Sister Monica Murphy, who was killed in a car accident on Monday, Aug. 5, was known for her energy and friendships that she developed over her 50 years in the diocesan school district as well as at Pyramid Life Center. Sister Monica, with Patti Crucetti Zilinskas (far left) and Nancy Nolan Martelle, during  celebration at St. Mary's Academy in Hoosick Falls this June and with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger. (Nate Whitchurch photo and photo provided)
Sister Monica Murphy, who was killed in a car accident on Monday, Aug. 5, was known for her energy and friendships that she developed over her 50 years in the diocesan school district as well as at Pyramid Life Center. Sister Monica, with Patti Crucetti Zilinskas (far left) and Nancy Nolan Martelle, during celebration at St. Mary's Academy in Hoosick Falls this June and with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger. (Nate Whitchurch photo and photo provided)

When Sister Monica Murphy, CSJ, wanted to get something done, there really was no way of stopping her. With boundless energy, a dogged persistence, and armed with a friend’s list a mile long, she could tackle any job. 

“She was unique in that I can never remember her as down. She was a glass half-full person; always up, always happy, an enormous amount of energy even in her later years,” said Sister Kate Arseneau, CSJ, former principal at Catholic Central High and a friend and coworker of Sister Monica’s for nearly 50 years. “No job was ever too big. (She would say) ‘Let’s do this.’ And I would say Monica, there are a lot of facets to this. (And she would say,) “No, no, this could work, I will get so-and-so.” She knew everybody, especially in Troy, and it would turn out.”

And turn out it always did. She wore so many hats — guidance counselor, teacher, director, sister, aunt, friend, jokester, cook, spiritual adviser, card player — one could be forgiven in thinking there were two Sister Monica’s running around. She worked in the diocesan schools for 53 years, teaching and becoming true friends with generations of families, particularly at Catholic Central High School in Troy, and another 31 years at Pyramid Life Center, the diocesan retreat in the Adirondacks.

And when Sister Monica, 77, was killed tragically in a car accident on Monday, Aug. 5, traveling back to Pyramid Lake, it left a void in so many people’s hearts. One that is not going to be easily filled. Her impact was that great. 

“Her relationship with my family goes back to her first year of teaching. Her first year of teaching (1966) was my dad’s senior year at Catholic High and my mom’s junior year,” said Brian Evers, associate director of Safe Environment for the Diocese and director of Camp Breakaway at Pyramid Life Center. “I first really connected with her probably about 30 years ago. I was on a retreat at Pyramid and that is where we connected … and I have really grown a deep friendship with sister.”

Sister Monica was born in Hudson, on April 8, 1942, the daughter of the late James and Kathryn Fitzpatrick Murphy. After graduating from St. Mary’s Academy in Hudson, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph on March 20, 1961, and professed final vows on Aug. 6, 1968. She received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from The College of Saint Rose, a master’s degree in mathematics education from Duke University and a second master’s degree in counseling from The College of Saint Rose. 

She then began five-decades plus of educating, guiding and mentoring students in and around Albany. Her stops included: St. Mary’s High School, Hoosick Falls (1970); Bishop Scully High School, Amsterdam (1983); Notre Dame-Bishop High School, Schenectady  (1988, she was also the NDBG Board president from 2009-12); and Catholic Central High School, Troy, where she ministered for 33 years (1965-70, 1973 and 2001 until her death). 
She was a beloved figure at all her schools, but particularly at Catholic Central.

“I first met Sister Monica when I was a student at Catholic Central High,” said Ridge Harris,  chairman of the board of trustees at Catholic Central. Sister Monica was the club monitor while Harris was involved in student government, and she introduced him to the Pyramid Life Center: “I worked there every summer in high school and college.”

Harris noted that while a guidance counselor and academics counselor by trade, she was much more than that: “She was a spiritual mentor and life counselor. Students going through a hard time could turn to her. She took that role pretty personally of finding that kid who was alone and finding that student’s talent and highlighting it.”

Added Sister Kate: “She was a person who found the kids who were the underdogs, the kids that weren’t at the top of their class, kids who weren’t big sports athletes. She sought them out and supported and assisted them and convinced them that if nobody else cared about them, she did. … She taught grandchildren of people she had taught in the early ’70s and late ’60s. She knew the families over generations, that was part of her web of contacts as well.”
Sister Monica had just as big of an impact at Pyramid Life Center. In the late 1980s, the boys and girls camp was struggling and Sister Monica, Father Bob Roos and Father Paul Engel went to then-Bishop Howard J. Hubbard to see if they could rebrand it as a place for families and for retreats. 

“Her motto was you come here to recreate and re-create and that’s what she has done,” Evers said. “She is the spirit of that place and for a lot of people that is where they go to not only connect with nature but with God. We have people now that come there, third generation, and experience Pyramid.”

And that’s where so many more friendships were cemented.

“Just last week when I was up there, you are sitting and talking with her and people are coming and they are telling her everything,” Evers said. “She could have met them five minutes ago or known them a long, long time. That acceptance, that welcoming, that’s what she always wanted to create. A welcoming place where people could just come as they are, and for a lot of us she was like a second mother.”

This kindness and energy didn’t stop. She was always there for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

“In addition to working with the kids and working at the camp, she was a vital member of our community, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and she would be here for wakes and funerals, she never missed,” Sister Kate said. “Oftentimes I would see her coming to visit her sister (Sister Maureen Murphy, CSJ), and she would also make a point to visit a number of sisters, who may be infirmed now that she had taught with years ago. They would reminiscence and talk about the old days, the stories. I think her memory will be kept alive by the many people whose lives she touched including the sisters.” 
Even between her many roles, Sister Monica always made time for her family. Patricia Day, her niece, called her aunt “the catalyst with family events and outings.”

“When we were growing up, Monica entered the novitiate and I can remember playing softball with Monica in full habit,” Day said. 

Around the holidays, Sister Monica was keen on keeping family tradition alive. There was the annual dinner for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Easter egg hunt in the spring, and an annual Labor Day family gathering that Sister Monica started just to bring everybody together. 

“Monica found joy in the simple things and little things, and she helped other people do that,” said Joanne Bartolotta, her niece. “She kept a childlike wonder, she didn’t lose it and most adults I think do lose it.”

Even at 77, Sister Monica’s niece’s and nephew’s recall watching their aunt hunt for Easter eggs, play with the Christmas wrapping paper or build a snowman using their hats and mittens: “If she had a choice of being with the adults or the children, she would pick the children,” said Michael Day of his aunt. “She really loved life. I feel that she didn’t want to grow up.”

While a child at heart, Sister Monica was a woman of great wisdom. She strived to improve the world by helping anyone — rich, poor, educated or not — who might have been lost or in need. She tried to find the best parts of others, parts they themselves may never have known existed, and highlighted it for the world to see. 

“One thing she always said was the most important thing anyone can do is spread God’s love, and that’s why we’re here,” said Harris. “The world is a better place because of people like her.”