Sister Shirley Nugent was born on June 28,1932 at Brighton, Massachusetts. Her mother, Mary Nugent, resided at Dedham, Massachusetts as did Shirley, her sister, Maureen, and her maternal grandmother. Her maternal uncle, Daniel Nugent, and his family were a significant part of Shirley’s life. This is evidenced by the fact that Shirley asked for the name “Daniel Maria” six months after entrance into the SCN Community at the reception of the habit and the giving of a religious name to each candidate.
Shirley was educated by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in elementary school at St. Anne in Dedham, Massachusetts. Shirley often spoke of Sister Reparata, who taught her in Dedham and left a lasting impression on Shirley from her early school years. Sister Reparata was well known throughout the SCN Community for her teaching skills and her kindness to others. Shirley graduated in June, 1950 from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Jamaica Plain, taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston.
Shirley entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in September 1950. Her entrance, and those of others in her class, marked an historic change for the SCN Community. It was the first time in SCN history that the initial formation of postulants would be in Kentucky, as usual, and simultaneously in Massachusetts. Our Lady of Nazareth Academy in Wakefield, Massachusetts shared space among high school students and six postulants entering the SCN Community. The postulants in Wakefield studied religious life under Sister Mary Rosine Callahan, who had experience preparing newcomers.
With the new arrangement, the SCN Community hoped that the number of postulants from New England would increase. It also gave the opportunity for New England families to visit their loved ones more often. In March 1951, six postulants from Massachusetts came to Nazareth, Kentucky and joined the twenty-six postulants at Nazareth receiving the habit and given a religious name. The class at Nazareth had received their initial training from Sister Moira Rose Marks, in her first year as Director of Postulants.
Shirley and the other new novices continued their study of religious life especially the life of the foundress, Catherine Spalding and of the patron of charity, St. Vincent de Paul. They also studied philosophy, church history and music, both liturgical music and music for the classroom. The novices were under the guidance of Sister Helen Frances Sheeran and Sister Ann Patrick McShane. Second year novices had charge of various areas at Nazareth, providing learning opportunities. Most of the second-year novices, who were not nurses or hospital laboratory technicians, spent six weeks or more at local Catholic schools in Bardstown engaged in practice-teaching.
On March 25, 1951, the feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, Shirley made first vows, another step toward becoming a Sister of Charity of Nazareth. The occasion also gave Shirley the opportunity of visiting with her family who came to Kentucky for the celebration. After first vows, Shirley and most members of her class, stayed at Nazareth continuing their studies in the spring and summer of 1953. In the fall of 1953, Shirley went on her first mission, teaching primary grades at St. Matthias School in Louisville. Shirley, as most sisters on a mission in Louisville, also studied at Nazareth College (now Spalding University) on weekends, and in the summer. Shirley received a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1968. Her next mission was teaching at St. John’s School in Bellaire, Ohio. Shirley taught and was also principal of her next mission, St.Vincent de Paul School in Mt.Vernon, Ohio. Her next move was to St.William in Millington, Tennessee where she remained for three years and was teacher, principal and superior of the convent. Her next mission, Little Flower School in Memphis, lasted from August 1968 to August 1974. Shirley was superior of the convent and principal of the school. Also, during this time, Shirley studied at Memphis State University in Tennessee and received a Master of Arts Degree in Guidance and Counseling.
Shirley’s kindness to others and her leadership skills were evident to many SCNs. In 1974 she was elected SCN Provincial of Holy Family Province I which encompassed part of Louisville. Shirley was reelected Provincial in 1977. During her time as provincial, Shirley chaired an Archdiocesan committee on Women’s Role in the Church. She was also elected Vice-Chairperson of Region 6 under the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) encompassing three states: Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.
Sister Anne Marie O’Shea was provincial secretary during Shirley’s terms as provincial. She said Shirley was gracious to the sisters who came to seek counsel from her. Anne Marie also recalled that Shirley enjoyed being with everyone at gatherings and that she preferred working as part of a team whenever possible.
At the end of her second term as provincial, Shirley went to Massachusetts, living in community with Sister Gwen McMahon, taking a sabbatical and studying at Boston College. It was at this time that Shirley became interested in Clinical Pastoral Education and began a new phase in her life. Shirley became a chaplain and supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education, (CPE) in Santa Maria Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. She was supervisor of CPE at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Brighton, MA. In Denvile, New Jersey at St. Clara’s Riverside Medical Center, Shirley supervised the CPE program in the hospital. Shirley also assisted the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia with their CPE program.
In May of 1987, Shirley received a Master of Divinity degree from Pope John XXIII Seminary in Boston, Massachusetts. For fifteen years, Shirley created and promoted standards for accreditation, certification and ethics in the CPE field. She also participated in the articulation and formalization of standards of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC). In 1998, Shirley was honored by NACC for her contribution to the field of CPE and received the national ‘Prestigious Award’ from NACC.
In 2001, Shirley was asked to provide consultation for a Catholic organization directly involved in the aftermath of the attack on the twin towers in New York City. “The concern expressed recognized the physical, emotional and spiritual trauma among the professional chaplains as well as those they are serving.” Shirley wrote in an SCN news bulletin.
Shirley is currently retired and is a resident at Nazareth Home in Louisville, Kentucky.
-Profile by Sister Elaine McCarron