Community remembers Sister Agnes Anne
Martha Reilly | Friday, September 23, 2016
Though she graduated from Saint Mary’s in 1951, Sister Agnes Anne Roberts could not stay away, returning to campus 33 years later to serve as Chief Operating Officer for Holy Cross Services Corporation. In a similar way, her joyful, loving spirit will never truly leave the College, though she died at the age of 89 last Friday.
Students were notified of her death through an email from President Jan Cervelli last Friday. According to the email, Roberts lived a selfless life full of many ministries, including a 30-year career as a registered dietician, service with Saint Margaret’s House, a center for women and children, and volunteer work for Project Haiti, a non-profit organization that raises money for medical facilities in Haiti.
“Her service … exemplified the College’s mission to prepare women for lives of leadership and action,” Cervelli said. “In my short time here, Sister Agnes Anne was a mentor, a friend and a model of what a Sister should be.”
The Church of Our Lady of Loretto will host Roberts’ wake Sunday as well as a mass Monday.
Caroline Rech, class of 2016, said an alumna from her hometown insisted she meet Roberts once she arrived on campus. Feeling homesick and lonely her first week in college, Rech contacted her and asked to talk, without any idea this initial conversation would spark an enduring friendship.
“At first she was just a sweet old woman who I appreciated visiting with and dining with in the convent dining room,” Rech said. “But it developed into much more during my four years. She became my family at Saint Mary’s.”
She said Roberts constantly praised others for their successes and exuded positivity in all circumstances.
“She was the one person who I was most excited to see every time I returned to campus and the one person I wanted to tell after receiving a good test score or accomplishing something,” Rech said. “I came to love her very much, and I believe that feeling was mutual.”
When Rech couldn’t find any friends to eat with on her 22nd birthday, she walked over to the convent and shared a celebratory meal with Roberts, she said. Rech said Sister Agnes Anne’s welcoming presence made Saint Mary’s feel like home.
“I loved her laugh,” Rech said. “It was almost more of a cackle, just so hearty and full of joy. … It didn’t matter what was going on with her. She was always joking and laughing.”
Hope in adversity
Rech said Roberts battled through cancer, a fall and a car accident during their four-year friendship, though she never let any suffering or weakness show.
“She was the energizer bunny,” Rech said. “And through that whole time, I always saw her with a smile on her face. She was always more concerned about others and ready to share a laugh.”
Just a few weeks before she died, Roberts called Rech to tell her that the husband of one of her nurses was from Nebraska, Rech’s home state.
“That’s just one example of how she was thinking of others, even in her final days,” Rech said. “Her whole life was devoted to helping others, and I was fortunate enough to be one of those people.”
Rech said Roberts’s selfless love permanently touched her mind and heart.
“Every time that I return to Saint Mary’s, I will think of her,” she said. “I hope that my life can emulate hers in my service to others and in my faith.”
All in the details
Roberts went to great lengths to make sure students and faculty were inspired to do their best work on campus, according to her good friend Sister M. Rose Anne Schultz.
“She took care to bring beauty to the surroundings and environment for all to enjoy,” Schultz said. “Whether it was obtaining artwork for a new building, making holiday preparations or creating a sacred space in a nook within the convent, she brought thoughtful style to the decor so that the mission of Sisters would be ever present, as well as comfort to the users of the space.”
Vice president for mission Judith Fean said Roberts would often stroll into her office and ask if she could redecorate.
“I came to know it wasn’t decoration, but images, pictures or symbols conveying a deeper meaning of faith, of the Cross, of hope,” she said. “There isn’t a place on campus that hasn’t been touched by Sister Agnes Anne’s expertise and care for Saint Mary’s College.”
Fean said Roberts’s profound impact on the College can never be undone or replicated.
“Everyday, I see her picture right outside my office along with the other pictures of all the Board of Trustees,” Fean said. “I know someday in the future I will find the picture gone, but Sister Agnes Anne’s spirit will remain forever with me and with the Saint Mary’s community.”
Love for neighbor
Roberts encouraged all those she interacted with to think critically about how much they were doing to help others, Fean said.
“She invited all of us to get to know our neighbors, to see the face of Christ in the poor,” she said. “They may be poor financially, but I learned from Sister Agnes Anne that my neighbors taught me what hope in the cross means on a daily basis.”
According to Schultz, Roberts felt compelled to serve those in need because she surrendered to God’s will in her everyday life.
“She will be remembered as someone who worked as if everything depended on her and lived like everything depended on God,” she said. “She was generous with her time and tried to fulfill all requests for assistance.”
Roberts approached life with joy, perseverance and resilience, despite any personal struggles or illnesses, Fean said.
“She loved the sun, and even during her final days with us, the sun peered through the window and covered her face,” she said. “It was as if God’s shining rays once again revealed the beauty of her life.”