Kayleen worked in skilled nursing care at Ottumwa Regional Health Center. She then transferred to the Physical Rehabilitation Unit where she worked until she retired in 2010. She and Sr. Suzanne Wickenkamp had been living at the house on Alta Vista after the St. Joe’s nursing school closed. When Sr. Kayleen retired they eventually moved to apartments at 1 Pennsylvania Place. Sr. Suzanne’s health had been declining for some time and she died on February 1, 2011, a very great loss for Sr. Kayleen.
Sr. Kayleen had wonderful memories listed in her files. She described her trip to England, Wales and Ireland in 1981, with her brother, Ed, as “the trip of a lifetime”. They visited relatives and were able to gather some family history.
In 1984 all Georgetown turned out for Sr. Kayleen’s silver jubilee celebration in mid-July at St. Patrick’s Church. Sr. Mary St. Jude O’Neill was a hostess at the reception that followed the Mass, concelebrated by more than six priests. Sr. Kaye Holland was among the 11 CHMs who were there too.
Sr. Kayleen was a pilgrim on the trip to the Iowa and Missouri CHM missions, planned by the CHM/HM committee, in July 1998. The route included missions from Parnell, Iowa, to a retreat center in Independence, Missouri. Many relatives greeted Sr. Kayleen at the stops in Georgetown and Melrose. The CHM travelers saw familiar faces of community members on the pictures of high school graduates hanging on the walls in Georgetown. Sr. Kayleen and Sr. Lucille Feehan were listed as recent CHM vocations from Melrose.
Sr. Kayleen was also among the CHMs who made the week-long pilgrimage to France in 2000, also planned by the CHM/HM committee, to visit the community’s French roots. In addition to villages from which the original members came, the tour included sites associated with priest-founder, John Joseph Bégel, and, of course, Paris.
After Sr. Suzanne’s death, Sr. Kayleen engaged in a ministry of prayer, and socializing with other residents at Pennsylvania Place, friends and family. Her nursing ministry followed her there, evidenced by her nurturing spirit in greetings and visits. She moved to Humility of Mary Center in Davenport in July 2018.
That November she moved to Bishop Drumm Retirement Center in Johnston, Iowa. Staff there found her quiet, yet always attentive to others. She had befriended a neighbor lady across the hall from her. When that neighbor passed away, Sr. Sue Sellers and Pat Rothamel took Sr. Kayleen outside the building to her funeral. S. Kayleen was most grateful for that opportunity. While at Drumm she also celebrated 60 years of profession in 2019, and was joined there by sisters, residents, friends and family members.
Sr. Kayleen was fortunate in having family within the state. She had visits from her brothers, Ed from Iowa City, and Pat, from Coralville, as well as Kathleen, a sister-in-law in Melrose, who called her frequently.
On Thursday, February 23 of this year, Sr. Kayleen was taken to Mercy Hospital and tests confirmed that she had had a stroke. She returned to Bishop Drumm on Friday, February 24, and was admitted to hospice care the following Wednesday, March 1. Her brothers and sister-in-law, as well as nieces and nephews, visited during her last week, prayed with her and expressed their love. Classmate, Sr. Jude Fitzpatrick, was pleased to visit, and to pray with her as well. Sr. Kayleen was well prepared, and died less than a week later on Monday, March 6, 2023.
At her silver jubilee in Georgetown in 1984, the program had a poem from her Georgetown community that sums her life well:
Her world is one of devotion
To a life full of work and prayer.
She goes about her task humbly
With a blend of duty and care.
She chose a fine career of nursing
But another service she wished to carry.
She chose a great order to enter
The congregation of Humility of Mary.
Georgetown is proud of our Sister Kayleen;
What a sincere example she shows.
We wish her a special Irish blessing;
A halo of love to follow wherever she goes!
Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM