PROVIDENCE — It might as well have been yesterday that Catherine McKeirnan Tierney was running through the hallways of Blessed Sacrament School as a child in the 1920s, as her memory of it is as clear as can be. Now, at 96 years old, Catherine is just as spunky as she ever was.
“If you clear the aisle, I’ll show you how fast I can go down the hallway with this walker,” she said, beaming.
On Sunday, February 2, Catherine, the oldest living graduate of Blessed Sacrament, returned to her beloved grade school and former parish to accept the Distinguished Graduate Award of 2014.
Many would agree that this 1932 graduate of Blessed Sacrament truly personifies the spirit and mission of the school, Principal Janet Rufful explained. With this year’s Catholic Schools Week theme being “Faith, Knowledge and Service,” Principal Rufful could not think of a better way to describe the life of this year’s Distinguished Graduate.
“Mrs. Tierney has found great joy in celebrating the success and accomplishments of her family over the years. Her commitment to God, family and the less fortunate is an inspiration to the Blessed Sacrament School community as we strive to follow her example,” she said. “Mrs. Tierney undoubtedly shines a positive light in carrying forward the legacy of Blessed Sacrament. It is a great honor and privilege to award her with the Distinguished Graduate Award of 2014.”
During Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. Mass, at which Catherine was honored, she received a standing ovation by hundreds of family, friends, as well as the parish and school community of Blessed Sacrament. Speechless, Catherine tearfully accepted her award and kissed each student who presented her with a red rose.
“I’m flabbergasted,” she said. “Whoever has anything like this done for them? I’m so flattered. I can remember the first time I walked into this school. There are just many, many memories. It was worth living 96 years for this moment. It’s been a wonderful journey.”
After graduating from Blessed Sacrament, where she recalled the hard work and dedication of the Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, Catherine continued to devote her life to God and service to others, helping with school events and fundraisers, and has volunteered for SPRED, an organization for mentally challenged adults. She and her husband John “Lester” Tierney were married in Blessed Sacrament Church and moved to Pawtucket where they became parishioners of St. Teresa Parish. They were blessed with seven children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Catherine has always known the value of Catholic education, her son Tim Tierney explained. All of her children attended Catholic schools including St. Teresa School, St. Raphael Academy as well as Providence College.
“The fact that they gave us all a Catholic education is an enormous source of pride for my parents,” he said. “As family, we feel she deserves a moment of recognition for all that she has done and it couldn’t have come from a better place.”
“She’s just so full of life,” said Mary Tierney, recalling when her grandmother-in-law arrived to her 90th birthday party on a candy apple red Harley Davidson. “She’s incredible – she really is. She’s one of the kindest people I have ever met.”
Following the Mass, family, friends and current Blessed Sacrament faculty visited with Catherine to express their congratulations, including eighth grade teacher Michele Henkel, who has been teaching at the school for the past 13 years.
“I’ve been hearing about her for weeks and I’ve been so excited to meet someone with a legacy rooted in God, family and Catholic education,” said Henkel. “We’ve been talking about her in the classroom. You can never underestimate the power of someone with such deep faith.”
Molly Tierney, 26, shared that her grandmother is as “sharp as a tack.”
“She can still recite her class poem and recall who sat beside her in school,” she said. “She’s amazing.”
Molly added that the 96-year-old is also extremely active on Facebook, sharing photos, posting about having “coffee with the girls” and proudly bragging about her grandchildren’s accomplishments on the social media site.
Shortly after Sunday’s celebration, Catherine posted about her joy filled day.
“What a day!!! I was left speechless at Mass when most of my family and about 300 people honored me as the oldest living graduate of Blessed Sacrament School. I was honored by the staff and many of the students and was presented with roses from six of the first graders. Yes I cried and truly could not speak. The principal further added accolades that was most touching and had many people laughing. I even had my former pastor of Saint Teresa's in attendance. What an honor!!! I am most grateful to all who made this possible and also received several gifts from the school. NOW try to top that one. A Happy Lady.”