HIGH POINT — Sister Julia Dennehy, SMG, of Pennybyrn at Maryfield in High Point, died May 24, 2011, at the age of 99. She had been professed with the Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God for nearly 78 years.
A funeral Mass was celebrated by Father James Solari at the Maryfield Chapel on May 28, 2011. Burial followed at the adjoining cemetery for the sisters.
Sister Julia was born in the village of Cluin in County Cork, Ireland, on Aug. 23,1911, the fifth of seven children of the late Cornelius and Julia Dennehy. At 22, she entered the Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God convent in London in 1933 and made her first vows on July 22, 1936. She was sent to train as a nurse at an SMG hospital in Lancashire, England, and in 1940 she returned to London to complete her final religious training before making her final vows. She made her final profession on Aug. 15, 1941, and returned to the congregation's hospital in Lancashire, where she served until 1956. In November of that year, she was sent to the congregation's American mission, St. Anthony, in Norton, Va.
The mission had been established by Glenmary priests in 1945, and the Poor Servants of the Mother of God had purchased the nearby hospital in 1948. They had already established a presence in High Point in 1947, when they opened Maryfield nursing home, and they named their new hospital in Norton St. Mary's Hospital.
In an interview a few years ago, Sister Julia recalled the hospital as being "in the back of the beyond." She had traveled to the U.S. on the Queen Elizabeth II from Southampton to New York "seven days cabin class," then taken an overnight train to High Point. Four sisters, all nurses, traveled together; two were assigned to Norton and two to Maryfield in High Point.
The sisters, clad in their white habits, stood out in the middle of the rugged western Virginia coal mining country, but Sister Julia took it all in stride. She said her mother "trained her to be obedient and accept what is given to you." Obedience was her response, and she recalled, "I don't think I ever said no to the Lord."
The sisters brought a visible Catholic presence to an area with few Catholics and considerable misunderstanding about the Church. The few Catholics in the area included those of Irish, Polish and Italian descent. Sister Julia said, "it was Baptist territory." One day, she recalled, two male hospital patients were talking and one said about the sisters, "too bad – nice people all going to hell." The other man replied, "Well, if they do, they will give it a good cleaning."
Sister Julia held several positions of trust throughout her years at St. Mary's Hospital and in the parish of St. Anthony in Norton. In 1988, Sister Julia became a U.S. citizen. She retired in 2000 after 44 years of service, and she remained at the convent in Norton until it closed in 2005 and she then moved to Maryfield.
Sister Julia will be greatly missed by her cousin, Sister Ann Harrington, CP, and a large circle of family and friends, as well as by her congregation's family, staff and friends in Pennybyrn at Maryfield and at St. Mary's Hospital and St. Anthony Church in Norton.
The sisters request that memorial contributions be made to the Resident Care Fund, Pennybyrn at Maryfield, 1315 Greensboro Road, High Point, or to Hospice of Piedmont, 1801 Westchester Drive, High Point, N.C. 27262.
— Deacon Ronald Steinkamp contributed
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