Cecile Reiley, SSJ in Philadelphia

Cecile Reiley frequently sits with us on sesshins; she is the sister of Kathleen Reiley, the Maryknoll nun and zen teacher in Japan. Cecile now lives in the  St. Joseph Villa in Chestnut Hill, north Philadelphia. Following is an appreciation written for a recent celebration of her and of her work at St. Malachy’s in inner city Philadelphia.

On meeting Sister Cecile Reiley, you are put at ease by her serene appearance and gentle smile. She has the look of someone who has lived a life of quiet reflection in a secluded cloister. In reality her life has been anything but quiet and secluded. It has been a life of service to children, immigrants and the poor, a forgotten of the inner city
She calls herself a “coal cracker” from Pottsville where she grew up in a large Irish family. In 1957, Cecile answered the call to a religious life and entered the convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Between 1959 and 1970, Sister Cecile taught in several parish schools in the Pennsylvania and Maryland areas. In all of these assignments, she taught all subjects as well as music. Teaching music was her tribute to her patron Saint Cecile. In the 70s, Sister served at the Paradise School for Boys and the Catholic Home for Girls in Ardmore. By the late 70s, Cecile was ready to answer a new call. The Vietnam War had ended and the “boat people” were flooding our shores. She worked with the diocese of Allentown welcoming refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Later Sister was there welcoming the displaced from Cuba, Haiti, Bosnia, Iran and from any country experiencing the oppression of war. By 1982, she was continuing her work with immigrants in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and adjusting to life in the big city.

In remembering all the wonderful work she has done, it’s hard to believe that for many years she has been suffering from severe arthritis. She endured several painful operations and at times was confined to a wheel chair. Confined is not the proper word to describe Cecile Reiley. Father John McNamee recalls meeting her, at that time in a wheel chair, at an anti-war protest in 1985. “Wheel chair or no wheel chair Cecile was going to be there.” Father Mac invited her to work with him at Saint Malachy. Sister Cecile Reiley became a vital part of the parish and would serve as the Parish Services Director for over twenty-five years. She was on her feet once again and tirelessly visited the sick and imprisoned. She found jobs for the jobless and homes for the homeless. She would work the phones and plead for these favors. No one could resist Cecile Reiley.

With her musical talent, shesmallcecilereileySSJBioetal also became involved in planning the liturgy and music selections. The church decorations for Easter, Christmas, and the Irish Concert showed her deft hand. Her artwork adorned the Christmas and Easter cards.

Her dedication to her prayer life and meditation is the source of her strength and she believes in helping others to find that strength. She supported the founding of the Jesu Caritas Prayer Group and founded the Christian Meditation group at Saint Malachy.
Sister Cecile Reiley has been a vital part of old Saint Malachy for over twenty-five years. She has not only been a part. She is Saint Malachy. Her gentle spirit and dedication have helped to make Saint Malachy the vital parish that it is today.

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