Sister Mary Angelus remembered for her heartfelt smile, dedication to students

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WARWICK — Sister Mary Angelus Gabrielle, RSM, was family — to all who knew her, to all who she comforted, all that she prayed with, to all that she laughed and cried with. As many mourn the loss of this Sister of Mercy, who died from COVID-19 on Saturday, May 2, at Mount St. Rita Health Centre in Cumberland at the age of 93, the loving tributes shared are sure to keep her memory alive.

Born in Westerly, she is remembered as a young girl for her playful wit, delighting all those she encountered. Sister attended Immaculate Conception School there from first through ninth grade and went on to graduate from Westerly High School.

Sister Angelus was one of Margaret “Polly” Iacoi’s best friends; the two graduated high school together in 1944. Her son, Joe Iacoi, shared that Sister was very supportive during his mother’s illness and passing in 1990.

His daughter, Amy Iacoi, was also very close to Sister Angelus. She recalls memories of being a little girl, clinging to the religious sister and always wanting to be by her side.

“Looking back at that now, I can see why I did that, she was always so loving.”

About 15 years ago, when Amy moved from Rhode Island, she and Sister Angelus became pen pals, with Sister writing Amy a letter every couple of months.

“She never missed an address through my six moves to four different states in the 15 years. And if I was not timely with my response she’d be sure to send me another letter letting me know ‘it’s your turn!’ I always enjoyed writing to her and reading her letters — which always included a few prayer cards. I was always amazed of her very busy social calendar and that with all the people she knew, she never forgot about any of us; she always had the time to pray for each and every one of us.”

Amy shared that Sister Angelus may have left this world, but she will never leave her heart.

“We are better for having known her and having been loved by her. I, like many, am incredibly heartbroken, but I take comfort in knowing she was ready for this and at peace. We had a real life saint living among us all these years.”

Kristine Kinnear said that it was an honor getting to know Sister while her mother was a resident at Mount St. Rita Health Centre in Cumberland, where Sister Angelus lived out the last few years until her passing.

“Sister Angelus was such a kind lady who always greeted people with a smile on her face. She will always be remembered and never forgotten. She was a wonderful singer and teacher and I admired her good natured heart.”

After discerning her religious vocation, Sister Angelus entered the Sisters of Mercy’s Mount St. Rita Convent, Cumberland, in September 1944. Her first mission was St. Mary’s North Attleboro, Massachusetts, where she taught first grade for three years, before being assigned to teach at Immaculate Conception in the north end of Providence. This was followed by a 13-year assignment at St. Matthew School, Cranston.

After teaching for one year at St. Augustine School, Newport, she was assigned to St. Peter School in Warwick, where she spent a total of 34 years, five as a first grade teacher and 29 as principal, retiring in 2000.

She is known for never forgetting the face or name of the countless young people she has inspired in her tireless work over decades in Catholic education. In 2017, the Diocese of Providence honored her with a Lumen Gentium Lifetime Achievement Award in Catholic Education.

Former student Jamie Farias was so happy to attend Sister Angelus’ 90th birthday celebration three years ago, sharing that her smile hadn’t faded one bit.

“Sister Angelus truly lived up to her name, an absolute angel, full of so much love and compassion. I grew up in St. Peter and she was such an integral part of the school and parish community, and an incredibly positive influence on everyone whose life she touched. She will live on in all of our wonderful memories of her.”

Jennifer Pettis Greene, a member of the St. Peter School class of 1993, remembers Sister Angelus for being incredibly loving and welcoming.

“My parents enrolled me there in third grade. Sister Angelus welcomed me with open arms, even though we weren't Catholic. In 8th grade, spring break, my grandfather passed away. He was a member of St. Timothy. She showed up at his funeral to support me and that meant the world.”

Sister Mary Angelus was a treasure, explained Barbara Rossi, office administrator of St. Peter School, who served as her secretary for many years.

“She lived her ministry each day,” said Rossi. “She loved teaching and being a principal. The students and their families were her greatest concern. She wanted to be sure that everyone was doing their best academically and that the family units were safe and happy. She was a legend in her own time. No matter where she went, someone would approach her to ask if she remembered them from their school, parish, social activity or her many visits to the housebound or nursing home patients. The St. Peter School and parish community now has a special angel watching out for us.”

Anne Robinson, the first grade teacher at St. Peter School, remembers the moment she first met Sister Angelus, after her family bought their house down the street from the school.

“The day we moved in she came running down the street to welcome us. I felt an immediate connection to her. She was such an integral part of my life.”

Years of being neighbors and then working together at the school brought about a dear friendship. The loss of this beloved woman has been difficult, but Robinson shared that the tributes to Sister Angelus’ life have been incredibly healing.

A spiritual mother to so many, Sister Angelus also had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and sought her intercession to offer comfort to others, including Robinson, in the most difficult of times.

“Anytime I was doubting my faith, having lost both parents to Alzheimer’s, she would always say you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. When my nephew died, I’ll never forget the words that came out of her mouth. She said to my sister, ‘God must love you so much, because he gave you the heavy burden like he gave the Blessed Mother.’ That really helped her move forward. She was our blessed mother on earth. She connected with every human or animal she met. She made you feel so important and watching her do that just made me a better person. She was joy even in her saddest of days.”

Robinson has no doubt that Sister Angelus is now in the loving arms of God and of her parents. After leading a full life — dedicated to God and to others — Sister leaves behind a legacy of love.

“That’s where I get much of my relief,” Robinson said.

“Sister’s mother died when she was 7 and she adored her. I think she did everything kind in honor of her mother. That’s what makes me happy. Everything she did, every word out of her mouth was of service to God. She finally gets to lay eyes on [God], to see her mother and dad and family. For us, it’s sad we are going to miss her, but I imagine that she is the happiest she has ever been. This is the day she worked her entire life for.”

A private burial service will be held Wednesday, May 6, at St. Sebastian Cemetery, Westerly. A Memorial Mass for the repose of Sister’s soul will be held for Sister Angelus at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory to the Sisters of Mercy, 15 Highland View Road, Cumberland, R.I., 02864 will be appreciated.