Sister Christine Riley, with two CSJ sisters at her bedside and her birth sister, Kathy, on FaceTime, died at Wheeling Hospital on January 13, 2021 following a three-week illness. Sr. Christine (Mary Alice) was born in Weston, West Virginia on December 7, 1936. She was preceded in death by her father Lawrence Burke Riley, her mother Alice Edwards Riley and her older brother, Lawrence Burke Riley, Jr. Her sister, Katherine (Kathy) Riley, lives in Weston.
Sister Christine had a long association with the Sisters of St. Joseph. Her three aunts (Angelica, Bernadine, and Thomasina Riley) were members of the congregation, and she was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph for 12 years at St. Patrick’s School in Weston. After attending one year at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wheeling on September 8, 1955. Christine embraced the mission of the sisters fully throughout her life.
After entering religious life, Sister Christine continued a nursing career and graduated from Wheeling Hospital School of Nursing, received a bachelor of science degree in nursing at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and was conferred a master of arts degree in nursing administration from Columbia University in New York City.
For 16 years, she worked at Wheeling Hospital as a pediatric nurse and nursing service administrator. “The children taught me about delight, simplicity, spontaneity, and how to live in a contemplative stance of being present to the moment,” she said. Later, Sr. Christine was certified as a Catholic chaplain.
In 1987, she felt God’s call to companion others on their spiritual journeys. In 1989, she completed the graduate program in Christian spiritual guidance at Shalem Institute in Washington, D.C., and continued to offer spiritual direction throughout her life. “I stand in awe and wonder at the varied ways God speaks to and through us,” she said.
Her journey as a Sister of St. Joseph led her into elected leadership in her congregation where she served several terms on the council followed by 15 years of full-time congregational ministry as vice president and president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wheeling.
Sister Christine’s ministry took an unexpected twist when she felt God’s surprising Spirit drawing her into a more holistic approach to health and healing as a massage therapist. She was employed as a licensed massage therapist at the Howard Long Wellness Center in Wheeling for 13 years and offered therapeutic massage at various retreat centers.
Sister Christine lived the mission of loving unity as a member of the board of directors for several Catholic hospitals and civic organizations in the State, including ABLE Families and The Gabriel Project W.VA. She served as a member of the board of directors for the SSJ Health and Wellness Foundation.
Sister Christine was known to be that special kind of person with whom one could trust the most profound conversations. She was a deep and non-judgmental listener. Her huge heart welcomed everyone.
Christine felt comfortable and at home anywhere and everywhere. For the past 15+ years she embraced living in the 15th street neighborhood of Wheeling and enjoyed sharing the fruits of her backyard garden (especially green tomatoes for frying) with her neighbors!
Christine delighted in Creation, and especially relished summer trips to the ocean, which she made with numerous sisters, family and friends.
Christine loved music and could often be heard humming in the halls wherever she went. She was a part of the Singing Sisters in her early days as a Sister of St. Joseph, and both toured with them and was a part of the album they created. She joyfully attended concerts in the park and at the waterfront in Wheeling. She offered her gifts in music ministry at Mount St. Joseph. At the end of her life, she went to meet her Lord with the strains of “Ava Maria” and “Gentle Woman” playing in the background.
Christine loved events, especially galas and anything that drew in friends of the sisters of St. Joseph. She particularly loved being one of the hostesses at the Spaghetti Dinner every November. We will never forget seeing her, arm around one person and the other hand warmly resting on another, laughing, welcoming and sharing stories with all who visited the Mount that day!
Christine loved to laugh. She was a joyful person who loved a good story and would often linger at the table after dinner, sharing stories with whomever was present. Christine helped us all to take ourselves less seriously and to generously forgive ourselves and others. Laughing with her lightened our hearts and helped us to grow in appreciation of ourselves and others, and the delightful way life, sooner or later, worked itself out.
Sister Christine’s friends knew her to be a healing presence. Whether connections were made with her in her capacities as a spiritual director, a massage therapist, or as a friend, her words and touch always brought comfort and a sense of wellness. She accompanied both family and friends during their healthcare crises with comfort, encouragement and medical expertise. Christine was fully present to everyone she met. Nobody left a visit with her without feeling seen, heard, special and loved.
In her final weeks in the hospital, Christine continued to reach out to friends through emails and texts. She connected with and prayed for others who were having medical procedures or other life issues. To the end, Christine was thinking of others, reaching out to offer her loving heart and prayerful support to all who might need it.
The most frequently-used tributes to Christine on social media since her death include this one: “She was a beautiful soul.” She was, indeed. May the freely-offered love of this beautiful soul continue to radiate among us. May we continue to offer it to the world for the sake of the mission, just as she did. And may her beautiful soul rest in peace.
A Memorial Mass will be celebrated at 4 pm, Saturday, November 5, 2022, at Mount Saint Joseph, 137 Mount St. Joseph Road, Wheeling, WV 26003. Sister Christine’s Mass will be streamed live on this page, for those who may not be able to attend in person.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Congregation of St. Joseph, 137 Mount St. Joseph Road, Wheeling, WV 26003.