Sister Irma Mae Boonie, a longtime teacher who went on to pioneer pastoral ministry in a hospital emergency room, died Thursday. The Sister of Divine Providence was 95.
"She was a true woman of Providence, responding to the unmet needs she perceived," said Sister Maria Fest, provincial councillor of the Sisters of Divine Providence in McCandless.
Born to immigrants from Hungary in Huntingdon County, Sister Irma Mae entered the Sisters of Divine Providence in 1936, taking the name Sister Teresine until after the changes of Vatican II. She held a bachelor's degree in education from Duquesne University and a master's degree from the University of Detroit, and taught at schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Her local assignments included St. Anne in Castle Shannon, St. Ambrose in Spring Hill, Providence Heights Alpha School in McCandless and St. Bonaventure in Shaler. She was also principal at St. Bonaventure and at St. Mary Assumption in Hampton.
After 47 years of teaching she was ready, not for retirement, but for a different kind of ministry, Sister Maria said. She began volunteering as a pastoral minister at Assumption parish in Bellevue, taking communion to shut-ins and other lay ministerial tasks. She was then invited to continue such work at Divine Providence Hospital, which her community then operated on the North Side, with a focus on following up with emergency room patients.
After two years she was honored for making 10,000 calls to see how emergency room patients were faring after they went home. She joined the hospital auxiliary because, she once told her community's newsletter, "They measure their worth by how much they do in the hospital, rather than by what they earn."
Two days a week she spent five hours making calls. On her other days she would visit patients, Sister Maria said.
At the same time she was deeply engaged in a life of prayer, both through praying for others and seeking a deeper spiritual experience with the help of a spiritual director, Sister Maria said. Sister Irma Mae, who didn't drive, took two buses to visit her spiritual director at St. Paul Seminary in East Carnegie. She was active with the House of Prayer, a chapel and residence that the Sisters of Divine Providence sponsored in Saxonburg, where people could gather for prayer.
"She was fascinated with spiritual renewal, and always wanting to go deeper into her relationship with God," Sister Maria said.
"I'm always happy when people can achieve their desire in the years after their main work is over. Here was a woman who said, 'I've been a good teacher, but there are other things I really want to pursue.' It's like having a spiritual bucket list."
She retired from pastoral ministry in 1999, but remained fully engaged in prayer ministry through letters and phone calls until failing health intervened several years ago.
She often wore pearls as a symbol of her relationship with God, which she saw as a rough grain of sand being slowly transformed into a jewel. "She imagined herself as God's pearl for God's people. And perhaps she knew God refined his beautiful pearl through her experience of aging, sickness and diminishment," Sister Maria said.
Viewing is today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. and Monday from noon to 3:30 p.m. in the Providence Heights Community Room, McCandless, where the funeral Mass will be held Monday at 4 p.m.
Ann Rodgers: email@example.com or 412-263-1416.