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Sister Arlene McGowan was anxious to return home after a nine-day stay in Mercy Mount Airy Hospital in Cincinnati following back surgery to relieve the pressure on nerves that were causing excruciating pain. Her recovery from surgery resulted in some good days and some less than good days, but she was determined to return home.

Sister was discharged from the hospital in the late afternoon of June 6th and was admitted to the Magnificat Floor at St. Clare Convent where she could receive the extra care needed to support her continuing recovery and rehabilitation. Early Friday morning, June 7th, Anne Cabanas, SFP Associate and Director of the Magnificat Floor, went to see if Sister Arlene needed anything. A short time later she returned to prepare Sister for breakfast and discovered that the Angel of Death had taken Sister to join her Beloved Creator who had prepared a place for her in heaven. On reflection, one might ask if the “home” she desired so desperately was not the one made of bricks and mortar, but the everlasting home promised to her when she professed her perpetual vows fifty-four years earlier.

It was August 31, 1933 when Annette Elizabeth and Richard McGowan welcomed their second child, a daughter that they named Arlene Dorothy, to their small family home in Bloomfield, New Jersey.  Living in a home that was plagued with difficulties, Arlene and her older brother Richard became very close and supported each other through the many challenges that came their way. Arlene was an avid learner and did well in school.  Although her family embraced the Baptist faith, she attended St. Mary Elementary School in Newark, NJ.

After completing her studies at St. Mary’s, Arlene was awarded a scholarship to attend Sacred Heart Academy in Newark, NJ.  As a student at the Academy she volunteered as a candy striper volunteer at St. Michael Hospital in Newark where she met the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. Sometime during her early teens, Arlene found a copy of the Biography of Frances Schervier by Jeiler and became enamored by what she read -- so much so that she asked to be instructed in the Catholic faith and was motivated to receive the Sacrament of Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. After becoming a Catholic, Arlene attended Our Lady of Grace Church in Hoboken, NJ.  She also began to explore her vocation and realized that she had been working with members of the Congregation founded by Mother Frances.

At the age of seventeen before completing her high school studies, Arlene left for St. Anthony Convent in Warwick on August 2, 1951 to begin preparing to become a Franciscan Sister of the Poor. As a postulant, she completed her high school studies and received her high school diploma from St. John High School in Goshen, NY in 1952.  Sister Arlene made her first profession of vows on May 11, 1954 and her perpetual profession on September 8, 1959.  Celebrating the anniversary of her perpetual profession was a bitter sweet time for Sister Arlene because it also marked the unexpected death of her beloved brother.

After completing her novitiate, Sister Arlene was missioned to St. Anthony Hospital in Woodhaven, NY as an assistant in the hospital laboratory. She also studied clinical laboratory science at Marywood College,  earning a Bachelor Degree. Sister was then assigned to St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken, NJ as the Director of the Laboratory.

Following the end of Vatican II, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor responded with enthusiasm to the opportunity to develop new understandings of their origins and charism. The 1968 Chapter proved to open new opportunities for change. Sister Arlene’s love and knowledge for Mother Frances and the history of the Congregation allowed her to make positive contributions to the Chapter dialogue. The Chapter developed a new approach to Congregational government. Sister Arlene was selected as a member of the leadership team for the Eastern Area for a three-year term.

In 1976, Sister Arlene was recruited to the new Providence Hospital as the Director of the Laboratory.  Sister ministered at this hospital in a variety of positions for twenty-five years. During those years Sister also participated in educational programs to increase the skills and knowledge needed to maintain an effective hospital laboratory and improve her managerial skills. One of her favorite projects was the development of Healthy Moms and Babes, a health program that takes services to those who live in poor and underserved areas.

Following her retirement from hospital ministry in 2001, Sister Arlene served as the vocation minister for the Congregation and continued her interest in health oriented ministries by serving on the Boards of Trustees. She was called upon to use her managerial and leadership skills as new positions and ministries were developed in the US Area.

Some of Sister Arlene’s special gifts include a phenomenal ability to remember the history of the Congregation. She possessed a love for Mother Frances that seemed to permeate her entire life. She was dedicated to making life better for the poor and underserved and to bring others to the awareness of the needs of others, helping them identify how they could become involved in meeting those needs.

For over thirty years, Sister Rose Carmel Berberich and Sister Arlene created a warm community that invited others to spend time with them. They regularly invited priests to say Mass in their small home and invited other Sisters and friends to participate in the Liturgy. Sister Arlene embraced the Franciscan spirit in her care for animals, especially the dogs that she and Sister Rose Carmel adopted over the years sharing hope and compassion in the community of life. (Chapter Call 2008)

Sister Arlene, as we your Sisters continue to prepare for our 2013 General Chapter, we realize that your presence will be missed. You served as a delegate at every Chapter since 1968. Your historical acumen, study of our Constitutions, and personal interest in canon law provided us with information that helped direct our discussions. We ask you to be with us during the time of our current Chapter, helping us to be open to the call of the Spirit and helping the US Sisters encourage younger Sisters to accept their responsibility for leadership.

Arlene, we say good-by to you with love as you take your place in the heavenly court.

Sister Arleen Bourquin
Published: June 21, 2013