On June 1, 2020, Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School teachers honor retiring Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, a one-time principal at the Venice school. (COURTESY)

Sister Frances retires leaving advice: ‘Stay close to Jesus’

Venice  |  With a smile and her famous Irish twinkle parishioners of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice recognized for the last 26 years, Sister Frances Lalor announced her retirement.

Sister Lalor, 81, professed her vows as a Religious Sister of Mercy Sept. 8, 1957, in Ireland, and completed her studies in Columbia, Missouri, in the 1960s, eventually serving as principal of a Catholic school in Lake Worth, before coming to southwest Florida. 

“When we first came to America, we had the most beautiful habits made for us in Ireland, but oh boy, were they hot,” Sister Lalor said with a laugh. “We had to make lighter weight habits on the hurry.” 

Since 1994, she has been a leader in Catholic education working as Epiphany Cathedral’s Director of Religious Education, a position that is extremely crucial with respect to teaching and preparing young minds and hearts for the Sacraments of Confirmation, First Confession and First Holy Communion, as well as overseeing the annual vacation Bible school and weekly religious education classes. She also coordinated the Parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults faith formation classes, which brings new Catholics into the Church. In addition, she served as acting Principal of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School for several months a few years ago.

Over two-and-a-half decades of teaching in Venice, one can only imagine the impact Sister has had on several generations of growing Catholics. The advice she always offered was to always “stay close to Jesus.”

“Well, I hope I have. You never know for sure if you have made a difference,” she said. “In fact, I met a little girl just last Sunday who went through a very difficult time in her life when she was growing up here. Now, a nurse in Texas, she came back to visit. When someone says to you, ‘You saved my life’ – you know…”

With teary eyes, Sister Lalor recalled the little girl’s father died by suicide and she spent time working with the family through that rough time, including helping her to get through the Christmas pageant that year. 

Born in County Laois, Ireland, Sister Lalor grew up in a “very” Catholic family, one of seven children, who never missed Mass, and whom as a family prayed the rosary each night on their knees, as she said, “not in cushy chairs.”

“No matter who came to the door the rosary didn’t stop. They just walked in and got down on their knees — whether it was a workman, or someone else, because we lived on a farm,” Sister Lalor recalled, adding the visitors would finish the rosary with the family, then work would go on.

With a memory of seven popes in her lifetime, she said if she had to choose a favorite, it would be St. John XXIII, who served from 1958 to 1963.  

“I like Pope John XXIII because before he became pope, he helped the Jews quite a bit, but when he became pope, he was just natural and human,” Sister Lalor said. 

Retirement is one of the unavoidable stages in a life well-lived and is bittersweet.

As Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School celebrates 60 years of “Premier Education for a Life of Purpose” this year, the school recently honored Sister Lalor with its 2020 Shining Star Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Epiphany Gala, held in February.

Before the effects of COVID-19 took hold, Sister Lalor had big retirement plans to visit a religious  order in San Antonio, Texas. But for now, those plans are on hold, so she’ll remain local with a few good meals until the pandemic subsides.

“A favorite would be eggplant parmigiana with a glass of white wine — not red,” she said with a smile.