Sr. Pauline McShain R.I.P

Pauline McShain

Sr. Pauline McShain, Rest In Peace


Our lives of love and peace should speak louder than words,” said Sr. Pauline McShain, as she reflected on the motto of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, which reads,  “Actions not words.”  This philosophy is the foundation of every Holy Child ministry established during the past 164 years.  Since 1946, when Sr. Pauline, or “Polly” as her friends call her, began her life in the Society, she desired to follow the example of Mother Cornelia Connelly. This 19th century Philadelphian was convinced that her sisters should be women of their own times, striving to meet current needs, both spiritual and temporal.

After Vatican II, the Holy Child Sisters were among the first to adopt contemporary clothing, and to work in controversial ministries.  During the 1990s, Sr. Pauline became a volunteer at Siloam, a non-profit organization in Philadelphia, which offers services to individuals “infected with HIV/AIDS…enhancing their over-all well-being, including their personal spirituality.” Pauline was second generation Irish-American.

In the 1880s her paternal grandfather emigrated from County Derry, coming to Philadelphia to join his uncle in the construction trade, building both St. James and St. Agatha churches in West Philadelphia. Eventually, John J. McShain Sr. began his own construction firm, winning contracts for the Misericordia Hospital in Philadelphia, Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Bryn Mawr, a tavern, and for several buildings, including the chapel for the Sisters of Mercy in Merion, PA.

Sr. Pauline’s father, John McShain, was one of America’s prolific builders, active in one of the few growth areas during the Great Depression of the 1930s—government contracts.  In 1934 John McShain built an annex to the Library of Congress—no small feat for a Republican during a Democratic administration.  Having earned the respect of President Roosevelt, Mr. McShain won contracts to build the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the Jefferson Memorial, the Longfellow Building, the Naval Hospital and, in 1941, the Pentagon. Under President Truman he was awarded the contract for the Reconstruction of the White House 1949-1952.

During Sr. Pauline’s acceptance speech at the University of Maynooth, she referred to her parents’ former estate in Co. Kerry, Ireland, known as Killarney House. Originally situated on 2,500 acres, the house overlooked the Lakes of Killarney, with their backdrop of mountains.  Soon after John McShain purchased this estate in 1959, he arranged with the Irish government that, following his own death and that of his wife, Killarney House would become the property of the Irish State.  Accepting this gift, the Irish officials agreed to preserve Killarney House & Gardens in perpetuity incorporated into the Killarney National Park.  John McShain died in 1989; the death of his wife Mary occurred in 1998.

During Sr. Pauline’s early days at St. Leonard’s Academy of the Holy Child in West Philadelphia, where Cornelia Connelly’s memory inspired both nuns and students, she learned to respect and honor other children.  Cornelia’s words, “Trust the child,” were often repeated, with effective results. Transportation being difficult during World War II, Polly transferred at fifteen years of age to the School of the Holy Child in Suffern, New York.   Following her secondary school graduation, and a trip with her parents and a cousin to the West Coast and Canada, she entered the Society.

Her spiritual formation was accompanied by an academic grounding;  she graduated from Rosemont College with a B.A. in English. Later, while teaching and serving as an administrator, Sr. Pauline earned Masters degrees in Secondary Education, Religious Studies, Guidance and Counseling.  She has taught both in the United States and in Nigeria, served as a secondary school principal, director of novices, religious superior, and as Vicar for Religious in the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT, and the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ. For some years, she has been a member of Pax Christi USA.

Sr. Pauline kept regular updates on the restoration of Killarney House & Gardens now completed as the new Visitor Centre and Gateway to the Killarney National Park….a place where she and her parents always referred to as their ‘Irish Home’.  Up to the time of her passing she still kept in touch with Killarney and sent a lovely letter on the opening of the new Interpretative Exhibition last September…where we hosted members of the extended McShain and Horstmann families.

It is the end of an era for the McShain family both here in the USA and in Killarney. The Irish people and especially the people of the town of Killarney are indebted to John, Mary and Sr. Pauline McShain for the wonderful ‘Gift’ of Killarney House & Gardens, Ross Castle, Innisfallen Island the Middle and Lower Lakes of Killarney….their Legacy for Generations to come to enjoy our little piece of ‘Heaven on Earth’.

Thank you John, Mary and Sr. Pauline…Go raibh míle maith agat!