We shared a name and so much more — a remembrance of Sister Antoine Murphy

March 15, 2018

Public Affairs’ John Murphy was invited to share his memories of Sister Antoine Murphy, the last living Sister to have worked with Mayo founders Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo. This story originally appeared on the In the Loop blog.

Last week I said goodbye to a friend, confidant and my never-failing compass on the Mayo/Franciscan values.

On Thursday, Feb. 15, Sister Antoine Murphy “peacefully left us for heaven,” as fellow Sister Lauren Weinandt said. She was 104. Forty-two years of life separated us, but we had a common bond. Both of our ancestors emigrated from County Cork, Ireland, and she would tease with an Irish twinkle in her eye … “We are related.”

Sister Antoine Murphy
Sister Antoine smiles for a photo with Public Affairs’ John Murphy

On the dawn of her 100th birthday, Sister Antoine told me she opened one eye and then the other and thought, “Well, I guess I made it.” Then she walked over to her dresser and looked in the mirror and said, “So this is what 100 looks like.” As was her tradition, we shared pecan pie, her favorite, and toasted the years with Bailey’s Irish cream.

As a child, she was near death with scarlet fever. When she recovered and saw the power of medicine, she knew she wanted to be a nurse. Sister Antoine’s career is featured in the soon to be released Ken Burns documentary on Mayo Clinic. She was so humble, yet she played an active part in many Mayo Clinic milestones: the first dialysis procedure ever performed, the first knee-replacement patient, the first nurse to start an antibiotic IV. She cared for the most well-known and the most obscure patients in Mayo’s history, all with the same compassion.

Sister Antoine was the last living Sister to have worked with Mayo founders Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo, and with Sister Joseph Dempsey. And she lived a joy-filled 80 years at Saint Marys. One day Dr. Will toured her lab and asked her a challenging question. She answered with precision, and Dr. Will told the room, “Exactly right Sister. We are fortunate to have you.” That was a compliment she carried in her heart.

Last year, Mayo Clinic trustee Cokie Roberts spent time with Sister Antoine while visiting Rochester. When Ms. Roberts asked the key to unlocking the values, Sister Antoine replied, “It’s simple. Every experience of your life brings you to this time and place. We carry all of our experiences with us. Our charge is to use that experience to leave Mayo Clinic a better place than we found it.”

Sister Antoine embraced politics, current events and technology. At our lively dinner discussions, if we had a question about a fact she would gesture to me and say, “Please Google that, Mr. Murphy.”
She was best described as “elegant.” She dressed impeccably, even on weekends, stating that “our patients don’t get a day off. We should look our best every day.” And even though she became legally blind, her handwriting was like calligraphy on the hundreds of personal notes she sent.

When I sit at Saint Marys and look at her pew, it is not empty. It is filled with gratitude. Not long ago, after mass, she surprised me with her mother’s shamrock dish from Ireland. My eyes filled with tears. She said, “Oh don’t be sad … because you know … God is Irish!”

May the road rise to meet you, Sister Antoine. Mayo Clinic is a better place because of you.

John Joseph Murphy