A tearful goodbye as Sister Colleen leaves Echo

Sister Colleen Waterman stands in front of the mailbox of Echo House in this file photo. She is leaving after 42 years of ministry. (Miscellany/Joe Benton)

Sister Colleen Waterman stands in front of the mailbox of Echo House in this file photo. She is leaving after 42 years of ministry. (Miscellany/Joe Benton)NORTH CHARLESTON—Franciscan Sister Colleen Waterman is leaving Echo House after 42 years of service, and people in the community are in tears over their loss.

“Of course I’m crying! Who wouldn’t be crying?” said Samuel Holmes in response to some good-natured teasing from Sister Colleen herself.

Holmes was one of about 50 people who jammed the small outreach center to visit and say goodbye to Sister Colleen on June 29, one of her last days in the Lowcountry.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey opened the event by declaring it Sister Colleen Waterman Day and sealing it with an official proclamation.

Many of the men and women present have been involved with Echo House or Neighborhood House for 40 years or more.

Msgr. Charles H. Rowland is one those. He said it was a blessing the day Sister Colleen arrived in Charleston and she has been a blessing ever since.

“I’ve come here not to praise sister, nor to bury her, but to thank her,” Msgr. Rowland said.

Sister Colleen remembers when she first arrived, how she and Sister Maigread Conway would go house to house offering health care to those in need.

At first, they operated out of Neighborhood House on the peninsula and later moved to Echo House in the Union Heights area.

Sister Colleen said their mission changed with the times, and she has served in AIDS ministry, prison ministry, with the seniors, and so much more.

“I can’t begin to tell you the incredible people I have met in these 42 years,” she said.

One of the most famous women to cross the threshold of Echo House was Mother Teresa. Sister Colleen said they fixed a meal for her and shared fellowship, calling it a marvelous experience.

Several in the community refer to sister as their own Mother Teresa.

Rosa Lee Benekin, known as the mayor of Echo House, said Sister Colleen is their shepherd, always looking to bring in the stray sheep.

“Many a night while we were all sleeping, sister was awake, thinking of ways to help,” Benekin said.

She said the Franciscan never wanted anything, but on this day she received many gifts, not just of love and gratitude, but material items to carry to her motherhouse in Rochester, Minn.

Sister Colleen is returning home to care for her mother, who will turn 95. Although everyone is sad to see her leave, they understand the reason.

“The Holy Spirit told me it’s time,” she said. “I don’t know how it’s going to pan out, but this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Before, she often thought of pursuing her education, but could never bring herself to walk away from those in need.

Everyone has a story of Sister Colleen reaching out.

Frances Rumph recalled her family moving back to Charleston just before Christmas one year and not having money to buy her grandchildren presents. Sister Colleen brought a basketball for her grandson and a doll for her granddaughter.

When Louise Simmons lost her husband about 10 years ago, sister told her she was needed at Echo House, giving her something to do when she needed it most.

“It’s a part of my family that’s leaving,” Simmons said. “But when I come before the Lord, I’ll see sister again, because she’s a caring person and she’s pleased the Lord.”