Journal Opinion: 105 Years Well Lived

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Most people would consider Sister Jerome Cocoran’s life extraordinary even if it hadn’t spanned more than a century. She died June 6, less than two months after celebrating her 105th birthday.

When Sister Jerome opened the Millcreek Children’s Center for preschool education in 1976, at age 60, she had dedicated more than half of her life to the service of others as an educator and Catholic nun in the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown.

Twelve years later, she joined with Sister Mary Dunn and the board of Developing Potential Inc. to launch an affiliated charter school, Youngstown Community School.

Her retirement from Millcreek in 2012 – when she was well into her 90s – led her to a new purpose. She established Sister Jerome’s Poor, a program to help low-income individuals that later became Sister Jerome’s Mission.

Among those who benefited from the program’s Mission College initiative, which helped low-income students with college expenses, was Rebecca Hampton, who expects to graduate from Youngstown State University with a degree in marketing management. Sister Jerome’s influence went beyond financial help for college, she says.

Hampton initially planned to get a certificate in entrepreneurship and open a photo studio. Instead, she pursued nonprofit leadership.

“Because of Sister Jerome’s work, I found my real passion in helping people,” she says.  

When Sister Jerome stepped down as director of her namesake philanthropy in 2016, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday, she pledged to help her successor as director with efforts to raise money.

Her doggedness in pursuing financial support was well known to the well-heeled of the Mahoning Valley and she occasionally took mischievous delight in the reputation she cultivated. 

 “I have a reputation for fundraising. You may have heard the stories,” she wryly acknowledged. 

On one occasion, she recalled, the late William G. Lyden Jr. was presiding over a meeting of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. Lyden spotted Sister Jerome as she entered the venue after the event had started. “Fellas, hold on to your wallets!” he warned.

Those who loved and admired Sister Jerome will pay tribute to her through philanthropy. Donations made to the Ursuline Sisters will be used to continue the mission and ministries for which she dedicated her life: education and care for the poor. The YSU Foundation also has been approached by individuals interested in establishing an endowment in education in her memory.

There could hardly be more fitting tributes.

Not everyone can give as much to the community as Sister Jerome did her entire adult life. But her good works certainly serve as an example for everyone to emulate.