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Sister Rosalie Murphy, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame deNamur, dies

Sister Rosalie Murphy was a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame deNamur who was director of the Division of Collegial Services at the Pastoral Center of the Archdiocese of Baltimore for more than two decades.
Sister Rosalie Murphy was a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame deNamur who was director of the Division of Collegial Services at the Pastoral Center of the Archdiocese of Baltimore for more than two decades. (Algerina Perna /)

Sister Rosalie Murphy, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame deNamur who had been director of the Division of Collegial Services at the Pastoral Center of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore for more than two decades, died Saturday of respiratory failure at her order's U.S. East-West Province Center in Roland Park.

She was 90.

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"Sister Rosalie was omnicompetent and was one of the most influential nuns in the Archdiocese of Baltimore during the late 1970s and 1980s. She always looked to the future and not the past," said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester and a close friend of many years.

"She was very much a part of the hierarchy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore at 320 Cathedral St., and she had long been a confidant of Archbishop William D. Borders," said Father Roach. "She was a very charming woman and had a wonderful way of speaking in the accent of a sister of the School Sisters of Notre Dame deNamur."

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"As director of the Archdiocese's Division of Collegial Services, her job was to make sure that the voice of the people could be heard and help shape the community, while the structure of the church and decisions remained in the hands of the bishops and priests," said Joseph Chamberlin, a Baltimore writer who worked closely with Sister Rosalie from 1978 to 1987 when he was a field coordinator for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. "She was like a big sister to me."

"She was very transforming and especially made sure that women in the church found their voices," said Mr. Chamberlin, who was later a manager with Catholic Relief Services in Third World countries.

"She could be stern but was always very focused. She was also a futurist and very future-oriented," he said. "She realized that women in the Catholic Church were a force to be reckoned with, but she believed in assertion and not aggression. People need to be respected and loved."

The daughter of Irish immigrants Peter John Murphy, a Chester, Pa., municipal worker, and Mary Ward Murphy, a homemaker, she was born and raised Rosealeen Marie Murphy in Chester.

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She was a graduate of the old Notre Dame High School in Moylan, Pa., and earned a bachelor's degree in 1962 from Trinity Washington University in Washington, and studied for a master's degree in religious education at the Catholic University of America. She earned a master's degree in future studies from the University of Houston in 1977.

She entered the Belgian-based order in 1943 and was told that the name Rosealeen was a bit too fancy for a nun; she was given the name Rosalie.

She began teaching in 1946 at the Academy of Notre Dame in Villanova, Pa., and for the next 13 years held teaching assignments at St. Francis Xavier in Washington, St. Ursula in Baltimore, St. Bernadette in Drexel Hill, Pa., Julie Billiart Country Day School in Howard County and St. Catherine of Genoa in Brooklyn, N.Y.

From 1959 to 1962, she was a teacher and principal of the lower school at Maryvale Preparatory School in Brooklandville. In 1969, she was named director of juniors for the Maryland Province of her order, working with newly professed sisters.

In 1977, then-Archbishop Borders appointed Sister Rosalie as director of the archdiocesan's newly established Division of Collegial Services at the Catholic Center.

She was the first woman to head a major division at the Catholic Center and remained with it as its name changed in 1983 to the Division of Pastoral Councils and, in 1992, to the Division of Planning and Council Services.

"I was interested because I felt that I had the experience of promoting change, believed in sharing responsibility, and that the laity needed to be promoted to take on more responsibility, as a result of Vatican II," Sister Rosalie wrote in a biographical sketch.

"I arrived on the wave of change — a sea change at the Catholic Center. The concept of department secretaries and grouped around specific areas of the Church's mission had just been introduced," she wrote. "Previously, the majority of offices reported directly to the Archbishop."

"She was committed to a wave of change, but I think she had a greater impact on the empowerment of women and helping them realize their potential in the faith community," said Sister Kathleen M. O'Brien, also a member of the order.

"She was also responsive to the needs of the poor and marginalized. She cared about the earth, peace and social justice issues," she said.

When Sister Rosalie was presented a Sarah's Circle spirituality award from the Women's Institute of what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University in 1994, she told The Baltimore Sun, "People know that in this church I have been a promoter of women, but I have always been faithful to church tradition. As a feminist and a Catholic, I consider myself both — and to be either/or does not fit with me."

She added: "After centuries of inertia, the Roman Catholic Church has opened its door to the modern world … and started on a journey."

She retired in 2000.

Monsignor G. Michael Schleupner, pastor of St. Margaret Church In Bel Air, got to know Sister Rosalie when he was a young parish priest and later worked with her at the Catholic Center from 1977 to 1998.

"I had enormous respect for her. She wouldn't want me to say this, but she was a formidable figure, gentle, strong and smart, and all at the same time. She touched my life deeply," he said. "Rosalie had wisdom for the world and her church and always had a sense of what was the appropriate thing to do."

Monsignor Schleupner said he admired her candor when it came time to speak to the church's ecclesiastical hierarchy.

"She could deliver news and her thoughts to cardinals or archbishops, and we listened," he said. "And at the same time, she was respectful and made us listen. She was a special speaker, humble and powerful, and it was all rolled into one."

Sister Rosalie, who was an avid fan of Willie Nelson and Frank Sinatra, also enjoyed reading.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday in the chapel at Villa Assumpta, 6401 N. Charles St.

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