Family, friends and students say goodbye to beloved Sister Pat

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By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — “‘Say not with sadness that she is no more, but say with thankfulness that she was,’” said Father Brian Harrington, holding back tears as he quoted a sympathy card during his eulogy for his late sister, Sister Patricia Harrington. “I am here in faith with you to thank the Lord for the gift that my sister was to all of us. She was a part of every family because of the gift of herself. She put herself available to everybody so she became a part of every family.”

“It was absolutely beautiful,” said Cindy Dion-DeTrolio, director of Marketing and Publications at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, of Father Harrington’s eulogy. “He did it in a typical way with Irish humor and tears.” 

Beloved at Bishop Feehan for her 45 years of service at the school, Sister Pat — as she was known — touched an untold number of lives through her work as a teacher, offering advice and support to those around her. She belonged to the Sisters of Mercy, entering on Sept. 8, 1957 and was professed Aug. 16, 1965; she celebrated her 50th anniversary of becoming a nun in 2007.

“She was truly the kindest, most loving person most could ever meet,” said Dion-DeTrolio. “She made you feel like you were the most special person for just being you. She made everyone who met her feel that way, all she had to do was look at you and smile and she would say something that you needed to hear — like an angel. She built you up. She touched so many thousands of lives, and every one of them felt special to her. Heaven became an even brighter place. We all reflect a little bit of that light because we all became kinder people just from knowing her. She was and always will be the rarest beauty.”

Dion-DeTrolio said it was Bishop Feehan’s honor to “roll out the green carpet” for the school’s “most beloved shamrock” and host the more than 3,400 people who came to attend what was originally a four-hour wake, but was extended to “more like a six-hour wake,” said Dion-DeTrolio. “But there was not one complaint about the wait to get in. The Harrington Family could not have been more welcoming and genuinely interested in every single person who came through. They were just amazing.”

Father Harrington engaged with everyone “and he had maybe 20 seconds to talk to them, and he managed to say something relevant to them,” she said. 

There were a lot of mini-reunions during the wake, and people posted pictures on social media, adding that Sister Pat would be happy that they had reconnected, said Dion-DeTrolio.

“It was not a somber atmosphere at all,” she said. “It was a very reflective, happy atmosphere and nostalgic atmosphere for a lot of people who hadn’t been back [to Bishop Feehan] since they had graduated.”

More than 1,000 people attended the funeral, and an additional 1,000 from five different countries watched it as the Attleboro cable company, who also broadcast it live on TV, streamed it online. Father Harrington’s eulogy was heartfelt and touching, and Dion-DeTrolio confessed she has watched it a few more times since the funeral.

“The Harrington Family is as warm and loving as she was, as anyone who knew her and listened to Father Brian’s eulogy could attest,” said Dion-DeTrolio. “His eulogy was everything anyone could have hoped for in honoring God’s joy and love reflected by her on to all of us, while at the same time he demonstrated his great personal love for his sister. It was a touching celebration of a jubilant life.”

Deacon Joe McGinley, theology teacher at Bishop Feehan, first met Sister Pat as a parent when his two daughters attended the high school. Deacon McGinley recalled when his youngest daughter attended a Red Sox game with Sister Pat as part of a school function and has a picture of Sister Pat surrounded by students, including his daughter, with everyone wearing a big smile on his or her face.

“I once read a quote from a teacher that I have never forgotten: ‘If I want my students to grow up to be nice people, then, in the classroom, I have to be the nicest person they have ever met,’” said Deacon McGinley. “My impression, in talking with former students of Sister Pat, is that she was the nicest person they ever met, and I don’t think she had to work at it — it was intrinsic to her. She had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world to her. That is what she brought to Bishop Feehan — everyone who came in contact with her learned what unconditional love felt like.

“As a teacher, there have been times when, upon reflection, I realized that I could have handled a difficult situation that arose in the classroom in a better way — and I always find myself wondering, how Sister Pat would have handled that situation? Invariably, I realize that Sister would have shown more patience, more compassion, and more mercy. St. Augustine once said, ‘Love, then do what you will.’ In the end, I think that everything Sister Pat did flowed from love.”

Former Bishop Feehan student and current seminarian Matthew Gill said that Sister Pat was selfless in her contributions to the Bishop Feehan community, offering gentle encouragement.

“When she would speak to me I knew that she was giving me her complete attention and care in that moment,” said Gill. “I saw Sister Pat a few times after graduation. A few months ago, Kevin Brawley, Larry Valliere and I went to see her in a rehabilitation center in Brighton. Although she was sick and growing weak, she still was joyful and full of life. Father Brian Harrington, her brother, and one of her sisters were there too. We were all joking and laughing and were just enjoying one another’s company. She said several times, ‘It’s been a good ride,’ and she seemed to be at peace. I think in order to have that peace and joy, one needs a close relationship with the Lord, and I think that also is a beautiful manifestation of holiness. After meeting and knowing Sister Pat, one walks away with a sense of peace and a knowledge of being loved by God through her, His chosen instrument.”

Along with her brother, Father Harrington, Sister Pat leaves behind two sisters, Sister Kathleen Harrington, RSM, of New Bedford and Sister Sheila Harrington, RSM, of Riverside; another brother, Kevin Harrington, Capt. FRFD (ret.) and his wife Joy, of Fall River; two nieces, five grandnieces and nephews, and many cousins. Sister Pat was interred at St. Mary’s Cemetery in New Bedford.

The Sister Pat Harrington Scholarship Fund was established years ago at Bishop Feehan, and donations can be made to the scholarship fund; 70 Holcott Drive, Attleboro, Mass. 02703. 

Donations are also being accepted to the Sisters of Mercy, 15 Highland View Road, Cumberland, R.I., 02864.

A former student created a “Go Fund Me” page (www.GoFundMe.com), selling “Sister Pat TShirts” (sic), which on the front shows the school’s shamrock symbol and states, “Say Yes to the Morning,” a positive message that Sister Pat used to say on a regular basis, while on the back the shirt has a heart and written is “Sister Pat.” One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to the Sisters of Mercy; it has already raised its goal of $3,000 and it continues to rise.

To see Sister Pat’s funeral in its entirety, click on the embedded link below or visit www.YouTube.com and search for “The Funeral of Sister Patricia Harrington.”

“She was the brightest light I have ever known on this earth,” said Dion-DeTrolio, and though the light may have dimmed, it hasn’t been extinguished as evidenced by the outpouring of grief, love and support from the Bishop Feehan community who turned out in droves after her passing. 

“It just shows the breadth of people she managed to have an effect on,” said Dion-DeTrolio, “and whose influence stuck with them for so long. Even if they had only one or two memorable experiences with her, somehow her kindness — you were just infused with it, you took it to heart and you appreciated her for it. She was just one of those rare people; I’ve never met anyone like her and I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like her.”


© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts