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Sr. Francesca (Patricia) Onley was born on March 4, 1933 to Edward and Marie Onley. Always a force force with which to be reckoned, she exuded strength, wisdom and a spirit of Nazareth in all she did. Baptized in St. Joachim Church in Philadelphia, she and her siblings, Joan (later to be known as Sr. Michael), David, and Edward were a close-knit family who later became parishioners of St. Matthew Church.
She became familiar with our sisters when she was a volunteer at Nazareth Hospital. At Nazareth Academy High School, she was mentored by many of our sisters particularly, Sr. Benedict Jaskiewicz. Patricia entered the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth shortly after graduation. She became a novice and then pronounced her first vows in 1953 in Torresdale, Pennsylvania.
Higher education for Sr. Francesca began with a BA in business at Holy Family College (now Holy Family University), followed by an MA in business and secondary education at Marywood University, and finally a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University in higher education administration. She began her education ministry at Nazareth Academy Grade School in Philadelphia as a fourth-grade teacher. She went on to teach science and serve as a guidance counselor and later principal at Nazareth Academy High School also in Philadelphia. In 1980, she was asked to serve as assistant to the president of Holy Family College under Sr. Lillian Budny, CSFN, PhD. In 1981, Sr. Francesca was appointed the fourth president of the college to replace Sr. Lillian upon her retirement. At the college, Sr. Francesca was distinguished by her leadership ability and gained the respect of those who worked with her, earning numerous awards and overseeing many advancements including the transition of the college to a university.
Prayer was central to her life. Even after retiring from Holy Family University, she was present at Delaney Hall for the 6:15 am Mass and recitation of Morning Prayer. Whether answering the door or cleaning the Community Room, she was always available to anyone who needed her help. She never missed a community gathering whether it was a meeting, jubilee, profession, funeral, or chapter meeting. Her concern for all her fellow sisters exhibited itself as she would always ask how one was doing in school or ministry and she would listen attentively.
On April 17, 2021 at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia, Sr. Francesca quietly went back to the Lord. Her funeral Mass was celebrated April 25 at St. Katherine of Siena Catholic Church in Philadelphia. To share your messages of remembrance, please visit our Message of Remembrance page.