Sr. Francis Joseph (Rachel) Scarpello passed away Thursday morning, February 28, at Renaissance Health Care in Philadelphia. She was 93 years old and a Religious of the Assumption for 58 years.
Born in Germantown in 1919, Sr. Francis liked to say that her life was bound up with the Assumption Sisters from the beginning, since that was the year they came to the United States to begin Ravenhill Academy in the East Falls section of the city. The first lay principal of Ravenhill, she discovered a desire for religious life and entered the Assumption in October 1953, making her first vows as Sr. Francis Joseph in May 1955.
She led an international life for many years, living and working in communities as disparate as Philadelphia, Paris, Osaka, Manila and Rome. In Manila, she was instrumental in organizing, funding and building Maryville, a housing project for the very poor. In 1999 the people of Maryville invited her to return to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the project. Naturally gregarious and warm, she made the long trip despite her age, and very much enjoyed the parade in her honor and the reunion with her old friends, after all those years.
Sr. Francis served at the motherhouse in Auteuil, Paris as Secretary General of the Religious of the Assumption during the 1970s and later in the same capacity in Rome for the Union of Superiors General. She was also the go-to person who organized, in 1975, the Beatification of Mother Marie Eugenie Milleret, the foundress of the Religious of the Assumption. Thanks to Sr. Francis' management skills, her fearlessness, and, perhaps, some arm-twisting (all her friends recognized that dangerous greeting: "Honey, do you think...?"), for the first time in history this formal Church ceremony featured a photo rather than a painting -- of the person to be beatified as well as the singing of an African-American gospel singer (John Littleton) and the rhythms of African drummers.
Back in the U.S., she established a U.S. branch of AMA, Associate Missionaries of the Assumption, a program for young lay volunteers who give a year of service to the poor in conjunction with Assumption communities in this country and around the world. AMA-USA can now boast of several hundred alums, many of whom gave one, two and even three years of their lives to the service of those who needed their help.
Her leadership of AMA-USA ran concurrently with her work at the Faith-Justice Institute of St. Josephs University. Her founding of a free lecture series that she shepherded diligently for 30 years led to SJU's naming the series after her in 2011. Her interest in justice and peace also led her to take on the role of The Peace Pilgrim at St. Francis de Sales parish school. She would visit each classroom and talk about peace by telling stories; many of the children became her friends -- helping her to cross the street, telling her their stories, and greeting her when they saw her sitting on the front porch.
In her final months, Francis gift for friendship sustained her: from her oldest friend, with whom she had been in elementary school, to the young people of AMA; from students and colleagues at St. Joe's to friends and neighbors in West Philly; from sisters she'd known for 60 years to people who cared for her at the nursing home in her last six months. In all of them she saw her friend for life, Jesus Christ.
We will miss her very much. We thank the staff at LIFE and at Renaissance Health for their care of her and their kindness to us. We thank all of her friends throughout the world for their concern for her and for us. You were a blessing to her; you are a blessing to us.
Besides her religious family, Sr. Francis leaves her nephew, Charles Scarpello, whose fidelity touched us greatly. The viewing will be Monday, March 4, from 6-8. at McIlvaine Funeral Home, 3711 Midvale Avenue. In lieu of flowers, donations either to AMA or to St. Francis de Sales school would be most welcome.
The Mass of Christian Burial will take place Tuesday, March 5 at 10 a.m. at St. Francis de Sales Church, 47th and Springfield Avenue, Philadelphia.
Get to know Sr. Francis Joseph: