MENANDS, N.Y. – They were born sisters and worked as Roman Catholic sisters for decades before spending their last years living in the same upstate New York residence for nuns.
And their sisterly love for one another lasted until the very end: When Sister Jean Marie Wheeler, 98, and Sister Elaine Wheeler, 96, died a day apart last week, a stash of cookies was found in the younger sister's room. It was a touching reminder of the siblings' nightly ritual of enjoying some sweets before going to sleep in separate rooms just down the hall from one another at Saint Louise House in the Albany suburb of Menands, where they had lived for the past eight years.
"They were remarkable women, very different in their own ways, but also very close," Sister Joanne Donovan, director of Saint Louise House, a residence for 40 Daughters of Charity nuns between the ages of 78 and 98.
The Times Union of Albany reported that Sister Jean Marie died last Thursday and 96-year-old Sister Elaine died the next day.
They were among the seven Wheeler girls raised in the Bronx section of New York City after their family moved from Chicago, and they were the last of five siblings who became Catholic nuns. Two other sisters joined Sister Jean Marie and Sister Elaine in the Daughters of Charity, and a fifth was in another Catholic order. All five nuns taught and lived in the Albany area for much of their careers. The other two Wheeler sisters married and had children.
The five nuns vacationed together each summer at a small cottage beside a pond on the Daughters of Charity property outside Albany, where they spent their time sewing, swimming and reading.
"They did everything together and if you met one Wheeler sister, you knew all the Wheeler sisters," Donovan told the Times Union.
Each night before going to bed at Saint Louise House, the two sisters met at 8 p.m. for milk and cookies or a few chocolates. When Sister Jean Marie had difficulty swallowing solid food and was told to give up her nightly treats, Sister Elaine began sneaking them to her. After Sister Elaine died, the last few cookies meant for Sister Jean Marie were found in Sister Elaine's room.
A dual funeral Mass will be held for both sisters Thursday, and they will be buried alongside each other in a local cemetery.