December 25, 1924 – November 2, 2022
“I seem to have been dropped here by the permission of the good God, and then I only think of doing what he shows me moment by moment. There is often a great variety of things, as you can well understand.”
(Letter 101, Saint Julie Billiart, Foundress, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur)
Eileen Marie Sweeney came home from her very first day of school and announced to her mother, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a Sister and a teacher.” She never wavered in her decision. Eileen grew up an only child surrounded by extended family, including cousins she loved like siblings, in Chester, PA. She loved school, studied hard and did well. In September of 1938 she enrolled as at Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA. Eileen said, “This was my first acquaintance with the Sisters of Notre Dame. My four years there were happy and growth-filled ones. We received an excellent education, and I was in many activities: glee club, newspaper, plays. Previously, I had had Franciscan Sisters whom I loved, but the Sisters of Notre Dame impressed me with their care and individual concern for each student, as well as with their professionalism.”
During her junior year, one of Eileen’s teachers gave her a book about Julie Billiart, the Foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Eileen resonated strongly with Julie’s spirituality and sense of God’s goodness and accepted an invitation to visit the provincial headquarters and formation house of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Ilchester, Maryland. The visit reinforced her desire to enter Notre Dame, but Eileen was concerned about how far it was from home. Her mother told her not to worry, so Eileen entered the community at Ilchester on August 30, 1942.
Eileen quickly came to love the seven women who entered the community with her. Their friendships would be life-long. Eileen asked to be given the name Sister Mary Regina in honor of her grandmother, and she was known by that name until she returned to using her baptismal name in the late 1960’s. After two and a half years of formation, Eileen began her decades of service.
Her first mission was to Brooklyn where she was assigned to teach third grade and fourth grade. She loved the children and had experienced Sisters helping her hone her teaching skills. Two years later Eileen was missioned to teach little girls at The Gesu in Philadelphia. She had 65 third and fourth-grade students, many of whom were foster children who came to school without breakfast. Eileen found a way to provide milk for them and prayed for those little girls for the rest of her life. She was only at The Gesu a few months when she received an unexpected mission to teach Freshmen Art at Little Flower High School in Philadelphia. Eileen had never had an art lesson except those she received in her own Freshmen Art class at Moylan. Trusting in God’s goodness and the help of her Sisters, she went to teach art and soon came to love the students and the work. Soon after the next school year started, Eileen received another sudden mission to Maryvale to replace another Sister who had become ill. Just days later she started teaching second, third and fourth-year Latin.
The summer of 1950 found Eileen back at Ilchester where she pronounced her final vows as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and received a new mission. She was chosen to be one of five Sisters sent to staff a new parish grade school in Decatur, GA. The Sisters loved the students and found the people incredibly hospitable. But the convent was not finished. They stayed with another religious congregation until Christmas and then moved into three unused classrooms with only a two-burner stove and cold water. The parishioners opened their homes to the Sisters for showers and laundry and regularly supplied them with hot meals. Pressure from the parish pushed the builders to work faster to finish the convent. Eileen didn’t get to enjoy the new convent for long as she received a mission in October, 1951 to Notre Dame High School, Wycote, PA. Eileen taught Algebra I, World History and English until the Notre Dame High School closed in 1953 at which time she was missioned back to Decatur.
By 1955, Eileen had taught grades two through six and various subjects at the high school level. She had served in six different schools. Eileen valued her grade school experience as she felt it taught her how children really learn which made her a stronger secondary level teacher. She preferred teaching high school students, and since her parents were aging, she asked to be missioned closer to home to make it easier for her parents to visit. Her community agreed and Eileen was missioned to Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA. Eileen happily settled in to teach Latin and Church History, but more stringent accreditation requirements required she have a graduate degree. She became a full-time student the following year, and continued studying during summers until she finished her graduate degree in 1964.
Eileen’s progress in that year of study enabled her to continue teaching, so she was missioned to Trinity Preparatory School at Ilchester in 1957. She spent four happy years there teaching Latin and English, followed by two years teaching French and Spanish at West Catholic High School in Philadelphia. During these years Eileen also enjoyed organizing summer trips for foreign language students to visit historical places, art galleries and other cultural riches of Europe.
In 1963, Eileen was asked to take on new responsibilities. She was missioned to be principal and superior of St. Francis Xavier Parish School in Washington, D.C. Eileen led the school comprised of two buildings that were a block apart. She introduced French classes to the upper grades and oversaw increased innovation in educational practices. These years also saw the beginning of the renewal of the Church and religious communities initiated by the Second Vatican Council. With care for each Sister in her charge, Eileen navigated the community through the first changes.
By the end of the summer of 1967, both of Eileen’s parents had died and she was taking on responsibilities as principal at the Academy of Notre Dame in Washington, D.C., and as superior of the Academy of Notre Dame community that had recently been relocated to a new site. By the following year, Eileen had convinced her leadership to mission someone else to the role of principal so she could teach French and Religion. She also continued to serve as assistant principal. The summers found Eileen taking classes at Catholic University to update her theology so she could continue teaching religion.
1970 found Eileen back at Trinity Preparatory School at Ilchester. This time she taught French. As the community continued through the renewal process, new needs surfaced, and Eileen was asked to serve as the first Personnel Director of the Maryland Unit. During the 1971-1972 school year she continued teaching French and set up the office while initiating the Assessment of Life and Works process that Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur world-wide were asked to undertake. After a year, Eileen felt the role needed someone with a counseling background to better serve the Sisters, so she asked to be replaced. She happily accepted a mission to Philadelphia where she served as Department Chair and teacher of Spanish and Latin at St. Maria Goretti High School. Three years later Eileen was asked to serve on the Maryland Province Leadership Team and take on responsibility for areas of Community and Spiritual life. She served on the Leadership Team for three years. During this time Eileen was introduced to the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator. Seeing this as a good tool to help with community building efforts, Eileen became a certified administrator of the Myers-Briggs testing program. She continued serving as a consultant on the MBPI into the last years of her life and thoroughly enjoyed working with individuals to deepen their understanding of themselves, and helping groups in understanding of one another through the use of the Myers-Briggs materials. Eileen’s term on the Leadership Team ended in 1978 and she gladly accepted a mission to teach Spanish and English at the Academy of Notre Dame, Villanova, PA. Three years later she was missioned back to St. Maria Goretti High School in Philadelphia to teach French and Spanish.
In 1984, Eileen accepted a mission to Trinity College in Washington, D.C., where her skills were needed to help with the Education for Parish Service Program (EPS). She described EPS years later: “This program enabled lay people to update their faith and knowledge after Vatican II. There were superb courses in theology, scripture, sacraments, teaching methods and faithful living. The best professors from many religious orders of men and women served as faculty of EPS.” Eileen felt part of the grace of her years with EPS was her own understanding of the richness of the Vatican II renewal grew. Another part of the grace was how the relationships she built with EPS faculty and lay participants expanded her world and shaped how she lived her own life.
Eileen was 72 at the end of her 12 years with EPS and felt she needed to slow down. She wanted to continue offering workshops with Myers-Briggs. After encouragement from others, she also gained certification to offer mid-life and long-life workshops. Eileen was hampered by eye problems that led to the loss of her left eye, but she was able to continue giving workshops. In 1999, she asked to move to Philadelphia to be closer to her eye doctor. Eileen joined a local community of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and continued giving workshops as well as volunteering at St. Maria Goretti High School. In 2004, increasing back problems motivated her to move to the Villa Julie community in Stevenson, MD. Eileen spent thirteen happy years in community service at Villa Julie, before declining health brought her to the Mount Notre Dame Health Center Community in Reading, Ohio, in 2017.
Eileen brought all the gifts she shared in her ministries, and so many more, to community life with her Sisters. Her mother asked her once, “What do you do that they move you so much?” Eileen replied, “Mother, I really don’t know. Except that I sew, and I sew habits and so maybe they need somebody to sew habits and veils and all the things we wear.” Eileen was a gifted seamstress, and she was asked to help with the habits in every community in which she lived before 1969. She continued to sew until her last years, and crocheted items to give as gifts or to give to the Mount Notre Dame gift shop which raises proceeds for Notre Dame de Namur ministries. She was also an amazing cook and baker. Sisters she lived with continued enjoying her cakes, cookies and cinnamon buns until 2012 when she could no longer bake. Eileen was also a great sacristan. She loved community life and was quite happy in large community settings. Perhaps the real reasons Eileen was moved so much were her adaptability, generosity, openness to the gifts of those around her and deep belief that God would help her do whatever she was asked to do. Eileen loved people and was hospitable to whomever God sent her way. She was a great conversationalist, sharing on topics from current events to books she was reading, to prayer, and always interested in the thoughts of those around her. Eileen loved to travel. She enjoyed taking students (high school and adult) on trips to Europe, as well as pilgrimages to Notre Dame de Namur heritage sites and shrines, and treasured her memories of these experiences. Eileen was a woman of deep prayer and always held the needs of individuals, and the world, up to her good and loving God.
Eileen once shared that as a novice she read the autobiography of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux and immediately loved her. She thought it would be a good idea to pray to die young like St. Thérèse did. Her Novice Mistress disagreed and told her, “You don’t pray to die young! The Institute needs you.” We’re grateful Eileen listened to her Novice Mistress. We’re grateful she lived to celebrate her 80th jubilee as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. At her 70th jubilee Eileen wrote, “To belong to St. Julie’s Congregation and to share in her work for the Good God has been a privilege. The companionship and love of our Sisters, the ability to share our apostolic ministries with them has been a very special grace. Whatever the future holds, my song is one of constant and eternal praise and thanksgiving to our ever Good God. It will take eternity to thank our dear Good God for these many years of grace-filled living. My prayer is that St. Julie’s spirit and zeal continue to serve our Church and needy world.” We rejoice with Eileen that it was her many loved ones who went before her that accompanied her as she fully entered God’s embrace on the Feast of All Souls. As those of us who knew and loved Eileen gather to celebrate her long life, we thank God for the gift of Eileen, for her long life of sharing God’s goodness with so many. We thank Eileen for the gifts of love, inspiration and friendship she has given us. She shared once, “There’s a saying that…there is no distance between friends because love give wings to the heart.” One of the things that initially drew her to Saint Julie was Julie’s oft repeated encouragement to meet each other in the Heart of our good Jesus. We join Eileen’s song of praise and thanksgiving to God, and in the words of St. Julie we each ask Eileen, “Pray much for me, my good friend, that I may follow the spirit of the good God step by step all my life, in all he seems to ask of me.” (Letter 153)
- Born December 25, 1924, at Chester, PA
- Parents: William Anthony Sweeney (born: Chester, PA) and Ellen (Nellie) Gertrude Welsh (born: Chester, PA)
- Baptized on January 11, 1925, at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Chester, PA
- Confirmed on November 8, 1932, at the Church of the Resurrection, Chester, PA
- Entered: August 31, 1942 at Ilchester, MD
- Professed First Vows: February 16, 1945
- Professed Final Vows: 7/30/1950
- Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA 1942
- A.B. in Romance Languages (Latin), Trinity College, Washington, D.C. 1948
- M.A. in Modern Languages (French & Spanish), Villanova University, Villanova, PA 1964
- 1945-1947: Teacher, St. Catherine of Genoa, Brooklyn, NY
- 9/1/1947-12/21/1947: Teacher, The Gesu, Philadelphia, PA
- 1/1/1947-8/31/1948: Art Teacher, Little Flower High School, Philadelphia, PA
- 1948-1950: Teacher, Maryvale, Brooklandville, MD
- 1950-1951: Teacher, St. Thomas More, Decatur, GA
- 1951-1953: Teacher, Notre Dame High School, Wyncote, PA
- 1953-1955: Teacher, St. Thomas More, Decatur, GA
- 1955-1956: Latin Teacher, Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA
- 1956-1957: Student, Trinity College, Washington, D.C.
- 1957-1961: Latin Teacher, Trinity Preparatory School, Ilchester, MD
- 1961-1963: Teacher of French & Spanish, West Catholic Girls’ High School, Philadelphia, PA
- 1963-1967: Principal, St. Francis Xavier, Washington, D.C.
- 1967-1970: Teacher & Principal, Academy of Notre Dame, K Street, Washington, D.C.
- 1970-1971: French Teacher, Trinity Preparatory School, Ilchester, MD
- 1971-1972: Director of Personnel, Maryland Province, Ilchester, MD
- 1972-1975: Teacher of Spanish & Latin, Department Head, St. Maria Goretti High School, Philadelphia, PA
- 1975-1978: Provincial Leadership Team, Maryland Province Offices, Ilchester, MD
- 1978-1981: Spanish & English Teacher, Academy of Notre Dame, Villanova, PA
- 1981-1984: French & Spanish Teacher, St. Maria Goretti High School, Philadelphia, PA
- 1984-1996: Education for Parish Services Program, Trinity College, Washington, D.C.
- 1996-1999: Workshop Presenter (Myers Briggs & Mid-Life workshops), Washington, D.C.
- 1999-2004: Workshop Presenter, Resurrection Convent, Philadelphia, PA
- 6/4/2004-8/1/2017: Ministry of Prayer & Community Service, Villa Julie, Stevenson, MD
- 8/1/2017-present: Ministry of Prayer & Presence, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, OH
DIED: November 2, 2022, at Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
November 3, 2022