Sister Maria Furlong
1928 – 2017
Born: 28th December 1928
Entered Religious Life: 16th October 1950
Died: 23rd December 2017
The following eulogy was given by Chris Abeyta, a very good friend and colleague of Sr. Maria. This is followed by a tribute from another friend and colleague, Dana Vasquez.
How do you sum up the life of one of the most incredible persons you ever met in just a few minutes? Inside that tiny little body of Sr. Marie, was a woman of immense faith and unwavering character. Sister wanted to see the best in everyone, and did not accept anyone not trying to do their best. In her class, all I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed. It was going to be Sister’s way or the highway…and she wasn’t going to LET you take the highway! You were going to learn whether you wanted to or not!
I first met Sister many years ago when one of the athletes that I was coaching had her for Honors English and said that he was not doing very well in her class. I walked into her classroom, introduced myself to her, and asked about the boy’s grades. After she explained to me that he wasn’t turning in his work, she proceeded to question me about basketball…and what needed to be done so the team would do better! It was then and there that I knew 2 things: #1. ALWAYS complete your work CORRECTLY for Sister, and #2. This woman knew her sports! That was the beginning of a long friendship that grew over the years. After almost every game, sister wanted to come in and recap the game. She often said “What were you thinking when you ran that offence or defense”? After she retired, I got phone calls!!
Sister Marie LOVED sports! Not just basketball, but football, volleyball, baseball, tennis, hockey, and (of course) horse racing. She loved all sports, but she truly loved all Mater Dei sports. Watching the boys and girls sporting events brought light to her eyes. When she was still working, she rarely missed a game. ..home or away. After she retired, we made sure to get her to all the games we could so she could watch “her” teams. This included road trips up to the Bay area a few times, as well as Sacramento. We always had a ball! Sister truly loved the athletes and considered them her personal teams. She was strict and unyielding in the classroom, but she was also strict and unyielding in her love for the teams at Mater Dei. When she went to live in San Pedro, Mater Dei supplied her with live stream feed for all the games and events. This truly made her day! Sr. Michelle told us that she had EVERYONE in the house watching the games with her. ..whether they wanted to or not! She even offered up her daily prayer petitions on the day of the state football championship game for Mater Dei…and, of course, they won!
For many years, Sister lived in the convent at St. Columban’s. This was close to our house, so she became a frequent dinner guest. For such a little woman, she sure could put it away! She also had a fondness for Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, (as much as I do) so it was always on hand. She didn’t hesitate to have a 2nd cocktail after dinner because she reminded me that she wasn’t driving…but I was. My wife would go to visit Sister at St. Columban’s and they would have tea. It took me awhile to figure out that the 4 hour tea parties included Jameson’s too! For several years, Christmas Eve midnight mass at LMU (which started at 10:00 p.m.) saw Sister riding shot gun with us. She loved going to mass up there because she could see her “LA sisters” as she called them. We were worried that it was so late for her, but after mass, she was all over the chapel hurrying to say hello to everyone that she knew! We were one of the last to leave.
I got married in Las Vegas (in a Catholic church, not by Elvis!) and Sister couldn’t wait to go! She really loved Vegas too! She loved horse racing and told us stories of her one relative who was a jockey. When she was in Marycrest Convalescent Hospital, we went to see her on Kentucky Derby day, and there was Sister, wrapped up in her Mater Dei blanket, race sheet rolled up like a pro, rooting for the horse she wanted to win. I didn’t know if she had money on that one!!
On what was to be our last trip to the house in San Pedro right before Thanksgiving, we had a great visit with Sister. She was excited because, as she said, she was going on an outing just for her that night, and my son happened to call. We were telling her earlier how he wasn’t going to be able to come home for more than 2 days because of his work schedule. She wanted to talk to him. After a few pleasantries, she said “So what’s this I hear that you don’t have the time to spend with your parents on Thanksgiving?” She really put on the Catholic guilt trip! He said “Gosh Sister, quit busting my chops, I have to work!” She was smiling from ear to ear. After we hung up, she turned to me and said “See, I’ve still got it!”
I got the call from Sister Michelle on a Tuesday that my beloved Sr. Marie was in hospice. She wasn’t expected to make it for more than 48 hours. My wife and I went up immediately to see her. She looked even tinier in the hospital bed, and for the most part, she slept. Sr. Michelle and Sr. Kathleen were with her and they told us that she was mildly sedated and most likely would just sleep. We all told “Sr. Marie stories” and laughed as we remembered her life. Amazingly, after about 2 hours, Sister’s eyes just popped open and we bent over her bed and just talked to her. We told her how much we loved her, and how much she meant to us. I swear to you, her Irish Eyes Were Smiling! She was smiling and patting the bed with her hand. I will never forget the look of joy in her eyes! The doctor’s said that she would only make it for 48 hours after she went into the hospital. True to form, Sister Marie was going to do EVERYTHING on her terms and lived a week longer!
Sister Marie definitely marched to her own beat, with her strong faith, her tough love in the classroom, her undying love of Mater Dei sports, and her gentle love of all. She was a little woman who made a big impact on my life. I could, and did, talk to her about everything. She had an amazing insight. Her little “energizer bunny” body may have given out, but she was as sharp as a tack! I want to personally thank Sr. Michelle for taking such good care of her, and for all of the Sisters who stayed by her side around the clock in her last few days so she would never be alone. I will truly miss her and heaven got one hell of an angel! I Love you Sister.
Tribute by Dana Vasquez
Teaching English at Mater Dei High School with Sister Marie was a true blessing. She led with a quiet confidence that could be heard with very few words. She demanded the very best from her students, her colleagues, and herself. Her spirit and passion for teaching, learning and living life have made a permanent imprint in my heart. Her grace, guidance, wisdom and sense of humor will be truly missed!