Born in an Irish cottage that even in the 1940s was serviced only by an outhouse, Mary Higgins Gaffney often worked with the less fortunate.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Mrs. Gaffney helped a large South Vietnamese family adjust to life in Ambler.

At one time, she made meals for the homeless in Philadelphia and, at another, delivered meals to a homebound elderly woman in Willow Grove.

On Sunday, Mrs. Gaffney, 67, a registered nurse, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at her Lower Gwynedd home.

Born in the County Mayo village of Culnacleha, she came to the United States in 1949 with her parents.

"They did have some running water in the kitchen to do tub baths," her daughter Beth Mohr said. "But they had an outhouse. I was there myself in 1986 to see it."

Growing up hard might have inspired Mrs. Gaffney.

In the 1970s, her parish, St. Anthony of Padua in Ambler, rented a home for a Vietnamese immigrant family - "uncles and great-uncles, at least 12 to 14 people."

Mrs. Gaffney scraped hardwood floors and painted, and once they got here, she was in charge of driving them to doctors' appointments and job interviews, Mohr said.

"All the while," Mohr said, "she had five young children."

Mrs. Gaffney cared for the members of the family for three years, her daughter said, until winters forced them to move to California.

When her parish called again, she responded again.

From the 1980s into the mid-1990s, Mrs. Gaffney led the parish program of making casseroles to be delivered to St. John's Hospice in Center City to feed the homeless, Mohr said.

A 1960 graduate of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School, Mrs. Gaffney was a guard on its varsity basketball team for four years.

For three years in the 1980s, her daughter said, Mrs. Gaffney coached the Catholic Youth Organization basketball team of her parish's grade-school girls.

A 1963 graduate of Misericordia Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia, Mrs. Gaffney worked as a registered nurse at Albert Einstein Medical Center until 1965.

After her five children were in school, she nursed the elderly at St. Joseph Villa in Flourtown in 1977-78 before giving birth to her youngest.

Mrs. Gaffney's nursing career was focused on Artman Lutheran Home, an assisted-living community in Ambler, where she worked from 1986 until she retired in 2003.

Even then, her daughter said, Mrs. Gaffney helped the less fortunate.

From 2004 until last year, she worked with the organization Aid for Friends, which deals with needy and isolated shut-ins.

"She would visit with this one person every week and sit with her" at the woman's home in Willow Grove, Mohr said. "Bring her meals. Be sort of a companion for her as well."

And from 2006 to 2008, Mrs. Gaffney worked at the Catholic Social Services office in Norristown, organizing the distribution of clothing and household goods, Mohr said.

Besides her daughter, Mrs. Gaffney is survived by her husband, John F.; sons John T. and Paul; daughters Mary Kathryn Hendrickson, Susan Fissell, and Kathleen; two brothers; and six grandchildren.

Friends may call after 9 a.m. today at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 259 Forest Ave., Ambler, where a Funeral Mass will be said at 10. Burial will be in St. John Neumann Cemetery, Chalfont.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.