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For Irish immigrants Frank and Catherine (Harper) McDonnell, July 4 became a day on which to celebrate much more than their adopted country. It was the date in 1927 that their daughter Colette, the future Sister Francis Elizabeth, was born.
Frank had come to America from County Mayo, Ireland, while Catherine was from County Wexford. The two met in Chicago, where Frank worked for the Chicago Athletic Association, an exclusive men’s club, as a chauffeur. Apparently, when notables came to the club from elsewhere, it was his job to take them around the city.
“Because he had that job we never had to go on the ‘bread line,’” Sister Francis Elizabeth said in her life story, referring to the Depression years of her childhood. “We weren’t rich but we weren’t poor.”
Colette was the oldest child of what came to be five siblings; the others were Francis, Mary Helen, Bernadette, and James. What would have been Frank and Catherine’s fourth baby died before birth.
The family lived in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish on Chicago’s North Side, and Colette attended the parish school from kindergarten through eighth grade. The school was staffed by the Sisters of Mercy, and Sister Francis Elizabeth recalled that once when she was in eighth grade and stayed after school to help one of the Sisters, the Sister said to her, “Wouldn’t you like to be a Sister when you get older?” Her reply was, “No, I don’t think so.” Her dream was to work in a florist shop.
Read more about Sister Francis Elizabeth (pdf)
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