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At 100, Holy Names sister continues praying and caring


As she approaches her 100th birthday on June 5, Holy Names Sister Virginia Shelton continues to pray daily with her rosary and make one rosary a day, so children at Trinity and Cataldo Catholic schools learn to pray the rosary.

“Praying the rosary is the joy of my life,” she said.  “It lets me follow our Lord’s whole life and brings it into the reality of our lives today, as we experience the same mysteries.”

Sister Virginia Shelton
Sister Virginia Shelton turns 100 on June 5

While she makes a rosary, she listens to News Hour on Channel 7 in the fourth-floor TV room at the Convent of the Holy Names in Spokane where she lives.

“As I listen, I hear what there is to pray about,” Sr. Virginia said.

As she prays, the beads remind her of traditional prayers and the mysteries of the Blessed Mother’s anticipation and giving birth; Jesus’ life and teachings; his agony and crucifixion, and his resurrection and Mary’s crowning as the queen of heaven and earth. 

Connected with each segment of beads, she also prays for concerns of today—such as women who carry their babies to term; for healing of women and children who are abused; for the conversion of traffickers, all who plan injury to others, liars and financial cheaters; for people who suffer; for families struggling to feed their children, and for those who are dying to have the grace of a peaceful death.

For her, praying the rosary is a powerful form of prayer.

“Through the rosary prayer, the Blessed Mother pleads for peace and for the needs of the world,” she said.

Since she retired 10 years ago at the age of 90, Sr. Virginia has followed through with her intention to serve God and God’s people as long as God gives her life.

Reflecting as she approaches her birthday, she is grateful her life “has been blessed with wonderful people along the way” and has been “an amazing journey.”

“I’m on a mountaintop looking back at plains, valleys and mountains all the way to the ocean,” she said.

Although Sr. Virginia formally retired at 90, she is still engaged in ministry.  She attends Mass daily, participates in a Scripture study and plays bingo weekly, donating to Our Place, directed by Holy Names Sister Ann Pizelo. 

Sr. Virginia shares Sr. Ann’s desire to provide for the poor and homeless living within the West Central Spokane area.

“Looking back on my 100 years, I realize more fully, the presence of God directing and supporting my life, much of the time without my awareness,” said Sr. Virginia.

“I see my parents’ sacrificial love, my brothers’ devotion and the unfathomable gift of my vocation,” she said.  “I have experienced joy and peace throughout my life, as the bride of Christ.”

When she was four her parents and two brothers, Frederick and Leroy, moved from Lewiston, Idaho, to a Spokane neighborhood near Felts Field.  For two years, they lived in their garage while her father, who worked for the Northern Pacific railroad, built a home for the family.

She remembers walking with her mother by the Spokane River when she was seven years old.  The paper mill at Millwood put pulp into the river, which made the river rocks slippery.  Virginia was walking in the river and fell.  She saw a big rock, climbed onto it and felt safe on the rock.

Whenever she reads in Psalms that “the Lord is my rock,” she remembers the security she felt on the river rock.

During two years of high school at Our Lady of Lourdes, she met Sr. Francis Theresa, who introduced her to Saint Theresa Lisieux who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. Virginia read Saint Theresa’s autobiography, L’histoire d’une ame, (Story of a Soul) and was inspired by Saint Theresa’s desire to give herself completely to Jesus. 

“Saint Theresa taught me to follow the Lord’s direction in my life,” said Virginia.

Saint Theresa was nicknamed, “the little flower,” because she sent a rose to a person when she prayed for intercession for them. 

Admiring Saint Theresa’s personal devotion, Virginia took the name Virginia Maria Theresa at confirmation.  After high school, she felt God was calling her to dedicate her life to the mission of teaching.

Visiting an aunt in Buffalo, N.Y., whose son was a priest, Virginia went to Mass daily at a nearby monastery and made a novena—nine days of prayer—to Saint Theresa of Lisieux.  Visitors at the monastery were reported to have noticed the fragrance of roses there, before any flowers were brought in.

Virginia was one of 32 young women who arrived at Marylhurst University in July 1932 to join the order of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.  She was one of 26 of the women who took vows.

Sr. Virginia studied piano and music at Marylhurst, and then taught music to small children for 20 years.  She returned to Marylhurst, earned a teaching certificate and went on to teach fifth and sixth graders for 15 years in Tacoma and Seattle.

At age 65, Sr. Virginia came to Gonzaga University to help with its Ministry Institute’s former CREDO sabbatical studies program for priests and sisters from all over the world to focus on renewal and to form a new vision of ministry. She saw her future calling to be in teaching Scripture and visiting homebound people with the Eucharist.

Five years later, Sr. Virginia went to Snohomish to work as a parish minister.  She taught Scripture and planned events for members of the congregation who were 55 and older.

She celebrated her golden jubilee of 50 years in ministry at the parish in Snohomish and with family and friends in Spokane.

She next moved to Wapato, a small community in the Yakima Valley, founding a mission, the Marie Rose House. There she formed support groups for poor women, taught Scripture and visited the sick and homebound to bring the Eucharist.

The pastor there took Sr. Virginia and 22 others on a trip to the Holy Land.  They visited Bethlehem and walked the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem. 

“It was a privilege to walk on the streets where Jesus walked,” she said.  “It made me realize, for example, how long the thorns were in the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head.”

In 2004 Sr. Virginia visited the Mother House, the center of the international community, in Outremont, Quebec, where the tomb of the blessed Marie Rose, foundress of her order had rested for many years.  The tomb was transferred to a Cathedral in Longvueuil, Quebec, where she has a special altar in a chapel.  Sr. Virginia visited that chapel.

At age 89, she moved to Spokane and became the companion of Sister Dee Marie Reeder, the director of novices. 

A year later, she moved to the Convent of the Holy Names and celebrated her 75th year jubilee.

For information, call 328-4310.