Honoring the life of Sister Grace Nolan
Our agency mourns the death and reflects upon the extraordinary life of Sister Grace Nolan, a remarkable servant of God, and all whom she served during her lifetime, as she has passed away peacefully on April 1, 2017.
When Sister Grace retired in 2011, she wrote that “My life has been filled with many blessings, as have my days at Catholic Charities.”
Her “days” at Catholic Charities totaled forty-one years; forty-one years of, as described by Kevin Hickey, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, “serving the poor, the sick, the troubled of Atlantic City; the frightened pregnant teenagers and their anxious, angry parents, the homeless, the babies who have been adopted through her guidance, the kind words and wise counsel given to so many from all walks of life.”
Ministering in the shadow of the resort city’s casino glitz, Sister Grace became famous for her determination in assisting the poor, including families seeking food or the lonely living in nursing homes along the Boardwalk, as noted after her retirement in 2011.
One of seven children, Sister Grace learned much of her sense of charity from her father, a grocer and member of the St. Vincent de Paul chapter of Trenton’s cathedral parish. She would often accompany him on trips when he would load up his truck and deliver food to the poor in New Jersey’s capital city.
Before coming to Catholic Charities, Sister Grace was a teacher at St. John’s School in Collingswood and principal at Holy Spirit High School, then in Atlantic City. Whether distributing excess furniture from a resort hotel or a can of soup, Sister Grace emphasized that charity should be dispensed with a smile.
A smile, she said in a 1985 interview in the Catholic Star Herald, “doesn’t cost you a cent.”
Employees of Catholic Charities who were fortunate enough to know Sister Grace remember her fondly.
One Catholic Charities employee, John Marcantuono, recalled memories with Sister Grace. “I will remember the many working lunches I had with Sister Grace over the years at Angeloni’s Restaurant, which was just one block from the Catholic Charities office in Atlantic City…she was always smiling and gracious to all, and was always welcomed there. She always had a small grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, as we talked about the needs of people in Atlantic City and how we could try to bring in more funding to meet those needs. I will always have those fond memories of her concern, compassion and caring for others.”
Despite her modesty, Sister Grace received many honors from both church and civic groups such as the Atlantic City Women’s Hall of Fame, the Pro Ecclesia Pontifice Papal Medal, and the Proclaimer of Life Award and the St. Vincent DePaul Award from the Camden Diocese. She was named Woman of the Year by the Atlantic City Business and Professional Women’s Club and the Sisterhood of Temple Emeth Shalom. She was the only woman ever to receive the Outstanding Man of the Year award from the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. In 2004, Catholic Charities established the Grace Nolan Award for Social Ministry in her honor. In 2011, Sister Grace retired to McAuley Hall Health Care Center in Watchung.
Kevin Hickey wrote in a letter after her retirement in 2011 which echoes the thoughts and feelings of many who were blessed enough to have known Sister Grace:
“It is important that you know that Catholic Charities treasures the work of Sister Grace. We are keenly aware of our responsibility to be wise and faithful stewards of Sister Grace’s commitment to serve Christ by serving poor and vulnerable people. Her legacy and example lives on in us and in you.
You should also know that with Sister Grace’s retirement, Catholic Charities is bereft. And always will be. It is unthinkable that Sister Grace could be replaced. We know that and accept the burden of continuing on in our all too human-ness. We are imperfect instruments of God’s care for poor and vulnerable people. We will labor on in Atlantic City and across the Diocese of Camden in the work which Sister Grace called sacred. It is all we can do. As the prayer says, we abide in the Son. Sister Grace has blessed us by her example. And so, bereft though we may be, we are also immensely wealthy in having worked with Sister Grace. Her legacy and example is ever-present and fortifies us as we embark upon a new era.”
The impact, service, and presence of Sister Grace will never be forgotten.