Sister Nora Gurnett, CSC
(Sister M. Vincetta)
September 25, 1937 – February 7, 2021
We share news of the death of Sister Nora Gurnett, CSC, who died at 1:05 p.m. on February 7, 2021, in Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana. Sister Nora entered the Congregation from Depue, Illinois, on August 1, 1958. Her initial profession of vows took place on February 2, 1961.
Please join us in prayer for Sister as we renew our faith in the resurrected Jesus and strengthen our hope that all the departed will be raised to eternal life.
Sister Nora Gurnett died unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon, February 7, 2021, at Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana. Her death occurred less than a week after the 60th anniversary of Sister’s initial profession of vows as a Sister of the Holy Cross on February 2, 1961. The year 2021 was her diamond jubilee. Most of her 83 years she believed God had called her to faithful service, but during a sabbatical for spiritual renewal when she was 70 years old, Sister Nora had a profound experience of God’s abiding love for her. Diamonds are formed by pressure on a chunk of coal. Nora Gurnett identified more with the coal and its pressures than she did with the precious jewel and her own brilliance.
Nora’s father was a chemist or chemical engineer who worked at Mineral Point Zinc Company in Depue, Illinois. That area of northern Illinois in the 1930s was known for its coal fields, from which slab zinc was extracted for the manufacture of appliances and automobiles. Depue was only a village, so the fifth child of Gail Vincent Gurnett and Mary Kathryn Cassidy was born in St. Margaret’s Hospital in nearby Spring Valley. Nora called herself “the grand finale” of the Gurnett family, as she was born 10 minutes after her identical twin sister, Sheila, not only shocking her parents but the doctor as well. The older sisters were Mary and Kathryn or “Kate.” The only brother was John, who died at 12 years old, six months after the death of their mother. The identical twin girls were only seven years old at the time. Mary took on the role of the mother and held the family together. The trauma of such loss was crushing but never fully expressed. Unlike her twin, Sheila, who was more extroverted, Nora was always shy and very reticent to share thoughts, opinions and feelings. She wrote, “When I speak from the heart, my words do not always make sense.” Her friendly smiles, joking and teasing probably eased her discomfort in social situations, as did wearing novelty pins and beads in her retirement. Introversion is common in convent life, where sisters are generally reflective and quiet while cultivating virtues of humility, cooperation and mutual support.
Nora and Sheila followed their two older sisters to Holy Cross Central School of Nursing in South Bend, Indiana. Their father was a graduate and big fan of the University of Notre Dame, and his fantasy was that his girls would marry Notre Dame men. Nora, having attended public schools in Depue, met Holy Cross sisters through the nursing school the Congregation sponsored. Sheila and Nora graduated on August 7, 1958, and were later licensed as registered nurses. At graduation Nora wore the clothing of a postulant, having entered the Sisters of the Holy Cross on August 1, 1958. She had applied to the convent at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana, in January expecting to become a sister nurse. The school administrator, Sister M. Nazarita (Culligan), CSC, described Nora as “wholesome, generous and thoughtful in her actions; and by temperament affable and shy.”
Nora received the name Sister Mary Vincetta, probably in honor of her parents, upon reception of the holy habit on February 2, 1959. She persevered in her vocation to religious life and made perpetual profession on August 15, 1964. She practiced as a licensed registered nurse in several Holy Cross-sponsored facilities from 1961 to 1982: twice at St. John’s Hospital, Anderson, Indiana, (now Ascension St. Vincent Anderson) as a staff nurse and head nurse; Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, as a geriatric nurse; and Holy Cross Hospital, San Fernando, California, (now Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, Mission Hills, California) as an emergency room nurse, where she said she was happiest. With the encouragement of the Congregation, she eventually pursued a Bachelor of Science in health care management from the University of La Verne, La Verne, California, and graduated in 1986. Her father died a year later.
After years as a seasoned health professional, she reassessed her ministry as a nurse, which had its many pressures, and was equipped to test herself by directing the innovative Total Life Center at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, California, which had both child and adult day care. Sister also became an information systems trainer using medical applications. From 1986 to 2006, she ministered in Fresno, where she admired the leadership and management philosophies of such mentors as Holy Cross Sisters M. Raphael (McGrath), Beverly Ann Nelson and Ruth Marie Nickerson.
It was not until 1992 that Sister Vincetta, or “Vin” to her friends, returned to her baptismal and family names and became known as Sister Nora Gurnett. Twenty years before, when customs had changed, she attempted to make the switch, but pressure from others led her to drop the idea of reclaiming her primal identity. Sister Nora regretted that too often she lacked the courage and self-confidence to roll away stones that blocked her personal growth “to become the WHO I am.”
That deep call for authenticity and integrity is the task of later adulthood in every woman’s life. In Holy Cross, the formation of the Health Services Region in the 1960s helped make the ministry of health care more visible in a Congregation consisting largely of educators. Sister M. Michaeleen (Frieders) and her leadership from 1967 to 1975 encouraged sister nurses to grow, not only professionally, but holistically. Eventually Sister Nora took advantage of a sabbatical for psychological and spiritual renewal in 2006 and counted it as “God’s choicest blessing” on her. She was able to reimagine the story of her life from the perspective of God’s transforming love for her. From 2007 to 2012, Sister Nora served as a “Sister Presence” at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend. After a few years of helping to staff the Mail Room at the motherhouse, Sister Nora retired to Saint Mary’s Convent, where she had lived since 2015.
Sister Nora wrote, “I usually work, pray and support in the background.” The Sisters of the Holy Cross, benefactors and her family will rely on Sister Nora’s prayer and support. Her courageous response to God’s grace crystallized a lifetime of carbon into diamonds. And she called that transformation “a resurrection.”
We invite you to donate to the Ministry With the Poor Fund in Sister’s name.—Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC