Home » Obituaries » Remembrance of the Life of Sister Mary Lee Murphy (formerly Sister Marie Dolores Phillips) SL

Remembrance of the Life of Sister Mary Lee Murphy (formerly Sister Marie Dolores Phillips) SL

Posted on August 24, 2022, by Eleanor Craig SL

Sister Mary Lee Murphy (formerly Sister Marie Dolores Phillips) SL
Oct. 30, 1928 – Aug. 24, 2022

Sister Mary Lee Murphy (formerly Sister Marie Dolores Phillips) SL died Aug. 24 at Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary. She was 93 and in the 74th year of her life as a Sister of Loretto.

Mary Lee Murphy has left us a very clear record of her life, written at various times over the last 20 years. Here is what she wanted us to know:

“I was born in a little town called Jay, Fla., about 10 minutes from the Alabama border. What I write is all hearsay from my sister, Gladys, whom I met for the first time in my life in 1993.  I was 64 years old when I first met her, having finally found the courage to search out my birth family.

“Very shortly after I was born, I was taken to an orphanage in Mobile, Ala., and placed with the Daughters of Charity. The name of the orphanage was St. Mary’s; we had a grade school connected to it and the children of Cathedral parish also attended this school. … While in grade school, I discovered a record and file that belonged to me. I learned where I was from and my mother’s name, Issie, but I didn’t do anything with the information for many years.

“I was bright, so they tell me, but I didn’t study hard.  I did skip sixth grade because I found it too easy.  I loved seventh grade because I had a nun by the name of Sister Veronica O’Neil who brought out the best in me, and I really worked hard for her. When I finished grade school, I went to Bishop Toolen High School, and when I graduated, I went to work for Mr. Murphy, a CPA.  William and Anna Murphy and their son Bill invited me into their family and later they formally adopted me, giving me their name.

“I entered Loretto in 1948, having become acquainted with the Sisters of Loretto at Toolen. That is where I met Ann Francis Gleason SL. She became a wonderful friend and remained a wonderful friend all my religious life.  She got me ready to go to Loretto where I was received Dec. 8, 1948, as Sister Marie Dolores.

“April 29, 1951 – just four days after first vows — I was missioned to Blessed Sacrament in Denver. I was there only until the end of the school year. My first real mission was St John’s in Denver where I was for 3 years. The year I made final vows, I was sent back to Blessed Sacrament where I stayed for eight years, the last three of which I served as principal of the school with over 1,000 students; I was (a) full-time teacher, too. I was young and didn’t know I was working so hard. I also taught at St. Philomena’s in Denver. 

“I taught in three schools in Illinois — Deerfield, Kankakee and Sterling — and two schools in Texas — St. Patrick’s and Loretto Academy, both in El Paso.  I loved Sterling. I have many friends in El Paso still, but I met my best friend, Sister Barbara Ann Shultz, in Sterling. She was the superior and I was the principal of the grade school, again with 1,000 students.  I followed Barbara Ann to El Paso, after preparing myself for high school math teaching through a National Science Foundation grant. I had earlier earned my BA from the Heights in history with minors in secretarial studies and education; and also an MEd from Marquette in education psychology.  

“Barbara Ann and I taught at Loretto Academy for more than a dozen years. I became chair of the high school math department, and Barbara Ann was math coordinator in the elementary school. In 1977-78, Barbara Ann and I and Justa Justyn — who lived to be our oldest, dying at 107 — learned about the detention of 50 Haitians who were sent to El Paso by stealth of night from Florida. We worked for months to raise enough bail to release these young men and were able to do so. It was such a rewarding experience for all three of us, the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

“In the early 1980s I was asked by Anthony Mary Sartorius if I might be interested in the Post Office job at Loretto Motherhouse where Sister Marlene Young was seriously considering retirement. I was pretty burned out with teaching and looked forward to a new career. How I ever got this job is a real mystery because I wasn’t even hired by the post office … but that’s a long story, too long to narrate here. Barbara Ann and I moved to the Motherhouse in 1984, began serious gardening, took up quarters in the new Havern Apartments and waited to see about the Post Office. I was finally installed as Postmistress on April 11, 1986, and held that post until November 2001. In those 16 years, I received several Certificates of Excellence and Appreciation and prizes in the Postal Sales contests. When I took over the Post Office, annual revenue was $10,000.  In my final year, because of sales to so many of our Loretto institutions, our revenue was close to $140,000.  Barbara Ann was a tremendous help to me during all the years.

“I love Loretto and look forward to the day when we will all be together again in heaven.”

Mary Lee gave many years of service as a medical driver and gardener at the Motherhouse.  She was a faithful friend to Barbara Ann to the end of Barbara’s life.  Mary Lee’s cremains will be buried in the Motherhouse cemetery between Barbara Ann and Sister Sylvan Hayes

Mary Lee died peacefully in the Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary. Arrangements for her wake and funeral will be shared when they become available. Please keep Mary Lee, her family and all her loved ones in your prayers. May she rest in peace.


Eleanor Craig SL

Eleanor has been a Sister of Loretto since 1963 and an educator since birth. She graduated from two of Loretto's best known St. Louis institutions, Nerinx Hall High School in 1960, and Webster University in 1967. She taught mathematics at Loretto in Kansas City, where her personal passion for adventure history inspired her to develop and lead treks along the historic Oregon Trail. From 1998 to 2010 she created an award-winning program of outdoor adventure along the Western trails for teens who are visually impaired. Eleanor claims to have conducted more wagon trains to the West than the Mountain Men! From 2012 to 2021, Eleanor led a talented staff of archivists and preservationists at the Loretto Heritage Center on the grounds of the Motherhouse. Now retired, she still serves in the Heritage Center as Loretto Community Historian.

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