Claire McCloskey died suddenly April 20, after the Catholic Standard & Times went to press. Her viewing will be at St. Cecilia Church, 535 Rhawn St., Saturday, April 24 at 9:30 a.m. Her funeral Mass will follow at 10:30 a.m.

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – Sometimes it’s just the little things that makes a good parishioner.

Claire Sullivan McCloskey, who is turning 92, has been living in Philadelphia’s St. Cecilia Parish since she married her husband Joe, and for years she’s been ironing altar linens for the church. At first she did it herself; now it’s as part of a group that alternates.

Born in Nativity B.V.M. Parish but raised in St. Stephen, she’s a graduate of that school and Hallahan High. In 1936 when she graduated, the Depression was still on, and it wasn’t until 1940 that she could enroll in nursing school at Misericordia Hospital.

It was through one of her nursing classmates that she met Joe. He was from Fox Chase and a self-employed hardwood floor finisher, good enough at his craft that he never had to advertise; the business came to him by word of mouth.

They married at St. Stephen Church in 1947 and moved into a little apartment on the upper floor of his parents’ house. Joe and Claire hoped to build a family, but after five years and no children they decided to explore adoption.

At the Catholic Children’s Bureau on Summer Street they were told first they would have to have a house of their own before they could be given a baby, and that’s when they bought their house on Stanwood Street across from the St. Cecilia property. Finally, in 1955 they were allowed to adopt their son, Joe.

“He was born March 21, and he only weighed about three pounds so we didn’t get him for almost six months,” McCloskey said. “The day he came our whole house changed. He was such a pleasure.”

In time, young Joe went off to St. Cecilia School; his dad had been a member of the first graduating class in 1925. As a matter of fact, his carefully preserved diploma from St. Cecilia has been photocopied and has become the template, somewhat reduced in size, for the diplomas which the school is now issuing to its eighth-graders.

When young Joe was growing up his mother, although a homemaker, kept her hand in nursing, either private duty or as a school nurse.

One of her patients in the 1970s was Father Richard Keul, seriously ill with cancer but residing at St. Cecilia rectory, where McCloskey would go to care for him. When he got so sick he needed hospital care, her husband would drive her to the hospital nightly for a visit even though he was no longer her patient.

Finally one night, she had barely arrived when he looked at her, smiled and shut his eyes in peaceful death.

“I think he was waiting for me,” she said. “He looked forward to my visits.”

Her husband Joe died in 2001. “It was a good marriage, we were a good team,” she said. “We have a good son with a good wife, and they live near. They have four children, Brendan, Reagan, Emily and Patrick. They all went to St. Cecilia. Brendan will graduate from Roman this year. Reagan and Emily are at St. Basil Academy, and Patrick will graduate from St. Cecilia this year; he will be going to Roman.”

About 30 years ago McCloskey started to attend daily Mass at St. Cecilia, a practice she stopped just a few weeks ago because of health issues. Always devoted to the rosary, after Joe’s death she started saying it twice daily.

The constant in her life has been St. Cecilia. The small basement church where she and Joe first worshipped is long gone, replaced by the much larger church of today.

“My life here at St. Cecilia has been one of sincere love and devotion to our priests and our Church since 1954 when I watched the church being built,” McCloskey said. “It’s home to me. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I appreciate all of the good things that have happened to me.”