Sister of Mercy from Corning takes stock of 100 years - Catholic Courier
A centenarian woman looks at the camera.

Mercy Sister M. Raymond Joseph Griffin turned 100 on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Sister of Mercy from Corning takes stock of 100 years

BRIGHTON — With boxes of birthday cards next to her, Sister of Mercy M. Raymond Joseph Griffin sat down in mid-February to compose a note of thanks to her dozens of well-wishers.

She read out loud: “Irish Hill in Corning was a great start. Mercy Hill in Rochester is a great ending. Thank you for being part of my life, in and out of Mercy.”

Sister Griffin celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. This will be her 80th year as a Sister of Mercy.

“I can’t believe I’m this old. At 100 you should be more dignified, more careful, lots of more things, but I haven’t practiced any of them,” Sister Griffin said with a chuckle.

Early years in Corning were infused with fun and faith

Sister Griffin’s baptismal name is Bernadette, after the seer at Lourdes. She recalled growing up Catholic on “Irish Hill” on Corning’s Southside.

“I was part of the Irish Hill gang,” she said, remembering fondly how she and her companions enjoyed cookouts and parties on the 6th Street hill, which at that time was open and sported a little waterfall, she said.

“We only lived half a block from St. Mary’s, on 2nd Street,” she recalled. “The bell would ring for school, and I could run to get to school on time.”

Sister Griffin said that her mother and father were “good Catholics, very sincere,” and that the life of the church was woven into her own life.

“I grew up like that. It was no big deal to go to the church and make a visit (to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament). The church bells would ring, and I’d know it was time for the Angelus,” she recalled.

Sister Griffin said the Sisters of Mercy had a convent behind her house with their second-floor balcony overlooking her backyard.

“The nuns are watching you,” she said her mother would tell her to make her behave.

“(The sisters) would call if they needed me to run errands,” she added. “I got to know the sisters and were in awe of them.”

Sister Griffin has spent 80 years of joyful service as a Sister of Mercy

Sister Griffin graduated from Corning Free Academy in 1942 and worked for two years as a secretary for the Erie Rail Road before entering the Sisters of Mercy in 1944.

She said that the Sisters of Mercy were surprised when she wanted to enter the convent, since she’d been very active and popular in school, serving as class officer in junior and senior high.

“I enjoyed traveling, and since my father was a railroad man, it was easy. … I was having a good time! But when I did start thinking seriously about (becoming a sister), they all laughed. I wasn’t exactly the holy type! But I’m glad they kept me,” she said.

However, just before Sister Griffin entered, her father passed away from a heart attack. She said that his last words were that his daughter was becoming a nun.

“That’s why I’m here,” she stated.

After she entered the congregation she took his name — Raymond Joseph. For her ring motto, she chose Ecce ancilla Domini (Behold the handmaid of the Lord).

Sister Griffin taught and ministered in Rochester and Elmira

After entering the Sisters of Mercy, Sister Griffin earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Nazareth College and a master’s degree in music from the Catholic University of America.

From there, she spent nearly 40 years teaching music in Catholic schools throughout the diocese, including Rochester, Greece, Irondequoit and Pittsford, and then for many years in Chemung County Catholic schools and Elmira Notre Dame High School. She also served as a pastoral assistant at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Corning and a parish visitor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Elmira.

Sister Griffin said that her favorite aspect of teaching was “seeing how the ones with talent progressed.”

Former students and colleagues of Sister Griffin will remember her long-standing and joyful friendship with Sister Mary Leona Didas, also a music teacher, who passed away in 2019.

“We had such good times,” Sister Griffin recalled. “We did what we were supposed to do, but we enjoyed everything.”

Sister Griffin was a percussionist, although she also had learned the cello. Remembering Sister Didas, she said that “She was a great trumpet player. I just made noise with the drums.”

Sister Griffin said she enjoyed living and serving in the Southern Tier, as it was her home. She mentioned making visits to Mount Saviour Monastery, where she felt closer to God, and living peacefully at Our Lady of Lourdes convent with Sister Didas and congregation members.

“Those were good years,” she said with a smile.

Woman religious’ life at Mercy Center is filled with blessings

These days, Sister Griffin lives at Mercy Center in Brighton, where she said she has everything she could possibly need.

“Mass is the most important part of my life,” she said, and mentioned that she misses it on the days Mass is unavailable to the sisters.

Her days are marked by morning and evening prayer from the Sisters of Mercy prayer book.

“I would be lost without it,” she remarked.

Sister Griffin said that she wished “more girls would see what a beautiful life they can have (as a religious sister) in spite of who they are. In spite of myself being full of the devil, I’ve been able to live it out, and the (sisters) have lived it out with me.”

“Not that I’m doing anything wonderful,” she added. “You just give it to God, and he does whatever he wants to with it. And so you always wish you did more, but at the time, you did what you could. So God is good.”

Looking back on her life, Sister Griffin said she is content and grateful.

“Even when things were hard, I could laugh about it. I can’t complain; I wouldn’t change it for anything,” she said.

Tags: Chemung County News, Monroe County East, Religious Orders, Steuben County News
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