In a Class by Herself

Although she was the youngest of 13 and accustomed to being part of a group, Sister Mary Catherine (Alvina) Girrens made her first profession on November 1, 1925, in a class by herself.  

As an Adorer of the Blood of Christ, she was part of the life of the community and yet, set herself apart. Born in St. Marks, Kansas on November 16, 1908, she entered the Adorers in Ruma and remained in the former Ruma province when the congregation established provinces in 1929.

Congregation of the Sisters Adorers of the Most Precious Blood, her 1934 master’s thesis from Saint Louis University, served for years as the standard history of the early development of the congregation in the United States. Mary Catherine was a teacher and principal of Precious Blood High School in Ruma from 1934 to 1947 and director for the temporarily professed. She was a teacher at St. Teresa Academy in East St. Louis, Illinois from 1947 to 1951 and served as its principal from 1951 to 1956. Her signature “class by herself” exerted itself when, in the face of strong opposition, she enrolled the school’s first African-American student in 1951, three years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that laws that permitted racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional.

During her years (1956-1965) as provincial of the former Ruma province, the province witnessed the growth of hospitals in Taylorville and Murphysboro, Illinois and the building of De Mattias Hall (1964) near the campus of Saint Louis University.  More importantly, the years prior to Vatican II provided Mary Catherine the opportunity to broaden the theological education of the Sisters through participation in the Sister Formation program, through renowned theologians and scripture scholars as speakers at Ruma, and through attendance at Precious Blood Study weeks and Institutes of Spirituality at Notre Dame University.

When she was elected as general councilor in 1965, she and Mother Marciana Heimerman, the general superior, traveled extensively to all the provinces to encourage and deepen the spirit of Vatican II and growth in the ASC charism and spirituality.  

Mary Catherine served as general superior of the congregation from 1975 until 1983 during which time the Constitution was revised (1979), Sister Antonietta Maraone wrote the history of the congregation, and missions were opened in Korea and India.  Sister Andre Fries, CPPS from O’Fallon, Sister Canice Werner, CPPS from Dayton, and Mary Catherine were the founders of a task force that would grow into the Precious Blood Leadership Conference.  

Her years as a missionary began after service on the general administration. She spent 1984 to 1986 in Bangalore, India; she ministered in the Philippines from 1991 to 1993, and in La Paz, Bolivia from 1986 to 1991 and again from 1993 to 1998. Always a leader, her most influential leadership may have emerged in her mission experience and deep love of the poor.  

Always a woman of prayer, after her ministry in the missions, her transparent holiness radiated in simplicity, an unassuming spirit, warm love expressed in a warm hug, and concern for the poor.  

She died in Wichita, Kansas on Dec. 4, 2001, and was buried in the Ruma cemetery. Joe Nassal, CPPS, commented in his homily at her funeral, “The Precious Blood Family has lost one of our giants. She captured the charism and spirituality of the Blood more than most. She was truly in a class by herself, in more ways than one.”

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