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Sister Mary Philothea (Elizabeth Blake)

List of deceased Sisters

Date of death 27/10/2020

Sr. Mary Philothea Blake smsm

June 3rd, 1930 – October 27th, 2020

SMSM SistersElizabeth Agnes Blake was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 3rd,1930, the first of ten children of Joseph Michael Blake and Hanora Agnes Maguire.  Many years later, she wrote about her parents, that “they were loving and hard-working.  They made tremendous sacrifices to support their large family and to give each of their children a Catholic education.  Despite the hardships of the Depression, and then wartime, they welcomed each addition to the family, confident that the Lord would provide, if they did their best in doing their part.... My parents’ faith and trust were imparted more by their example than by their words.”

During high school Elizabeth worked at several part-time and summer jobs.  During her last two years she worked after school and summers at the Brooklyn Public Library.    After graduating from high school, she went to work full time at the Library, while she was also discerning her religious and missionary vocation with the help of one of the priests at her parish.  It was during this time that she also joined a “Mission Vocation Club” where she met several others who would later join the SMSM: Catherine Keogh, Betteann McDermott and Carol O’Brien.

Elizabeth entered the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary in Lowell, Massachusetts on July 31st, 1951.  On entering the novitiate in Bedford, she was given the name “Sister Mary Philothea.” She made her first vows there on February 2nd, 1954. On the same day she was given her mission “destination”: the Solomon Islands.  Just five weeks later she was on her way: travelling across country by train, then by ship – a journey that took 3 months before she set foot on what was then known as the “British Solomon Islands Protectorate”.

During her first six years in the Solomons, Sr Mary Philothea served first on the island of Malaita, and later on Guadalcanal.  It was nine years since the end of the Second World War, but the islands were still feeling the effects of the devastation that had happened there.  In her own words, Sr Philothea described the life of our Sisters:

In answer to the needs and conditions of those times, one had to do many different things each day: teach, care for the sick, assist in delivering babies, work with the children in the food gardens, care for any animals the mission was lucky enough to have, such as cows, chickens, goats or pigs...or at least oversee the care given by the young people who lived with us in order to get their education.  Our communities generally numbered only two or three Sisters and we shared responsibility for our everyday needs and those of the missionary priests and brothers on the same mission station.

In January 1960, Sr. Philothea was appointed to Sydney, Australia, where she attended the Teachers’ Training College for two years.  Returning to the Solomons in 1962, she taught at St John’s School in Honiara. At the end of that year she returned to Buma, on Malaita, and was appointed the Head Teacher and Local Superior of the community.  At the beginning of 1964 she and two other SMSM Sisters began a Teacher Training College at Visale, on Guadalcanal.  This college was to prepare Catholic lay women and also members of the local diocesan religious congregation, the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, to become teachers.  It was soon recognized by the government as equivalent to their own Teachers’ College (which at that time was for men only).  The women teachers would receive the same wages and benefits as the men, and primary education was greatly expanded.  In 1970, when the government college began to admit women, Sr. Mary Philothea was asked to join the staff there, which she did for the next 6 years.

After thirteen years working in Teacher Training, Sr Philothea was asked to become involved in Church leadership Formation at the parish level, and later at the national level.  In preparation she was sent to the East Asian Pastoral Institute in the Philippines. (1977). On her return she began a Pastoral Training Center at Tangarare. 

Later a Pastoral Training Center was established by the Bishops of the three dioceses in the Solomon Islands. Men who were parish leaders, catechists, and those interested in priesthood or religious life were all trained at the Nazareth Apostolic Center for periods of 2 to 5 years. Sr Philothea served there in 1980-81.

In November 1981, Sister went for a home visit to the USA and transferred to the North American Province.  From 1982-84 she joined Sr. M. Stephen in a mission in rural southern Georgia.  She enjoyed this time of mission in a very different area.  But in response to a request from the Bishops of the Solomon Islands she returned to the islands in 1985 to draw up a religious education program and to train teachers in its use.  This she worked on diligently until the end of 1989 when she returned to the USA to be near her mother whose health was declining.  Philothea had some time for renewal, for her own health care (2 hip replacements) and community service as well as visiting her mother.  She had missed her father’s death some years earlier and was grateful to be there when her mother died in February 1992.

In 1993 Philothea was surprised to receive another call to return to the Solomon Islands: this time to help young women who were interested in becoming SMSM with their discernment of this vocation.  She gladly responded to this and from 1994 to 1996 was in charge of “Linnane House”, which was designated for this purpose in Honiara.

In December 1996, Sr Philothea returned to the USA for the final time – but her active life was not over.  She was appointed Assistant Coordinator at our central house in Waltham, and in 1998, was also able to participate with other Senior Sisters in a Marist renewal program in Rome and France.  From 1999 to 2001 she and Sr. Patricia Mahoney joined a collaborative campus ministry with Marist Fathers John Ulrich and Kevin Duggan at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

In 2003 Philothea joined the Sisters in Memphis, Tennessee, doing secretarial work for the parish.  She became the Marist Laity Coordinator there the following year.  In 2006 she returned to Waltham, and a new ministry: organizing the Mission Co-ops: those annual appeals made in parishes for support for overseas missions. From 2007- 2009 she was the Coordinator of the Newton St Community.

In October, 2013 Sr Philothea move to the Marillac Assisted Living community in Wellesley Hills, MA, and enjoyed that community of Sisters from different congregations as well as a good number of SMSM.  When her health needs increased, she was moved to Maristhill Nursing Home in Waltham, and on February 28th, 2020, moved to St Patrick’s Manor in Framingham.  With the recent visiting restrictions imposed on the nursing homes because of Covid-19, only our Regional Leader, Sr. Helen was permitted to visit Sr Philothea during her last days.  She did not have the virus, and she was very peaceful during these last weeks.

Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Sr Mary Philothea will remember her as a joyful and generous woman with a loving heart, who exemplifies the call we have all received: “to respond with joy
to the call of Christ to participate today in the universal mission He has confided to His Church “ (SMSM Constitutions #2)

Gratefully in Mary,    

Sister Helen Muller, smsm                                                        Sister Virginia Fornasa, smsm

Regional Leader                                                                       Communications Secretary