Sr. James Francis: A Lifetime of Advocacy

Sr. James Francis McDonnell has spent a lifetime helping others. She has been a voice for the young, elderly and disadvantaged. Sr. James Francis also known as Jamie, JF, Frances, Jay, was born in West Haven, CT. Her desire to help others and love God with her whole heart called her to her vocation. She entered into the Congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk in September of 1957 and professed her final vows on August 15, 1963. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education in 1963 from St. John’s University and a Masters in Education-Psychology from St. Rose College, Albany in 1973. She continued her education further at St. Joseph College in West Hartford studying Special Education/Learning Disabilities and Gerontology.

Sr. Jamie began her teaching career in 1962 at St. William the Abbot in Seaford, NY. She also taught at Our Lady of Grace in Howard Beach, St. Maurice in Stamford, St. Thomas the Apostle in West Hartford and St. Louis in West Haven.

Sr. Jamie’s passion is to help the disadvantaged. She has advocated for children with learning disabilities, children from broken homes as well as the elderly. In 1975, she was appointed a Surrogate Parent for the State of Connecticut to advocate for children who are in need of special education services and who are under the guardianship of the state. She was on the board of the Connecticut Association for Children with Learning Disabilities and acted as Vice President from 1972 to 1979.

She retired from teaching in 1985 and continued to ministry to the elderly. She coordinated Catholic services to seven nursing homes where she organized Masses, scheduled Eucharistic ministers, and arranged for sacraments to be provided. She also served her community for ten years on staff at the St. Ursula Retreat Center as dining room hostess and shopper as well as assisted in the infirmary.

Sr. Jamie studied drug and alcohol addiction and became a credentialed drug and alcohol counselor in 1994. She has worked at various facilities including Seafield, Talbot House and a
Suffolk County homeless shelter at all levels from in-patient, group and individual counseling, family programs and detox.

She still counsels individuals with addiction problems and volunteers for the Long Island Addiction Counselors Association. She arranges for speakers for continuing education and prepares the completion certificates for continuing education credits. She was a speaker for seminars and conferences on addictions topics. Sr. Jamie visits and provides companionship to the elderly at the Maria Regina Residence weekly, as well as the elderly Sisters at the St. Ursula Center.

Sr. Jamie has always felt connected to the Church. As a religious, she has had many varying experiences from before Vatican II up to the election of Pope Francis I. She participated in two international programs, one in Belgium and one in India. “The connectedness I feel from my experiences and with being a member of an International Congregation has been profound.”