MARLBOROUGH – Sister Gemma Mary DeBaggis, 99, died Oct. 27 at the Marie Esther Health Care Center.
Born in Franklin, Sister Gemma (Sister Mary Ann Martha of the Holy Spirit) entered the Little Sisters of the Assumption in 1958 after being in the business world for 22 years. She made her final vows in Paris in 1967.
In her 58 years of religious life, Sister Gemma, served in Walden, N.Y.; Worcester; Philadelphia and Wallins Creek, Ky. She received her LPN from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. and later went on to study home economics.
One of the special moments of her religious life was the opportunity to spend a year with the Little Sisters of the Assumption in Italy, where she met Pope John Paul II.
Sister Gemma’s hospitable spirit invited people into her heart and the expression often involved a delicious meal and home baked deserts. Whomever she met she reached out in her warm, loving, way and she quickly knew the other person, their family, their worries and hopes.
Sister Gemma returned to Worcester a third time in 2002 when she was 85. She was a part of the staff of Pernet Family Health Service for 10 years. As receptionist she warmly greeted all who walked through the door until her retirement at the age of 95.
“We are going to miss her so much,” said Sheilah Dooley, director of Pernet.
“She was a joy. She always had a positive attitude about life and about families. She was a great person to be around,” Mrs. Dooley said.
In 2005 Bishop McManus gave Sister Gemma a diocesan Retired Religious Award; it was the same year the Little Sisters celebrated 50 years of service in the Diocese.
More recently her family spirit extended to the residents and staff of Marie Esther Health Center where Sister Gemma resided and continued to be of service.
Mrs. Dooley said Sister Gemma was so pleased when she moved in to the Marie Esther center. “She was always against completely retiring because she always kept so busy,” she said. But after she moved in with the Sisters of St. Anne she was happy, she told Mrs. Dooley, because, “I don’t have to cook and I don’t have to write any more thank-you notes.” Sister Gemma would send a beautifully handwritten thank-you note to anyone who donated to Pernet.
In an interview shortly after her retirement Sister Gemma said, “I was very happy in my vocation. I thank God for many blessings I have received.”
As for what she would do in retirement she said, “now I will have more time to pray and prepare for eternity.”
Sister Gemma is survived by: sister-in-law Julia DeBaggis, nephew Cornelius Johnson and wife Iris, niece MaryAnn Johnson Kotros, niece Martha Johnson Polachi and husband Charles, nephew Stephen Johnson and wife Laura, nephew Philip Johnson and wife Melinda, nephew Henry DeBaggis and wife Beth, nephew John DeBaggis and wife Leslie, nephew Paul DeBaggis and wife Laura, niece Christine DeBaggis Hazlinger and husband Roger, 11 great nieces and nephews, 7 great-great nieces and nephews.
Funeral services will be held at Marie Esther Health Care Center, 720 Boston Post Road, Marlborough. Visitation will be Friday, Nov. 4 from 5 to 8 p.m with a prayer service beginning at 7 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 9 a.m in their Chapel.
Donations can be made to: Little Sisters of the Assumption, 475 East 115th St. 1st Floor, New York, NY 10029.