Just a few months after celebrating her 100th birthday at a festive gathering with loved ones, Sister Lucille Walsh, OSF, died on April 18.
During her long life, Sister Lucille distinguished herself in many realms, including as founder of the Religious Studies Department at Stritch, co-founder of the Islamic-Christian Dialogue in Milwaukee, and the first nun to graduate from Marquette University’s dentistry program. Joining the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in 1932 at age 19, she lived to celebrate 81 years as a Sister.
Graduating at the top of her class of nearly 100 male dentistry students, Sister Lucille served as the dentist for the Sisters for 23 years before changing careers. In recognition of her service, the staff at St. Ann’s Center for Intergenerational Care – one of the Sisters’ corporate ministries – named their dental hygiene instruction program, “Smiles for Sr. Lucille.”
“ provided an opportunity for genuine personal concern for others,” said Sister Lucille, according to an historical account written by long-time friend, roommate, and collaborator Sister Jessine Reiss, OSF.
When health steered her away from dentistry, Sister Lucille pursued her master’s degree in theology at Marquette. In 1967, she joined the Stritch faculty, accepting an appointment as head of theology, where she taught until 1988. She is remembered best for creating a course in world religions, which focused on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.
According Sister Jessine Reiss who brought a similar global perspective to her literature classes, Sister Lucille “particularly enjoyed teaching this course, she said, ‘since it dealt with a basic universal human experience, expressed in a rich variety of religious beliefs and practices.’”
Her interest in world religions led her to join with Dr. Abbas Hamdani, a professor at UW-Milwaukee, to establish the Islamic-Christian Dialogue in 1980, well ahead of its time. The Milwaukee Archdiocese awarded her and Sister Jessine the 1999 Vatican II Award for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations as co-chairs of the dialogue.
“Just imagine the vision they had, and really the belief that I have that women are really going to be the most important part of creating peace and dialogue in this world,” said Janan Najeeb at Sister Lucille’s funeral Mass. Najeeb attended those early dialogues with her parents and now serves as director of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition.
Extensive travels helped expand Sister Lucille’s world view after she participated in educational tours in Israel, Africa, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Bali, and Japan.
To the end of her life, Sister Lucille challenged herself and pursued her passion, finishing a 400-page book of Christianity just prior to her death.
Sister Jessine Reiss, OSF, wrote an account of Sister Lucille's 100th birthday on Jan. 17,
2013, for submission to the congregational archives and was kind enough to
share it in remembrance of Sister Lucille Walsh.
Photos courtesy of University Archives