Sister Rosemary Sullivan, RSM
November 7, 1927 - January 21, 2018
A Sister of Mercy for 73 years, teacher, community leader, and administrator
Sister Rosemary Sullivan, RSM, died in Burlingame, CA, on Sunday, January 21, 2018, at the age of 90. Jean Sullivan was born in San Francisco, the second child of the four children of Russell Sullivan and Winifred (Henderson). Growing up in the Mission District in San Francisco, she attended St. Peter's High School, staffed by the Sisters of Mercy. Upon graduation from high school in 1945, Jean entered the Sisters of Mercy in Burlingame, where she professed vows in 1948, taking the religious name of Sister Rosemary.
She began her ministerial life teaching in elementary education at St Catherine's School, Burlingame; St. Aloysius School, Los Angeles; and St. Peter's School, San Francisco. In 1953, Rosemary moved to secondary education as a science teacher at Mercy High School, Burlingame, where she taught for the next 13 years.
Her educational background included a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dominican College, San Rafael, a Master of Science degree from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, and a Doctorate in microbiology, from Notre Dame in 1970. She had received a fellowship to Notre Dame which supported her living expenses and those of SisterEllen Fitzgerald and Sister Helena Sanfilippo who were also attending Notre Dame at the time. Sister Ellen remembers that as part of the fellowship Rosemary worked as a lab assistant in Lobund Laboratory, "Her research dealt with cholera infection in germ-free rats. At sometimes odd hours she'd have to walk to Lobund, across the lake from the main campus, to turn off centrifuges used in an experiment, or tend to the lab rats, or do some other time-sensitive task," said SisterEllen. "This might mean leaving the dorm so early that it was still dark and the snowplows hadn't yet been out around campus. We would watch from the Lewis Hall window as a small, well-bundled-up black speck pushed and floundered through snowdrifts that for a petite person like Rosemary were almost chest-high. However, she always managed to get through."
"Another thing she always managed was joining her classmates in attending ALL of Notre Dame's home football games," observed Sister Ellen. "It isn't a widely-known fact, but Rosemary was an avid and knowledgeable football fan who cheered loyally for her team, no matter how much attention those lab rats would need later or how much lab work she'd have to address after the game. Her microbiology classmates, almost all male, held her in great esteem for that!"
After receiving her doctoral degree, Rosemary returned to Burlingame where she served as dean and faculty member for the Mercy-sponsored Russell College.
This assignment was cut short in 1971 when she was elected to serve on the leadership team of the Burlingame Sisters of Mercy. In 1974 Rosemary was elected Superior General, a position she completed in 1981. Her good friend Sister Terese Marie Perry remarked that Rosemary had a generous sense of service. When she completed her term as Superior General, after a brief sabbatical, she joined the staff at Catholic Healthcare West, serving as an administrative assistant to Jim Littrell in the Finance Department.
Always willing to fill a need, Rosemary served in various administrative positions. When the principal/president at Mercy High School, San Francisco left, she agreed to fill in, and served in that role for a year - this was around 1989, after leaving her position at CHW. She also served as secretary to the sisters' leadership team. In 1993, Rosemary became assistant to the principal at Mercy High School, San Francisco, where she served until 2015.
Terese Marie said, "She was always available to help me in any way. After my multiple orthopedic surgeries and my concussion that weakened my balance, Rosemary walked with me to Mass at Marian Oaks, so I would feel safe from falling. We were an odd couple, because she was so small, I don't think she could hold me up if I fell."
She responded generously to every ministry where she was called to serve, and will be remembered as a devoted, quiet leader, and a gentle presence in the community.
Rosemary was predeceased by an older brother, Russell Sullivan, Jr. She is survived by her sisters Shirley Buswell of Bend, Oregon, and Hazel Butticci, of Concord, California, several nieces, nephews and cousins, and her loving community of the Sister of Mercy. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at Mercy Convent Chapel, 2300 Adeline Drive, Burlingame, at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, February 5, followed by burial at Holy Cross Cemetery. Memorial gifts may be made to the Sisters of Mercy, 2300 Adeline Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010.
For her online obituary and guest book: Click Here