Catherine Mulkerrin, Activist Boston Nun, Dies at 72

By Bruce Weber
New York Times
May 22, 2008 us&adxnnlx=1211458073-0JIKz31gnfeZ8UI5XxW5/Q

Sister Catherine E. Mulkerrin, who lobbied ardently but in vain to persuade Roman Catholic leaders in the Boston Archdiocese to warn parishioners about priests who had been accused of sexually molesting children, died on Saturday in Framingham, Mass. She was 72 and lived in Brighton, Mass.

The cause was cancer, said Sister Joanne Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Sister Catherine first learned she had cancer in 1984, Sister Joanne said.

Sister Catherine entered the Sisters of St. Joseph, an order of vowed apostolic religious women, in 1954, when she was 18. (The sisters are commonly referred to as nuns, though they are not technically nuns, because they live in the outside world and not cloistered, Sister Joanne said.)

A charismatic woman, Sister Catherine grew to be a leading figure in the Boston order, which included about 1,500 women at its peak and now has just under 500. She reinforced her order's commitment to the poor and spoke out forcefully on behalf of the order against nuclear arms proliferation.

"She spent 15 years on our leadership team and six as our president, no easy task among religious women," Sister Joanne said.

From 1992 to 1994, Sister Mulkerrin worked for the Archdiocese of Boston in its office for victims of abuse. There, she repeatedly urged Bishop John B. McCormack to warn local parishioners about predatory priests, especially by posting announcements in parish bulletins.

As an aide to Cardinal Bernard F. Law, then head of the Boston Archdiocese, Bishop McCormack was in charge of ministerial personnel from 1985 to 1994 and was the official who handled the mounting number of sexual abuse complaints involving priests. Sister Mulkerrin's pleas were never acted upon but became public after she gave depositions in 2002 and 2003 in lawsuits that accused archdiocesan officials of negligence in sexual abuse cases.

"I know I sound like a broken record," she wrote in one memorandum to Bishop McCormack, "but we need to put in church bulletins 'It has come to our attention a priest stationed here between 19XX and 19XX may have molested children.' "

Cardinal Law resigned in 2003. Bishop McCormack now leads the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., a post he assumed in 1998.

Catherine Elizabeth Mulkerrin was born in Medford, Mass., on Dec. 19, 1935; her brother, Joseph, of Virginia Beach, is her only survivor.

A teacher in several Massachusetts schools, she earned two master's degrees, one in library science from Simmons College in Boston and the other in religious studies from Fordham University.


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