- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - It was 1947, and 18-year-old Sister Catherine Brehony was living in the small coastal town of Sligo, Ireland.

Even then, Catherine knew she wanted to serve the Lord and the Catholic church. She was one of seven siblings, six girls and one boy.

Relatives returning to Ireland for a visit spoke of Texas. Younger sisters Maria Elizabeth Brehony and Colette Brehony were 12 and 10, respectively, at the time.

“They asked if I wanted to go back and join them. I just knew I wanted to do whatever it took to be a sister,” Sister Catherine told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/1Y7bzSR) as she sat on a couch with Sister Maria Elizabeth at the convent on Lipes Boulevard.

In 1922, the first Sligo-born sister to travel to South Texas from Ireland was Sister Margaret Mary McDonagh. Eventually, Sister Kathleen McDonagh immigrated to Corpus Christi to serve the church. By the 40s, the McDonaghs returned to Ireland to recruit, Sister Catherine said.

By the mid-1950s, the Brehony sisters made Texas their home. Four of the siblings, Catherine, Mary Rita, Maria Elizabeth and Colette, traveled to America to take their vows, and have since served the church as part of the Sisters of Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Corpus Christi.

“I always knew I wanted to be a sister,” said Sister Maria Elizabeth, who came to the states on a six-day trip on the S.S. Washington in 1951. A year later, Sister Colette made the 14-hour journey by airplane.

Sister Mary Rita, who died in 1996, also traveled to America by boat, the sisters said. All four arrived in New York and traveled to South Texas by train.

“It was a temperate climate in Ireland, sometimes snow and frost. It’s surrounded by the Atlantic,” Sister Catherine said. “We came to South Texas, and it was hot. But it was friendly and welcoming.”

Each sister became educators or administrators within the parochial school system after obtaining numerous degrees. Sister Catherine received her bachelor’s degree at University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio and a master’s degree at University of Notre Dame. She taught for 64 years at all grade levels.

Sister Maria Elizabeth received her bachelor’s from St. Edward’s University in San Antonio and a master’s degree from then-Texas A&I; University in Corpus Christi. Sister Colette also matriculated at St. Edward’s before receiving a master’s from Our Lady of the Lake University.

Though South Texas has been their physical home for years, the sisters have traveled to other countries to render humanitarian aid. Sister Colette said she spent much time on the Texas-Mexico border. She picked up some Spanish, she said, but doesn’t speak it very well.

After decades working as educators, the sisters are retired and now live at the motherhouse in the Southside. Sister Colette is the sister in charge of the newly-built convent.

“I’m glad to have had this opportunity to help people,” Sister Catherine said. “There is a goodness in young people.”

Sister Maria Elizabeth said she continues to learn from the people around her. “I’m grateful for the gift God has given me, and I hope I can continue to do great work in this part of the vineyard.”

All of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament were honored Saturday at the Incarnate Word Academy annual Paradise Gala for the 145th anniversary of the convent in Corpus Christi. The gala raises funds for the Educational Initiatives Fund, which supports tuition assistance, academic and athletic programs, professional development, faculty incentives and facility and technology improvements.

Sister Colette said she is happy at Incarnate Word and has had a great life.

“I would do it over again,” she said. Her sisters bowed their heads in agreement.

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Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com

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