Sister Maureen Turlish, SNDdeN
July 5, 1939 - July 18, 2018
Sisters of Notre Dame in the Mid-Atlantic area are familiar with Maureen Turlish as a tenacious, outspoken activist. But that “public persona” is only part of her life story. There are many blanks to be filled in!
It was as a student at Maria Goretti High School that Maureen first encountered Sisters of Notre Dame. One SND in particular was to have a lasting influence – her art teacher, Marie Martin Maguire. Long after Maureen’s graduation in 1958, they remained in contact. After two years as a secretary at the University of Pennsylvania’s Children’s Hospital, Maureen’s attraction to the spirit of her SND friends won out. She entered Notre Dame in 1960.
By then, she had put down deep roots, not just in her family, but in her parish as well. “I entered from Mother of Divine Providence Parish in King of Prussia,” she wrote as a golden jubilarian, and she seems to have taken particular delight from having her Mass of Final Profession at her home parish: “I believe this was a first for Notre Dame,” she said.
She expressed special gratitude for “the nurturing of a loving family.” She seems to have grown particularly close to her father, who during his years as president of a Labor Union in Philadelphia, introduced her to the world of advocacy and activism. “I was in my first picket line at about age 9 or 10,” she recalled, attributing her “early education in justice and peace issues” to her upbringing. Her father’s sudden death in the mid-seventies while Maureen was teaching at St. Albert’s was a great sorrow: “He died of a heart attack negotiating a better contract and a better standard of living for the women and men [of] the American Bakery and Confectionary Workers Union.” Maureen did her best to help her mother cope with the unexpected loss. Years later, when Mrs. Turlish was dying of cancer, Maureen moved back home to care for her.
By the time of her mother’s death, Maureen had been teaching for three decades. Art had become her specialty, and she had made children’s access to instruction in art one of her causes. She regretted art’s “second-class status” in school curricula, arguing for its essential role in the quality education of children. As a high-school senior herself (no doubt, with Sr. Marie Martin’s encouragement), Maureen had supplemented Goretti’s art offerings with Saturday classes at Philadelphia’s Moore Institute of Art. No surprise, then, that as a teacher, she took every opportunity for professional development in art education, eventually pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Maryland.
Through it all, Maureen maintained contact with her good friend and mentor, Sr. Marie Martin Maguire. In fact, Marie Martin’s six sisters adopted her as an honorary “Maguire girl.” One of them, Marianna Rizzo, treasures memories of Maureen’s presence at Maguire family weddings, funerals, and holiday celebrations. Even more, she treasures Maureen’s support for Marie Martin (“Carmie” to her family) as memory loss and dementia began to take hold: “Maureen made sure they continued to go on retreats together, and she joined the ‘Maguire girls’ on a cruise to Nova Scotia.” Afterwards, she made Carmie an album of the cruise to help her remember the joy of it. Marianna also recalls how Maureen helped with driving and shopping expeditions, and was an important “emotional support to Carmie and all of us.” She and Maureen traveled together to visit her sister several times. At their last visit, two weeks before Marie Martin died, “she was able to hold our hands and lovingly stroke our faces to convey her love for both of us.” Marianna last saw Maureen at a family reunion in 2017: “She was so happy to see our children, grandchildren and my great grandchildren that day. Her smile was ear to ear as she visited with each group and, of course, played with the toddlers.
So many of the priorities we find in Maureen’s life -- family, parish, Notre Dame, the rights and delights of children—resonate with the spirit of Julie Billiart that Maureen had sensed in her SND teachers at Goretti. How good, then, that in July, 2001, she had the joy of a pilgrimage to Belgium and France, In the Footsteps of Julie and Françoise, sponsored by the former Maryland Province. The trip was planned around a congregation-wide celebration of the 250th anniversary of St. Julie’s birth and Baptism. SNDs from all five continents came together in Cuvilly’s parish church of St. Eloi for a magnificent Mass of Thanksgiving. Maryland’s SNDs and Associates had been encouraged to prepare for this memorable pilgrimage by studying the writings of our co-foundresses, particularly their letters and Memoirs, so they could take turns sharing reflections along the way, noting Julie’s early love for her home parish; her courageous fidelity to the Church; her collaboration with the Fathers of the Faith in parish and diocesan mission work; her friendship with our co-foundress, Françoise; their shared struggle to discern God’s will when the Bishop of Amiens unjustly refused to recognize Julie’s rightful authority as Foundress and Mother General; their expulsion from Amiens and move to Namur. Standing on holy ground in Cuvilly, Gézaincourt, Compiegne, Amiens, St. Valery and Namur was a special gift for Maureen, all the more because her good friend, Sr. Marie Martin, was her companion on the journey.
It was around this time that the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests was beginning to make headlines. By 2002, Maureen was on the picket lines demanding protection of children from such abuse and compensation for adults bearing its scars. At her first profession in 1963, she had added a coda to her vow formula that promised “a special dedication to women and children.” As a golden jubilarian in 2010, she closed her reflection by quoting our congregation’s 2008 General Chapter: “We are called to listen to the mourning of our fragmented world [and] of sexually exploited, trafficked, marginalized and abused women and children.” “I am a Catholic sister,” she declared in one of her talks. “I have been involved in the education of children for over 35 years and I love my faith, but I’m still waiting for church leadership to own up and take responsibility for their failures in protecting children.” Maureen, like her father, was a persistent – even fierce - activist.
But that public persona seems to have masked a very real inner sense of loss. “Something has been taken from me . . . ,” she once wrote. “A part of me has died. It’s like a death in the family . . . that can never be restored or brought back.”
In the providence of God, however, and to her great joy, that sense of loss was restored through her participation in the parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bear, Delaware. According to her pastor, Fr. Roger DiBuo, Maureen found a spiritual home there. She “pitched in” to parish activities with gusto, helping with religious education, children’s Liturgy of the Word, the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday, the washing of feet on Holy Thursday, the Sunday morning breakfast club after 7:30 Mass, the parish carnival, and plans for its 40th anniversary celebration. She even clipped Staples coupons from the newspaper so she could donate office supplies; Fr. Roger dubbed this particular service Maureen’s “Copy Paper Ministry,” remarking, “We have not had to buy paper for over a year.” When he learned of her death, he wrote: “All of us are saddened by her passing. She was very much part of our journey here at Seton.”
The readings for Maureen’s Mass of Resurrection have been chosen for their images. Isaiah proclaims God’s destruction of “the veil that veils all peoples” and “the web woven over all nations” (Isaiah 25: 6, 7-9). Psalm 122 is a joyous procession up to “the house of our God,” to pray for “the peace of Jerusalem” out of love for one’s “relatives and friends.” The second reading describes “a new heaven and a new earth” – “the holy city, a new Jerusalem” – where God dwells with all humankind, “wiping every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21: 1-5, 6). In the Gospel, Jesus promises: “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places; I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am you also may be” (John 14: 1-6). The Alleluia Verse sings: “Our true home is in heaven.” Maureen’s Mass of the Resurrection is a joyous celebration of healing and homecoming. St. Augustine’s often quoted words come to mind: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The peace and sense of belonging Maureen experienced at her last home parish, Elizabeth Ann Seton, was an apt prelude for the perfect rest she now enjoys, forever at home.. God is indeed good!
Born Maureen Anne July 5, 1939
Parents: Paul and Mary Dunn Turlish
Sibling: Paul Turlish
Entered Notre Dame August 14, 1960, Ilchester, MD
First Vows: Maya 4, 1963
Final profession: August 23, 1969
Our Lady of Mt Carmel School, Philadelphia, PA
Hallahan and Maria Goretti High Schools, Philadelphia, PA (Graduated 1958, Goretti)
Moore Institute of Art, Philadelphia, PA (Saturdays, during senior year Maria Goretti)
B.S., Education – Trinity College, Washington, DC (1965)
M.A., Art Education, University of Maryland
Elementary and Junior High Education
St. Ursula, Baltimore, MD
St. Bernadette, Philadelphia, PA
St. Jerome, Hyattsville, MD
St. Albert the Great, Philadelphia, PA
Archbishop Wood High School, Philadelphia, PA
St. Elizabeth High School, Wilmington, DE
Lansdale Catholic High School, Philadelphia, PA
University of Delaware
Intranet Contact Person
Health Liaison for Aging SNDs
Volunteer, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Bear, DE
Founding member, National Survivor Advocates Coalition
Vice President, Delaware Association for Children of Alcoholics
Voice of the Faithful National Committee for Child Protection & Survivor Support
Prepared by Mary Ann Cook, SND de N, with the assistance of Maureen’s Sisters and Friends