By Sister Mary George O’Toole ’51, HON. ’90
On July 27, 2015, word was received of the unexpected death of Sister Mary Ellen, who served our College for 15 years as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. I was privileged to work closely with her for six of those 15 years as the associate academic dean.
Sister came to us with so many credentials, accomplishments, and awards that it would be difficult to list them without creating the impression that exaggeration is reigning freely. I will take the liberty to cite just a few to let you know what I mean:
1. Sister was co-investigator and the first woman to analyze the moon rocks brought back from the Apollo 11 space flight in 1969;
2. She was a member of NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) team in her role as a visiting scientist in the Laboratory of Extraterrestrial Physics at the Goddard Space Flight Center;
3. She engaged in pioneering research in geo-chemistry and space exploration;
4. She held two US patents for work in her field and was the recipient of two honorary degrees.
For many of us, achievements such as these could likely hamper us in down-to-earth, everyday conversations with ordinary people. Not so with Sister. None of her “other life” erased her ability to be simply herself—fun-loving and, above all, humble!
Responsible for all things academic here at Saint Joseph’s, Sister promoted among her colleagues scholarship and research, as well as standards for teaching excellence. Her availability to counsel and encourage faculty and students alike was noted and welcomed. Her sole aim was to assist others in developing their gifts so they in turn would assist others.
Her love for teaching and her high regard for our college had her continue a relationship with us from 1998 through this present year via our online programs. One of many alumni has stated in words similar to these: “Without Sister’s expertise in the field of chemistry and her ability to teach effectively, I never, ever would have made it in my chosen career!”
In recognition of and in gratitude for her untiring efforts on behalf of Saint Joseph’s, the office in Xavier Hall that served as her domain for 15 years was fittingly dedicated and named in her honor: The Sister Mary Ellen Murphy Room. This location presently houses our Alumni Office.
I am sure on July 27, 2015, she was greeted by our Lord with the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter the House of the Lord and enjoy forever the fruits of your labor!”
Thank you, Sister, for being the leader you were for us. We are the better for having had you among us.