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Sister Sheila Walsh

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Sister Sheila Walsh

A well-known California leader and advocate for people living in poverty, Sister Sheila Walsh, passed on August 15, 2013 at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento.


Sister Sheila, with the Order of the Sisters of Social Service since 1956, served people of many diverse cultures, coming together to fulfill the Gospel call to care for the poor and alienated. Her work was based on Benedictine values of respect for all people and all things.


Sister Sheila was born in Los Angeles at Queen of the Angels Hospital to Kathleen Quille Walsh and Patrick Coyne Walsh. Both parents were born in Ireland; her Mother in County Kerry and her father in County Galway. Sister Sheila's paternal cousin, also from County Galway, is Ireland's current President, the Hon. Michael D. Higgins, and lives with his wife, Sabina Coyne Higgins in Galway.


Sister Sheila's two brothers, who pre-deceased her, were Michael Eamon Walsh who married Deirdre Plunkett, and together had six children and four grandchildren. Her brother, Patrick Joseph Walsh was an ordained Catholic priest who, until retirement, had been Pastor for many years of St. Eugene's Catholic Church in Inglewood, California. Sister Sheila is survived by her nieces and nephews: KC, Rory (Linda), Michael, Egan, Patrick (Margie) and Jonathan and her grandnephews: Brian, Justin and Matthew and grandniece Caitlin.


Sister Sheila graduated from St. Michael's Grammar School and Los Angeles Catholic Girls High School. She received a Bachelor Degree in Social Work from the University of San Francisco, and a Masters in Social Work from The Catholic University in Washington, DC. Sister Sheila traveled extensively throughout the world - mostly with her beloved brother Patrick - to far locations including Ireland & England (to meet family members) and many parts of Europe and the Far East, as well as trips to Mexico and Canada.


Throughout her career, Sister Sheila served as a Parish Social Worker in St. Rafael's Parish, San Rafael and Epiphany Parish in San Francisco. After receiving her MSW, she became the Director of the Department of Aging of Catholic Social Services in Sacramento. After six years in this position, she became the Director of Social Services for the CA Catholic Conference where she worked with local faith groups developing programs for seniors. Among the programs she started was Camelia City Center in downtown Sacramento, (now known as Downtown Senior Outreach Program).


Sister Sheila lobbied solely on issues affecting individuals and families living in poverty - housing, homeless, food, hunger, immigrants, mother and children issues.


In 1987 she was inspired, with the help of the Sisters of Social Service, to found JERICHO: Education for Justice and JERICHO: A Voice for Justice. Members of JERICHO's Board of Directors include Jewish, Protestant, Mormons, Muslin, Catholics and others who believe in God and worship in different ways.


Recognized for its effective work by a bi-partisan host of legislators, JERICHO is the only statewide, interfaith, non-partisan, grassroots public policy organization in California founded specifically to educate and advocate on behalf of low-income individuals and families. It has been a collaborative force from its beginning-offering people of conscience an opportunity to ensure fairness in state legislation.


In her retirement years, Sister Sheila volunteered at Clara's House, a clinic providing comprehensive primary health care services to anyone who is uninsured in greater Sacramento. She continued to serve on the JERICHO Board and volunteered as a member of the National Associationf Social Workers.


Throughout her religious life, Sister Sheila worked tirelessly to improve the lives of people living in poverty. It is a tribute to her work that although she is gone, Jericho and the work she began there, will continue in her absence.


A funeral mass will be held on Wednesday, ugust 21 at 1:30pm in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament located at 1017 11th Street in Sacramento. A second service is pending at the Sisters of Social Service Mother house in Encino.


In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: Sisters of Social Service, 4316 Lanai Road, Encino, CA 91436, or to Jericho, 1228 N Street, Suite 10, Sacramento, CA 95814


Online condolences may be made at gormleyandsons.com


Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 18, 2013
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