Sheila Croke, a leader in Long Island’s peace movement who vigorously opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, died Tuesday at her home in Kings Park after a long illness, her family said. She was 89.
Croke, a diminutive and soft-spoken schoolteacher, was an organizer for Pax Christi Long Island, a Catholic peace group that opposes war, human rights abuses and racial injustice. Every Memorial Day, she and other activists would gather at Jones Beach to read the names of area military members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan and implore visitors to treat the day with remembrance rather than celebration.
“Mom truly believed that there is no peace without justice,” said her oldest daughter, Ann Darcy, 64, of Huntington Station.
Born Sheila Haggerty, Croke was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the second youngest of six siblings, to Louis Haggerty, a law professor at Fordham University, and Adele Haggerty, a housewife.
She obtained a bachelor’s degree from Newton College of the Sacred Heart, a women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts that merged with Boston College in 1974, and a master’s degree in natural sciences from what is now LIU Post in Brookville.
While attending classes at Newton, Haggerty met Thomas Croke Sr., who was visiting from Harvard University. The couple married in 1951 and had four children, including Darcy: Thomas Croke Jr., now 66, of Kings Park; Ellen Slater, 61, of Buckeye, Arizona; and Kathryn Costa, 60, of Huntington. They also raised a nephew, Henry Haggerty.
Thomas Croke Sr., a former FBI agent, died in 1986.
Slater said her mother “had endless patience and was completely selfless, always putting the needs of others above her own.”
Croke spent the bulk of her career teaching fifth grade, first at St. Patrick’s School in Huntington and then at St. Hugh of Lincoln in Huntington Station. After retiring in 1987, she worked at Northport VA Medical Center.
While teaching was Croke’s profession, peace activism was her passion. She joined Pax Christi in the run-up to the Iraq War; she said — correctly — that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. She organized protests opposing the invasion, often enduring verbal abuse from those who supported the war.
“She supported the troops and wanted to keep them safe,” Costa said. “She just didn’t want soldiers to kill people for a reason that did not exist.”
In 2007, Pax Christi named Croke “Peacemaker of the Year,” calling her the “little engine that makes us go.”
Bob Keeler, a former Newsday editorial board writer and Pax Christi member, called Croke “a tireless peacemaker. She was a quiet effective person; tireless and relentless.”
In addition to her four children, Croke is survived a brother, Philip Haggerty, five grandchildren — Justin Eugene, 47, of Central Islip; Errol Menendez, 37, of Huntington Station; Emily Slater, 34, of Chandler, Arizona; and Laura Costa, 27, and Daniel Costa, 22, both of Huntington — and eight great-grandchildren.
Visiting will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home in Northport. Services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church.