Sister Aquilla Peterson, 61, of Rosemont, a social worker, died of lung cancer Tuesday, Dec. 21, at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Sister Aquilla grew up in North Philadelphia and graduated from Germantown High School. She earned a bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1972 and later earned a master's degree in social work from Bryn Mawr College.

Sister Aquilla was a case worker at the North Central Community Health Center and at the West Philadelphia Mental Health Consortium. Then, from 1992 to 2002, she was director of group homes for the Renaissance Community, in Bryn Mawr, which offers 24-hour supervision and intensive rehabilitation for mental-health patients and substance abusers.

In 2002, Sister Aquilla entered the Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Child in Rosemont. Upon making her final vows in 2004, she said, "I am here because I want to make life better for others. I believe I can do that better by being joined with women who are actively seeking solutions to the needs of the world today."

After her final vows, Sister Aquilla spent two years in a Holy Child mission in the Dominican Republic.

When she returned in 2006, she was interviewed by The Inquirer for an article about her religious order. She said she began studying to be a nun after a "nagging" sense of being called by God continued even after she increased her religious involvement. It wasn't until she made the decision to begin her novitiate that the unsettled feeling went away, she said.

"I thought that there would be less freedom, especially when you think about obedience and people telling me to do this and do that. I thought I would lose me - but instead I found a freedom to explore my gifts," she said.

For the last four years, Sister Aquilla had been a social worker at Central Montgomery Mental Health - Mental Retardation Center in Norristown and worked two nights a week at the Renaissance Community.

She is survived by a brother, Richard; a sister, Faith; and nieces and nephews.

A viewing will be held from 4 p.m. followed by a wake service at 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 27, in New Sharon Chapel, 1314 Montgomery Ave., Rosemont. A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 28, at New Sharon Chapel. Friends may call from 10 a.m. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken.

Donations may be made to SHCJ Retirement Fund, 1341 Montgomery Ave., Rosemont.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.