When Sister Angela Marie Rooney was 98 years old, she moved out of the Roman Catholic Convent of Mary the Queen in Yonkers, N.Y., and into an assisted living facility run by Jewish Home Lifecare in the Bronx. Isn’t that the way faith goes in New York?
The moves by Sister Angela and 22 other Sisters of Charity into the home that year were inevitable. Fewer young women were becoming nuns, meaning there was not enough money in the order to maintain the convent; the existing nuns were aging into advanced care; and the Jewish Home was one of the few places that could accommodate so many new residents at once.
But it was a leap for the nuns.
“I wanted my convent, my great big chapel, my Stations of the Cross,” Sister Angela told the Associated Press in 2015, describing her first impressions. “The very name ‘Jewish Home’ turned me off.” She added, “I don’t think anyone came here with a heavier heart than me.”
But nuns adapt; facilities, likewise. The home offered daily Mass for the new residents. Sister Angela took to attending both Jewish and Protestant services as well, on the logic that all were serving “one God, worshiped in different ways,” her cousin Susan Hearty said.
At her 100th-birthday party there, in 2017, Sister Angela recorded a message of gratitude to the home, saying, “It should be spread abroad and all over the world: The Jewish Home could not have been more loving and caring.”
Sister Angela, proud of her digital skills, designed the party program and place cards herself on a computer.
The oldest member of the Sisters of Charity of New York, she celebrated her 103rd birthday in February, before the coronavirus — which hit hard at facilities for older adults — caught up with her. She died May 27 at St. Vincent de Paul Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx, where she had moved after contracting the virus, the order said.
Catherine Cecilia Rooney was born on Feb. 22, 1917, in Manhattan, the oldest of three children of Hugh and Bridget Rooney. Her father, from County Donegal in Ireland, was a firefighter; her mother, from County Armagh, kept the household.
She entered the Sisters of Charity in 1939, receiving the name Sister Angela Marie, and took her final vows in 1945.
One of her aunts was a Carmelite nun, and two first cousins were Sisters of Charity. Her brother, Monsignor Hugh Rooney, was a priest. Her brother and her sister, Ann T. Rooney, died before her.
Sister Angela taught first through eighth grade at several Catholic schools from 1939 to 1979, then worked another 31 years at the Sisters of Charity Center in the Bronx, first as a secretary then as a volunteer.
She made a point of knowing the names of everyone who worked at Jewish Home Lifecare, now the New Jewish Home. Hearty recalled giving her a shawl there as a present.
“The next time I saw her,” Hearty said, “she thanked me for it and said how lovely it was, and she hoped I didn’t mind, but she gave it to one of the ladies who worked in the home, because she had been so kind to her.”