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Sudden death of well-known Catholic nun saddens County

By Kathy Daley
Posted 1/31/23

LIBERTY –– Local Catholic parishes and the wider community are mourning the sudden death of Sister Kevin John Shields, a nun whose impact over a half century had been hailed by groups as …

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Sudden death of well-known Catholic nun saddens County


LIBERTY –– Local Catholic parishes and the wider community are mourning the sudden death of Sister Kevin John Shields, a nun whose impact over a half century had been hailed by groups as varied as the Sullivan County Legislature and the Masonic Lodges of Liberty and Fallsburg.

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Shields slipped and fell near Chestnut Street in Liberty as she tried to navigate from her car to the sidewalk in snow. The impact slammed her head against a metal pole, and she was rushed by ambulance to Garnett Health Center in Middletown. From there, she was taken to her order of nuns, the Dominican Sisters of Amityville on Long Island, for recuperation. 

She died in her sleep Saturday during the early morning hours, “quietly, peacefully and suddenly,“ said fellow Dominican nun, Sister Dee Gartanutti of Parksville.

A statement by the Archdiocese of New York praised the work of Sister Kevin John “for sharing her passionate love for Christ and the Church with children, youth, and adults. She has mentored countless Directors/Coordinators of Religious Education and fostered youth ministry in the upper counties.” 

“She was a wonderful teacher,” the Archdiocese continued, “an amazing mentor, a great friend, and an incredible role model of faith and commitment.”

Cynthia Herring, a resident of Swan Lake and a parishioner at St. Peter’s Church in Liberty, knew the nun well. “She never wanted to stop, she loved what she did and it showed. She lived the beatitudes, preaching, joy, life. She was a mentor for many people.”

Rev. Edward Bader, dean of the Sullivan County parishes, called Shields “intrepid – with an Irish twinkle.”

“She was a tremendous advocate for Sullivan County,” said Bader. “She dealt in youth activities, ministered to teenagers, offered retreats and days of prayer (during Advent and Lent). I have nothing but the highest respect for her.”

A memorial Mass with the county’s priests and with nuns from Amityville is in the planning stage. A Mass today, Tuesday, at 11 a.m. will take place in Amityville for the nuns and immediate family, with live-streaming available.

Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Sister Kevin John got to know Sullivan County in the 1960s when she directed the Sisters of St. Dominic camp in St. Joseph’s in Forestburgh. 

Eventually she became regional director of religious education for the Catholic parishes in Sullivan and Orange counties, overseeing lay teachers as they instructed children in the ways of God and the church.

In 1983, Sister Kevin John founded the Sullivan County Care Coalition, a nonprofit organization devoted to the substance abuse and addiction crisis. Individual volunteers and various agencies raised awareness about the drug crisis sought positive alternatives to using drugs. 

Through the coalition, Shields became involved in the Sullivan Prevention Alliance Network, DARE, and the county’s Youth Bureau.

She was honored with the Distinguished Citizenship Award from the Sullivan County Legislature. 

Later she received the DeWitt Clinton Award at the Liberty Masonic Lodge by the Fallsburg Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, an award “for whose actions exemplify a shared concern for the well-being of mankind and a belief in the worldwide brotherhood of man.”

At the lodge, then-County Court Judge Burton Ledina said, “She has been described as a dynamo, although she professes to be only flesh and bone. She possesses the unique ability to engender in others the same drive for accomplishment she so readily displays herself. . . . She leads by example, and her impact upon the lives of the citizenry of Sullivan County is beyond measure.”

During the recent Covid crisis, the nun was quoted in this newspaper:  “I am so impressed by the goodness of people,” said Sister Kevin John at the time, “from the health-care workers to people who volunteer to make masks, to people who are feeding people.”

“For me,” she said, “the consolation is that God is with us throughout this whole thing. A good and loving God is with us every step of the way.


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