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Sister Madeline Gallagher: On Faith, Friendship, and 40 Years of Impact

FriendshipWorks' Executive Director Janet Seckel-Cerrotti (L) with Sister Madeline Gallagher.

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Sister Madeline Gallagher: On Faith, Friendship, and 40 Years of Impact

Sister Madeline Gallagher always knew that FriendshipWorks would be something special. She played a role in the organization’s story from the beginning, and has witnessed the impact FriendshipWorks has made on the lives of so many people in the Greater Boston community over the past 40 years. 

Sister Madeline came to Boston in 1984 to work with Father Roche at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Soon after her arrival, he introduced her to Janet Seckel-Cerrotti and a team of advocates who were reaching out to local congregations in the hopes of establishing a program to connect lonely or isolated older adults with caring volunteers for companionship and assistance. Sister Madeline was eager to help. “It fit right in with my own mission – to take care of elders.”

Janet, Sister Madeline, and the team worked hard and soon “Match-Up Interfaith Volunteers”, the predecessor to FriendshipWorks, was born. In the early days, the new organization struggled financially, but the positive effects of the one-on-one Friendly Visiting program were felt immediately and they knew they had to persevere and keep the program going. Sister Madeline says, “The dedication of the staff at Match-Up was tremendous – I was always inspired by the courage they had.”

Sister Madeline’s relentless optimism and hope led to transformative developments in Match-Up’s early years. In 1991, the organization was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, thanks to a grant Janet and Sister Madeline secured together. That same year, Sister Madeline became FriendshipWorks’ first board president, setting a high standard for the organization’s leadership. Janet recalls, “She represented us really well - she was a great first Board President.”

Since those early days, FriendshipWorks has grown, and Sister Madeline is not surprised that the organization is thriving as it reaches its 40th Anniversary. “The dedication and passion of its Board and staff is a testament to the faith that people have in each other,” says Sister Madeline. 

Sister Madeline also remembers how she treasured the companionship of her own first Friendly Visiting match, Helen. She would help Helen shop for groceries and together they would head to a local restaurant for a bite to eat. She recalls, “I will never forget Helen… she was a unique personality and a very determined lady.”

For four decades, Sister Madeline’s path has run parallel to FriendshipWorks’ – since passing on the mantle of Board President, she has continued to work with older adults through the Church. She is proud of the incredible impact the organization has made and credits FriendshipWorks for staying true to its fundamental mission of enhancing the quality of life of older adults. In turn, Janet is thankful to Sister Madeline. She says, “Sister Madeline was a great match for FriendshipWorks because she lived our message through her own ministry – this work is in her soul. I am grateful for the unwavering faith she had in me and our mission and for putting faith in action.”