Sister Mary Angelus Gabrielle, a beloved sister at St. Peter Church and former principal of St. Peter School in Warwick, passed away at the age of 93 last Saturday from COVID-19.
Originally from Westerly, Sister Angelus spent much of her life living in Pawtuxet Village near the church and school where she served as principal for three decades. She lived the last two years of her life at Mount St. Rita Health Centre in Cumberland.
“She was one of the first people that embraced me and welcomed me to the church. It was quite a special connection. To me, her greatest legacy was her ability to make every person recognized. That’s such a unique quality. In one regard, I’m celebrating, because she lived her whole life for that moment on Saturday, leaving this earth and going to Heaven. But there is also sadness because she was so special, so unique. You don’t see people live their faith in such a pure way like Sister Angelus did,” said Sue Stenhouse, who has known Sister Angelus for over 20 years and is the director of the church’s youth choir.
“The sadness is more for ourselves, but her example is going to live on through people that share their memories of her. She left an everlasting impact on every person she met,” said Stenhouse.
Even after her retirement in 2000, Sister Angelus remained actively involved in the St. Peter’s community and was an member in the church and school’s outreach.
“Sister Angelus is the school. She was there from almost the start. Every religious aspect in that school originated with Sister Angelus. She is loved by everyone in the community, she was always doing something. Visiting sick people, older people, going to showers, knitting quilts for baby showers, making plaques for people getting married. She went to every wake and funeral, and we used to laugh and say, ‘She can’t know this many people,’ but she actually did,” said Joan Sickenger, who has been the school’s principal for the past 13 years.
“She was my mentor when she was principal, and even after she retired, she was still involved in all of the school's activities, she was very active in the community and was always there for the first communion, the graduations, the confirmations, anyone who was married. She was a big presence. She became a family member to us because she became very good friends with my mother. When she got Alzheimer’s, Sister Angelus was a big help with her. She just became like our second mother,” added Anne Robinson, who is a first grade teacher at the school and was hired by Sister Angelus 25 years ago.
Former Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian remembers Sister Angelus’ involvement in the community as a young kid as well.
“When we were little kids, Sister Angelus was always in the neighborhood. She loved everybody and that was the whole essence of Sister Angelus. She was part and parcel of that neighborhood for decades. She never forgot anyone’s name. It didn’t matter how many years went by before you saw her again, she immediately knew who you were. She had a connection with people that was so person-focused. That connection was her ministry, she wanted to make everyone feel like they were a part of something bigger,” said Avedisian.
More than anything, Sister Angelus’ involvement in the city stemmed from her love for people and her strong faith.
“There’s no way to really quantify her influence because she influenced everybody. She had an innate ability to know when someone was down, or suffering, or needed a boost. When my parents were sick, she would just appear to visit them. They were not parishioners, but she was so connected, that was her impact. She did not care if you went to St. Peters or not and she showed that. She visited people of other Roman Catholic parishes all over the place. She really cared about being in community with people from all over,” said Avedisian .
“St. Matthew’s and St. Peter’s were her life. She never forgot a student or parent’s name or address. If someone she knew in the community was dying, she would be there with the families helping plan the mass. She was there to offer comfort. She was there for former student’s children’s baptisms, she was integrated in every family,” added Robinson. “If you invited her there or wanted her there, she wouldn’t miss it. She had a deep connection and a deep love for people.”
Her devotion to the church and school will leave a lasting impact, according to Robinson.
“It’s a legacy that none of us can ever forget. She just loved every single person that she came in contact with, she wanted to make sure that anybody that wanted a Catholic education received it. Her loving, generous, warm way about her … you were important no matter who you were,” said Robinson.
“She was just a good person, she was a great sport with the kids,” added Sickenger. “It was nice that she died in the month of May because she was really devoted to Mary, I think she would have been pleased with that.”
A private ceremony will be held on Thursday, however, a larger celebration of life mass is being planned for a later date.
(All photos submitted)