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Kathleen Murray (Sister M. Seraphine)

Sister Seraphine (Kathleen Murray)
Photo credit: Myrl Nygren Photo Collection

The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.

At A Glance:

Born: December 13, 1891, Oakland, California
Died: May 18, 1987, San Rafael, California
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Reno, Nevada, San Rafael, California, Oakland, California
Major Fields of Work: hospital administration


Reno nun devoted her life to charity, medical care

Kathleen Murray was a teenager living in Oakland, California, when San Francisco was devastated by the earthquake and fire of 1906.

From this disaster, she learned charity when her family home became a place of refuge and safety for some of the victims.

Murray, who took the name Sister M. Seraphine when she entered the convent of the Catholic Dominican sisters in San Rafael, California, became known for that virtue of charity during her 34 years as administrator of Saint Mary’s Hospital, now Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, in Reno.

Sister Seraphine was born Dec. 13, 1891, in Oakland to Rhody and Delia Kenny Murray. She was the third child in a family of nine boys and four girls. She attended Oakland schools, then Polytechnic Business College in Oakland. Although she was interested in nursing, she ended up working for a California vintner for six years.

But at age 26, her life took a different turn when she entered the Dominican convent in San Rafael, California. She spent her first years in the religious order first as a teacher, and then as the assistant business manager of the Dominican College. At age 39, while recovering from an attack of ulcers, Sister Seraphine was sent to Reno to take over Saint Mary’s Hospital.

Arriving in July 1931, she was terrified that she was not up to the responsibilities of the job.

“When I came, I had to do everything,” she said in a biography in the Healing Ministry of Catholic Health Care. “I kept the books and I relieved the switchboard operator for lunch.”

“I took care of purchasing… personnel… practically everything,” she said. “We were up at 5 o’clock in the morning. But it was just life and it was interesting, every minute of it, and very hard, and I was frightened to death.”

She successfully led the hospital through the Great Depression of the 1930s, but the stress brought on ulcer attacks. During one instance, she had her hospital bed moved to her office so she could work, according to a Reno Gazette-Journal story.

“It’s a great joy to know that work is not neglected,” she said of the experience.

During the winter of 1931-32, the hospital saw patients who were escaping the Dust Bowl, moving to California looking for work. Few could pay for care, but Sister Seraphine made sure that all were treated. She allowed patients to pay with sides of beef, chickens, produce or whatever they could bring in to barter, a 1999 Reno Gazette-Journal story said.

In 1932, she began her fight to have the hospital declared tax exempt. When a tax assessor told her he’d knock off a few thousand on the hospital’s tax evaluation, Sister Seraphine told off the assessor. The next year, the Nevada Legislature passed a bill making charitable organizations, such as the hospital, exempt from property tax.

Hospital expansions began in 1937, with Sister Seraphine at the helm. Among the projects were an east wing addition in 1937 and an expansion in 1948, west wing additions in 1953 and 1958, and the start of a five-story addition to the north side in 1966.

She was active in establishing the Saint Mary’s Guild in 1951. In 1977, on the occasion of the guild’s silver anniversary, member Mrs. William Edwards said Sister Seraphine was the key to the group’s success.

“No one ever could say no to Sister Seraphine,” Edwards said.

Sister Seraphine also founded the hospital’s cancer center and school of practical nursing. Over the years, she served on the State Advisory Hospital Council, the Orvis School of Nursing Board, the Governor’s Committee on Aging and was president of the Nevada Hospital Association from 1957 to 1958.

Over the years, Sister Seraphine was honored both locally and nationally for her work. She was named a Distinguished Nevadan in 1963. In 1964, the Nevada Hospital Association lauded her for her contributions to health care in the state. In 1969, U.S. Sen. Alan Bible of Nevada read a speech of recognition for her into the Congressional Record. President Richard Nixon sent a letter of congratulations on her Golden Jubilee with the Dominican order. In 1970, the southwestern region of the Soroptimist Federation of Americas named her a Woman of Achievement. And in 1971, she received the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

After her retirement in 1965, Sister Seraphine remained active on the hospital’s board of directors and as special funds administrator. In 1983, she returned to the San Rafael convent where she died on May 18, 1987 at age 95.

Researched by Patti Bernard and written by Susan Skorupa Mullen. Posted to website May 2018.

Sources of Information:

  • Lynn, Mary Frances. “Sister Mary Seraphine, O.P. Honored by Nevadans.” Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), October 3, 1965. p. 18:1.
  • “Sister Seraphine Honored by National Recognition.” Saint Mary’s NewsBulletin, July-Aug 1969, p. 2.
  • “Longtime Saint Mary’s leader dies.” Reno Gazette-Journal (Reno, Nevada), May 20, 1987, p. 35:2.
  • “Sister Seraphine dedicated life to providing health care”. Reno Gazette-Journal (Reno, Nevada), August 2, 1987, p. 36:2.
  • Reno Gazette-Journal, Aug. 2, 1987
  • “People of the Century, Medical Pioneer Built Hospital Here.” Reno Gazette-Journal (Reno, Nevada), “October 31, 1999, p19:1.
  • Healing Ministry of Catholic Health Care
  • Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. [M. Seraphine M. Murray].
  • Year: 1900; Census Place: Fruitvale Precinct 2, Alameda, California; Page: 4; Enumeration District: 0323.
  • Year 1910; Census Place: Oakland Ward 7, Alameda, California; Roll: T624_71; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 0024; FHL microfilm: 1374084. [Kathleen Murray].
  • Year: 1920; Census Place: Vallejo, Solano, California; Roll: T625_149; Page: 12B; Enumeration District 210. [Kathleen Murray].
  • Year: 1930; Census Place: San Rafael, Marin, California; Page: 9A; Enumeration District 0016. [Kathleen L. Murray].
  • Year 1940; Census Place: Reno, Washoe, Nevada; Roll m-t0627-02281; Enumeration District: 16-16. [Murray Sister M Seraphine Kathleen].
  • Nevada State Journal, Oct. 3, 1965