Sister Isabel Haughey leaves a legacy in Garden City


GARDEN CITY — Franciscan Sister Isabel Haughey left quite a legacy behind her when she moved from St. Michael Church back to Wilmington, Del. To say that a lot happened during her nine-year tenure is an understatement.

Sister Haughey arrived at St. Michael in October of 1995 to be the pastoral associate. A year and a half later, she found herself in charge of the parish when the pastor left the priesthood.

When Msgr. Thomas Duffy arrived at St. Michael three months later, he asked Sister Haughey to continue running the parish so he could concentrate on pastoral duties. She had come to St. Michael with an impressive set of credentials, so she was more than up to the job. She had a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s degree in healthcare administration, and certification as a hospital chaplain, together with hands-on experience as a teacher, a nurse, and a nursing home administrator.

During her tenure at St. Michael, she established an AIDS/HIV ministry, oversaw construction of four Habitat for Humanity homes and funding for a fifth, established a faith-sharing ministry for mothers of young children, directed a social justice program, and built school and multipurpose buildings from the ground up.

Manny Ferreira, who chairs the parish’s Habitat ministry and the disaster recovery team, said that Sister Haughey “was part of the team” at the Habitat work sites.

Patrick Evans worked closely with her in AIDS/HIV ministry. He credits the Franciscan with both establishing the ministry and keeping it going. The ministry works hand in hand with Careteam. Careteam tends to the medical, psychological, and social implications of living with AIDS, and the AIDS/HIV ministry takes care of the spiritual aspects. Evans said Sister Haughey “went and sat with an awful lot of people in their last days.”

Anne Harris, a member of the faith-sharing group for young mothers, praised Sister Haughey for supporting mothers in their vocation, particularly new mothers. She said Sister Haughey always had something good to say about every mother at every meeting.

Sister Haughey’s administrative skills came in handy for the two major building projects she oversaw. First was construction of the parish school, which she directed from planning to completion. The school opened five years ago with kindergarten through fourth grades. “I was very happy to have the opportunity,” she said.

The past year was a tough one for St. Michael Parish. Within the same few weeks early last winter, both Msgr. Duffy and his parochial vicar, Father Michael William, were diagnosed with advanced cancers. Father William returned to his family in India and died Feb. 8, 2004.

Msgr. Duffy’s illness soon forced him to step back from his pastoral duties. Sister Haughey continued running the parish and helping care for Msgr. Duffy until he moved to Charleston to stay with his sister. Father Stanley Smolenski, co-director of the diocesan Office of Volunteers, served the parish from late winter to early fall last year.

Msgr. Duffy died on Sept. 25, 2004. Sister Haughey was “a quiet force in stepping in and taking over” during this trying time, according to Manny Ferreira. “She never got flustered. She kept everything together and held it together until we got Father Ray (Carlo).”

Father Carlo, the new pastor, asked Sister Haughey to oversee completion of the Duffy Center, the parish’s new activity center. The building is finished now and includes rooms for parish activities and a cafeteria and gym for the schoolchildren. The cafeteria space in the school building will be converted to a library and media center. Sister Haughey said modestly of her nine years at St. Michael, “I’ve seen a lot of growth.”

Sister Haughey is returning to Delaware to be closer to her family. She was happy to learn that some of her former co-workers from St. Francis Hospital are still there. Many remember her and are looking forward to working with her again.

Sister Haughey, whose late father was a registered nurse, said, “I’m very anxious to go back to nursing.” She will work part time as a chaplain. At age 71, she is looking forward to slowing down a bit so she can spend more time in prayer and contemplation.

Ann Harris summed up Sister Haughey very eloquently. Harris described her as multifaceted and said, “She’s one of the wisest people I know. It’s like she’s wrapped in a quilt and each patch is one of her life experiences, and all are integral to the one person.”

A lot of people at St. Michael are going to miss this versatile and loving woman.