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Our Lord called Sister Ellen at age twenty-one to bring healing to others and to serve the poor.    Sister Ellen heeded that call and for most of her seventy years with the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor she cared for patients as a nurse, then as chaplain, and finally as a volunteer. Her guiding principle in ministry, she once wrote, was to show compassion and concern for each person who entered a health care facility. She loved patients with an everlasting love. On August 27, 2015, our Lord called Sr. Ellen to the home prepared for her for all eternity by the God she had served faithfully and was ready to meet.


The daughter of Carmela Piccenti and Pasquale Durso who met and married in Benevento, Italy, before immigrating to the United States and setting up home in Richmond, Indiana, Ellen Constance Durso was surrounded by the love and faith of her parents, five sisters, and one brother. Born July 19, 1924, Ellen grew up in an active family and, with six siblings, enjoyed plenty of playmates and could always ask for help with her schoolwork if necessary. The Durso family was active in St. Mary Catholic Church in Richmond where the children attended the parish school. Ellen graduated from Richmond High School in 1943.

In January 1945 Ellen’s older sister left home to enter the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in Cincinnati, Ohio. Seven months later on August 31, Ellen also left the family home and joined her sister, Sr. Anna Rita, in the formation program at St. Clare Convent. As a novice, Ellen was given the name Sister Mary Damian. (Some years later she returned to her baptismal name.) She professed first vows on May 3, 1948, and celebrated her perpetual profession on May 3, 1953.
Following her first profession, Sister Ellen transferred to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, where she attended the School of Nursing, received her diploma in 1951, and earned a license as a registered nurse. She was assigned to serve there as the supervisor of pediatrics and later transferred to St. Margaret Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, serving in the same capacity.  

Sister Ellen returned to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton where she ministered for five years as supervisor of the emergency department while attending the University of Dayton where she earned a B.S. in nursing in 1960. As the emergency room supervisor, Sister Ellen was both revered and feared by physicians because of her commitment to quality patient care. It didn’t matter to Sister Ellen if the patient was rich or poor, victim or criminal, sober or drunk, each person was to be treated with dignity and respect. Any failure to meet Sister Ellen’s standard of care found the guilty doctor or nurse challenged to do better. Armed with her nursing degree, Sister Ellen transferred to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington, Kentucky, where she was involved in nursing education for eight years. During that time she worked with the Congregation’s Director of Novices to provide a ministry experience for the senior novices.


In 1984 Sister Ellen took a sabbatical at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkley, California, to study theology and participate in the hospital ministry training program at St. Mary Hospital to qualify for certification as a hospital chaplain. As part of the degree requirements, Sister Ellen implemented a Mission Awareness Program for St. Anthony Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and Providence Hospital in Cincinnati. After completing the M.A. in applied theology at the Theological Union, Sister Ellen practiced as chaplain at St. Anthony Hospital, Providence Hospital, and Franciscan Terrace in Cincinnati. She continued serving in pastoral ministry until 1999 when, after fifty-four years in active ministry that focused on health care, she moved into a new phase of life that concentrated on voluntarism and her relationship with God and prayer. Always very close to her family, Sister Ellen happily shared in Durso family events and enjoyed the physical proximity to beloved family members. When her sister, Sister Anna Rita, was diagnosed with incurable cancer, Sister Ellen nurtured her sister with loving care until Sister Anna Rita’s death.

Whether in direct patient care or preparing others to become registered nurses, Sister Ellen liked being able to minister to others as a nurse, and along the way, made many lasting friendships among students and medical staff, and was especially respected by the interns, residents, and physicians who treated patients in the emergency room at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton. Sister Ellen felt that her nursing background prepared her to transition well into chaplaincy ministry.  When responding to a question about the greatest spiritual needs of the time, she wrote in 1988: “I perceive that the greatest spiritual challenges of this century are the lack of concern for one another, negativism, and the lack of love and compassion.”


Sister Ellen, you brought with you a warm welcoming presence wherever you went. You listened to others with skill and sensitivity. You cherished and lived well your life as a Franciscan Sister of the Poor. As we remember your life, we mourn our personal loss but know that you will be present to us in special, unexpected ways because you have touched us and shown us a way to be faithful servants of God. Be at peace, our Sister.

Sister Arleen Bourquin, SFP

The following are some testimonials from our Sisters who remember Sister Ellen Durso with great affection:

“I once had my office in St. Clare Convent parlor where I used Sister Anne's desk. Sister Ellen would walk by and tell me I looked ‘presidential’ behind that nice desk. Going forward she would call me ‘The General.’ Every encounter with her made me feel so welcome; she liked all the new ways of reaching out for vocations, such as From Indy to Cincy, the TV commercials, the ‘Coffee and Conversation Sundays,’ and sharing of photographs. I miss her kind words of encouragement, her gentle manner, and her stories. I loved her as if she were my own great-aunt.”
— Associate Ruthy Trusler

“Sister Ellen was wonderful about keeping up with the ‘new.’  She was not afraid to ‘surrender her comfort zone’ and go ahead to learn and do something that took energy to walk in the ‘unknowns’ of life. She lived Mary’s response: ‘Be it done to me according to YOUR word.’ No wonder Sister Ellen went on into Eternal Life so quickly and peacefully!”
—Sister Madonna Hoying
“My favorite memories of Sister Ellen are the times that I went to her room on Saturdays. We would talk all afternoon. She shared her hospital experiences and the good times she had at St. Elizabeth in Dayton. This often included the visits to Dr. Raab’s home for dinners and fun.”
—Sister Grace Miriam Pleiman

“Sister Ellen’s big brown eyes were so comforting to me. Unbeknown to either of us, she was my sounding board. How I miss her.”
—Sister Miriam Bulcak

“A welcome ‘Grace of God’ came from Sister Ellen no matter where I met her or the occasion. She shared her gift of joyful, (sometimes) dry humor, in both supportive and, sometime, challenging ways. I miss you, Ellen, very, very much.”
—Sister Dorothy Ann Bolser

“One of the things that I hold close about Sister Ellen is her care for the Siamese twins, born at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, in October 1951. Obviously that birth caught a lot of attention, but the fact was the twins needed very specialized care and they received such care from Sister Ellen in the pediatric department where they lived for a little over two years. Sister Ellen kept up her contact with Ronnie and Donnie. It was only a few months ago that she told me they were still living in Dayton in a home and cared for by a younger brother and his wife. Her care for all of her patients was loving and consistent.”
—Sister Marie Clement Edrich

“In the last earthly days for Sister Ellen, I was deeply touched by the example of ‘tangible love’ that was visibly present in her family’s presence and exchange as well as by all the Sisters who encircled her with prayer at her bedside. She was a woman of few words but a powerful presence.”
—Sister Marilyn Trowbridge

“Sister Ellen was always a person with a welcoming spirit. She was kind and always listened to me and was a very peaceful and prayerful member of our community at St. Clare’s.”
—Sister Clarita Frericks

“Sr. Ellen always greeted us with an affectionate smile. She told me that her family name (surname) was not Durso. It was modified by immigration personnel when the family came to America. The original name was ‘D’Urso’ meaning ‘of the bear.’”
—Sister Daniel Marie Meade

“I didn’t know Ellen well, but I learned she also had a great love for St. Thérèse of Lisieux. On the day Sister Ellen was buried, I looked at some of her personal belongings that were displayed on a windowsill for family and friends to take and I found a small statue of St. Thérèse. I feel like it was something Ellen meant for me to have.”
—Sister Jo-Ann Jackowski

“Every time I drove her home, Sister Ellen would always say that her sister said often to her, ‘Ellen, why do you always talk so much when you are in the car? You never stop talking. You talk, talk, talk all the time.’”
—Sister Marie Martin Smith

 Published: November, 6, 2015