In Memoriam

Sister Catherine McKillop, OP


When he was in his early twenties, James McKillop of Coalridge, Scotland, left his homeland for Australia to find work. Five years later, restless, he sailed to New Zealand for a new adventure and took up residence at a boarding house there. As it so happened, at about the same time a young lass from Wishaw, Scotland, Catherine Buchanan, came to New Zealand to find work to help support her mother, and rented a room at the same boarding house.

Three years later, James and Catherine got married, and a year after that the young couple moved to the U.S. and settled in Detroit, where James worked as a maintenance man. When Catherine became pregnant with their first child, she returned to her hometown so that her mother could help with the birth, and so it came to be that their oldest daughter, whom they also named Catherine, was born in Wishaw on September 10, 1931.

Mother and daughter returned to Detroit when little Catherine was about eight months old. Over time, five more children were born: Marguerite, Patricia, James, John, and Joseph. The family lived in St. Rose of Lima Parish until 1942 and then moved to nearby Grosse Pointe, where Catherine finished grade school and high school at St. Paul’s.

Read more about Sister Catherine (pdf)

make a memorial giftMemorial gifts may be made to Adrian Dominican Sisters, 1257 East Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, Michigan, 49221. 


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Avatar  Lynda Tuennerman 5 years agoReply

Such sad news for so many of us St. Jude’s kids. Sr. Catherine was able to make such a difference to so many of our lives. Many thank you’s And may you Rest In Peace.

Avatar  Julie Atkins 5 years agoReply

How fondly I recall Sister Catherine. When we lived and taught together in Guyama, Puerto Rico so many years ago, Sister James Anita, as she was known then, was kind and supportive in her quiet and friendly way.

May she rest in peace.

Avatar  Matt McKillop 5 years agoReply

Cathy McKillop—Aunt Cathy, to me—was an inspirational figure in my life and in the lives of so many others, I trust. I’ve never known anyone who more authentically embodied her values and creed—service, selflessness, decency, integrity, modesty, honesty.

Some people are meant to be pioneering leaders, and that was certainly true of Cathy McKillop. Born just 11 years after women gained the right to vote in the U.S., she left home two weeks after high school to join the Adrian Dominican Congregation—one of three occupations that were predominantly available to women. She’d go on to receive a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree—an unthinkable proposition in those days—and serve in leadership roles as an educator for elementary students in Chicago, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the brutally segregated Montgomery, Alabama. And those were just the first 25 years of a 69-year career. As impressive as her professional accomplishments were, it’s hard to not think that she might’ve been born before her time. To what heights might she have climbed if she’d have been born into the opportunities of today?

When she wasn’t serving her profession, she was helping a bustling family of immigrant parents and first-generation children to put down roots and navigate lives in search of the American dream. The oldest of six kids, she helped raise her siblings and supported them as they left the nest and started their own families. And she guided them through the loss of both parents and two brothers.

She was incredibly kind and thoughtful to her family, always there in moments of need or celebration. Truth be told, though, she was also more than willing to engage in some tough love; to deliver hard truths, even if they were unsolicited or unwanted. But these observations—sometimes pointed—always came from a place of love, never malice. And I suspect most recipients of her wisdom knew she was on to something, whether they wanted to admit it or not. This is what leadership looks like.

Speaking personally, I am grateful for all the times she was there for me. When I was a rambunctious (read: occasionally bratty) kid, she was a voice of authority who helped give me guidance and structure. When I was marking the early milestones of life—graduating from here or there, marriage—she was there to celebrate with me. And when I’d breeze through town and ask to stay the night or enjoy a meal together, she always made time. As is too often the case, I didn’t sufficiently appreciate those efforts in the moment, but I certainly do now. And I hope she knew even partially how much I admired her.

When asked how she’d like to be remembered, she asked us to think of her as someone who was grateful for her life, as a kind and loving person, and as someone who had a gift for listening. I’m absolutely certain she’ll be remembered—and emulated—for those virtues and so much more.
I’m saddened by her death, and I’m heartbroken to be missing her wake and funeral. But it comforts me to know that a new life is on the verge of beginning, just as another has ended. I can only hope that hers will be as full and loving and purposeful as was Aunt Cathy’s.

Cemetery of the Adrian Dominican Sisters

Our Adrian Dominican cemetery with its circular headstones is a beautiful place of rest for women who gave their lives in service to God — and a peaceful place for contemplation and remembrance. 

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