Sister Phyllis Braniff SNDdeN
November 4, 1930 – January 31, 2022
“Let’s ask that God may send us that spirit of charity, of goodness, of simplicity, which makes us docile to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” (Letter 22, Saint Julie Billiart, Foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur)
Phyllis Anne Braniff was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the beloved only child of her parents, Phillip and Beatrice. She shared memories of a loving home life that included strong bonds to the extended family. Phyllis’ stories of home showed the roots of her loving nature, inquiring mind and adventurous spirit. They also showed the roots of her deep faith and love of her good God.
Her parents entrusted Phyllis’ education to the Benedictines at Monte Cassino Catholic School which she attended for twelve years. It was while she was at Monte Cassino that Phyllis first felt she was called to religious life, but she decided to continue her education before making a decision. She enrolled at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. where she majored in English with minors in Art, French and History. It was at Trinity that Phyllis met the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Phyllis continued to feel called to religious life, but broader life experience had complicated the issue. She felt drawn to the Benedictines, to the Carmelites and to the Sisters of Notre Dame. Phyllis was leaning towards the Sisters of Notre Dame, but she also felt the Sisters were extremely reserved. Phyllis wasn’t sure she would be able to be that reserved. A Sister she turned to for advice took her to visit a nearby smaller community and the Provincial House at Ilchester, Maryland. The visits confirmed for Phyllis she could, and was called to live her life as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. She entered the community at Ilchester on August 17, 1952. Reflecting on her decision 50 years later Phyllis said, “Over these 50 years I have found that the dear Lord put me where he wanted me in His own good time. I just had to trust Him and wait.”
As a novice, Phyllis received the name Sister Anne Phillip by which she was known until the late 1960s when she returned to using her baptismal name. Because she already had her college degree, Phyllis was missioned to teach as soon as she made her vows. She was sent to Villa Julie College in Stevenson, Maryland to teach English. That was but a small part of her work there. Phyllis said: “I was assigned to serve as the ‘black clothes-keeper’ to make and repair the habits. (I learned to sew in an 8th grade Domestic Science course where we had two semesters of sewing and no cooking!) Also, I was to teach Communication Skills and Clothing Construction to the college students! I was the moderator of the yearbook and did the photography for it as well. During the summers, I studied at Drexel University where I earned my master’s degree in Textiles and Clothing – excellent training for future adventures.”
Phyllis was missioned to Notre Dame High School, Moylan, Pennsylvania. There she taught various courses in dress design, tailoring and clothing construction. Phyllis also organized the annual fashion shows which she described as “…a mixture of stress, talent, creativity, fun and putting your best foot forward.” She also gained experience in administration by serving as Director of Student Activities and later as Dean of Students at Moylan. Then came a surprising phone call from the President of Trinity College asking her to take a group of sophomores to England as part of Trinity’s Oxford Program. Phyllis wasn’t sure she was the person for the task. She later said it was after much prayer and consultation the she “finally took a leap in faith, and came home to Trinity College.”
The next 34 years found Phyllis serving in various capacities while living in the Trinity College community. She served as liaison for students and tutors in the Oxford Program and as Acting Dean of Students. Then Phyllis was asked to help with some of the courses for the new Education for Parish Service (EPS) Program at the College. As the program grew, Phyllis was asked to serve as the Director of the Virginia EPS site. She served in that position for 18 years. All during those years Phyllis served as Sacristan for Notre Dame Chapel at Trinity and did tailoring work in her spare time. She also spent many summers in Oklahoma City caring for her mother. During three of those summers she earned a cosmetology certificate so she could provide basic cosmetology services, in addition to her seamstress services, to her Sisters.
Phyllis “retired” from the EPS Program in 2001, but she did not stop working. She continued to care for Notre Dame Chapel, arrange flowers for major college events, and carried on a “sewing ministry” which, for anyone else, would have been a full time job! She said, “I make infants’ clothing for destitute pregnant women, habits for the Benedictine monks at St. Anselm’s Abbey, Liturgical vestments as requested, and lastly I make the stocks worn by the Trinity College Seniors!”
In community Phyllis was a joyful and helpful presence. She enjoyed getting to know individual Sisters and marveled at both commonalities and how the gifts of others complemented her own. Phyllis liked to be busy. She often saw ways she could be of service and quietly went about doing what needed to be done. Phyllis enjoyed community activities and was an active participant in Province life. She was an attentive listener. Phyllis was also open to new ideas and loved to learn. She took workshops and courses in a myriad of areas over the years, and looked forward to ongoing formation activities with her community.
At the time of her 50th Jubilee as a Sister of Notre Dame Phyllis said, “Now I look back to a lifetime so endlessly graced and blessed by God. I also look forward to the future, hoping the good God will continue to be with me on the journey till we all meet again and enjoy forever this God who is so good.” At her 60th Jubilee she expressed gratitude to her “Sister companions on the journey.” Now, as her Sisters, extended family and many friends gather to celebrate her life, we give thanks for Phyllis’ companionship on the journey. We celebrate the many ways she has made God’s goodness known to each person she met along her journey. We ask her prayers for us as we continue our journey into our good God.
We have been gifted with each other, and we are called by the Word of the Lord:
to act with justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God, to walk humbly with our God.
We are companions on the journey, breaking bread and sharing life; and in the love we bear
is the hope we share for we believe in the love of our God, we believe in the love of our God.
(Companions on the Journey, Carey Landry)
- Born November 4, 1930 in Chicago, IL
- Parents: Phillip Braniff (born: Salina, KS) and Beatrice Maney (born: El Reno, OK
- Baptized on December 26, 1930 at Holy Family Catholic Church, Tulsa, OK
- Entered: August 17, 1952 at Ilchester, MD
- Professed First Vows: February 2, 1955
- Professed Final Vows: July 30, 1960
- Monte Cassino Catholic School, Tulsa, OK, 1948
- A.B. in English, Trinity University, Washington, D.C., 1952
- M.S. in Textile and Clothing, Drexel Institute of Technology, Philadelphia, PA, 1959
- 2/1955-8/31/1964 Teacher, Villa Julie, Stevenson, MD
- 1964-1978 Teacher/Dean of Students, Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA
- 1978-1980 Oxford Program, Trinity College, Washington, D.C.
- 1980-1981 Acting Dean of Students, Trinity College, Washington, D.C.
- 1981-1984 Education for Parish Service, Trinity College, Washington, D.C.
- 1984-2001 Director, Education for Parish Service, Virginia, and Tailor, Trinity College, Washington, D.C.
- 2001-2012 Community Service/Sewing Ministry, Trinity Community, Washington, D.C.
- August 2, 2012- October 8, 2013: Community Service/Sewing Ministry, Villa Julie, Stevenson, MD
- October 9, 2013-2022 Ministry of Prayer, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, OH
January 31, 2022 at Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, OH
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
February 7, 2022