A look at the lives of priests and women religious lost to the coronavirus

The Rev. Charles Green, Patricia McGowan, S.C., and M. Regine Collins, S.S.N.D.  

Among the more than 80,000 Americans and 5,000 Canadians who have died from Covid-19 are many Catholic priests, sisters and brothers. The first reported death of a Catholic priest from the disease was the Rev. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, the pastor of St. Brigid’s Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., who died on March 27 at age 49. In the weeks following, many more Catholic religious have succumbed to the disease, which has hit eldercare facilities particularly hard, including those that primarily serve members of religious communities. Near Milwaukee, six sisters who resided at the Our Lady of the Angels convent died from complications related to Covid-19 in the last month, including Sister Annelda Holtcamp, who taught for more three decades at a Catholic high school. She was 102. In New York State, three Maryknoll sisters and as many as nine priests are believed to have died from Covid-19, and many more sisters have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

The number of deaths from the virus, which could climb as high as 3,000 per day in the United States by next month, can be overwhelming, and given restrictions on public gatherings, it can be difficult to remember the individuals who have died during this pandemic. Below are snapshots of some of the lives lost.

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M. Regine Collins, S.S.N.D., Wisconsin, 95
When Regine Collins, S.S.N.D., built a snow sculpture of a young School Sister of Notre Dame, like she was at the time, her religious superiors took notice and decided she had a future in fine arts. So when it came time for her to earn a master’s degree, she decided to enroll in an arts program at the University of Notre Dame. In 1962, she completed her master’s thesis, a wood carving of Mary with the baby Jesus, according to an obituary published by her religious order.

Among the more than 80,000 Americans and 5,000 Canadians who have died from Covid-19 are many Catholic priests, sisters and brothers.

For the next several decades, Sister Collins continued to create and teach art. She taught at Mount Mary College from 1967 to 1981. During that time, she created two sculptures, one of Mary and the other of the Nativity, for a parish in Franklin, Wis. In 1984, Sister Collins became the executive director Milwaukee Spectrum, an alternative high school for disadvantaged girls.

Between 1992 and 2001, Sister Collins served her order as a building administrator, but she also continued sculpting. In 2012, she moved to the Our Lady of the Angels, a home for sisters suffering from memory loss that has been hit hard by the pandemic. Sister Collins died on April 6 at the age of 95. She is one of at least six sisters at the facility who died from Covid-19 in recent weeks.

Francis X. Moan, S.J., Pennsylvania, 93
Francis X. Moan, S.J., was a noted high school classics teacher who later used his talents to advocate for refugees, serving as a coordinator for the American Assistance Refugee Project and then as the director of Refugee Voices, a platform that gave refugees an opportunity to tell their stories.

Father Moan, who earned a doctorate in education from Columbia University, was headmaster at two Jesuit high schools, Loyola Blakefield in Maryland and Xavier High School in Cincinnati. He taught classics at Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C., St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia and St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, according to an appreciation published in The Baltimore Sun.

The number of deaths from the virus can be overwhelming, and given restrictions on public gatherings, it can be difficult to remember the individuals who have died during this pandemic.

One of 11 children, Father Moan was ordained a priest in 1957. After his career in education, he turned his attention to the plight of refugees, traveling to Southeast Asia and working with Cambodian refugees living in the United States.

Father Moan died on April 17 of complications related to Covid-19, one of at least six Jesuits living at an infirmary for retired priests and brothers located adjacent to St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who succumbed to the disease.

James J. Conn, S.J., a canon lawyer, wrote on his Facebook page that he had Father Moan as a teacher at St. Joseph’s Prep in the 1960s, calling him “the best teacher we have ever had.”

Father Moan, Father Conn wrote, possessed “the great gift of asking and getting the best from us while somehow letting us know he loved us. Frank inspired my Jesuit vocation, baptized my Dad, and preached at my first Mass. Later in his life he did admirable work on behalf of the poor, especially refugees. I loved him as an elder brother.”

Peter Larisey, S.J., Ontario, 91
An expert in art history who specialized in interpreting Canadian modern art, Peter Larisey, S.J., is one of at least five Jesuits living in a long-term care facility near Toronto who succumbed to complications related to Covid-19 in recent weeks.

For years, Father Larisey asked permission from his Jesuit superiors to study art, but his request was denied several times. He was persistent, and as he quipped to The Catholic Register in a 2011 interview, his persistence paid off. “One of the good things about Jesuit superiors is that they have terms,” he said.

He was eventually given the green light, and he received a doctorate in art history from Columbia University. His specialty was modern Canadian art, and his 1993 book about the Canadian painter Lawren Harris, who the National Gallery of Canada describes as “a leading landscape painter, imbuing his paintings with a spiritual dimension,” was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award.

“[Peter Larisey, S.J.,] wanted to help others to grasp the quest of modern artists for ultimate truth, believing this could open a path for finding meaning in our lives.”

All Inclusive Ministries, a group for L.G.B.T. Catholics based in Toronto, published a statement on Facebook calling him “a gifted teacher, and spiritual director to many artists” and noting his commitment to the group’s H.I.V. ministry.

Writing at the blog IgNation on May 7, Robert Czerny wrote that Father Larisey had underlying health problems but noted he was still active, working on another book at the time of his death and waiting for the stay-at-home order to be lifted so he could return to the library for research. Mr. Czerny described Father Larisey’s focus on art as a form of ministry.

“He wanted to help others to grasp the quest of modern artists for ultimate truth, believing this could open a path for finding meaning in our lives. This was typical of Peter: he was open—to new ideas, to different ways of living, to people of every stripe,” he wrote.

The Rev. Charles Green, Washington, D.C., 81
The Rev. Charles Green was raised in a Catholic family in the nation’s capital, but the thought of joining the priesthood was not something that crossed his mind, in part, because he had seen so few African-American priests growing up. According to an appreciation in The Catholic Standard, doors eventually opened. Father Green originally sought out to be ordained a permanent deacon, which he did in 1988. But later, in 1995, he was ordained to the priesthood at age 56.

He went on to serve in three parishes, including eight years at St. Augustine Catholic Church, which describes itself as the “mother church of African-American Catholics in the nation's capital.”

One of 16 children, Father Green was part of the class of 1958 at Eastern High School, the first integrated class at the school, which he recalled as a trying experience.

Father Green died of complications related to Covid-19 on April 26. He was 81.

One of 16 children, Father Green was part of the class of 1958 at Eastern High School, the first integrated class at the school, which he recalled as a trying experience.

A funeral Mass was held on May 6 at St. Anthony Catholic Church with a small gathering of Father Green’s family, the size restricted because of bans on large gatherings. The Archdiocese of Washington plans to hold a memorial Mass at a later date, The Standard reported.

Patricia McGowan, S.C., New York, 80
Patricia McGowan, S.C., taught journalism and communications at the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York for more than three decades, where, according to an obituary published in The New York Times, her students called her “Sister Patsy” and appreciated her stern but empathetic approach to teaching. “She was tough but good,” Dr. Amy Fenwick, a trauma physician and Sister McGowan’s niece, told The Times.

Sister McGowan spent more than 60 years in ministry, the Sisters of Charity of New York said in an obituary, teaching at Catholic elementary schools in New York City for 21 years. She graduated from the College of Mount St. Vincent, earned master’s degrees in teaching from Hunter College and in journalism from New York University and a doctorate in education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. Sister McGowan returned to her alma mater in 1981, where she taught communications for nearly 40 years and served as the chairperson for the department of communications.

Sister McGowan loved crossword puzzles, painting and reading, sometimes up to 10 books a week. According to The Times, Sister McGowan had a knack for remembering the names of former students years after they left her classroom and the ability to tell a joke without missing a beat. During a memorable walk near Battery Park, a police officer chided Sister McGowan for jaywalking. “Don’t you have anything better to do than to yell at a nun?” she shot back—despite being dressed not in a habit but in regular street clothes.

[Explore all of America’s in-depth coverage of the coronavirus pandemic]

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