She was elected in 1979 to the first of three terms on Lower Merion Township's Board of Commissioners, representing the First Ward.
Though she was raising five children, she took her position on the board very seriously, often attending three meetings a week, her son said.
During her 12 years as commissioner, Mrs. Phelan chaired several committees, including the public works committee. In 1991, she told The Inquirer that as a commissioner, she advocated reducing township spending and preserving open space, and considered it her responsibility to keep her constituents informed.
Mrs. Phelan grew up with six siblings in Wynnewood and graduated from the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, then in Overbrook. She earned a bachelor's degree from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York in 1952.
She captained field hockey and lacrosse teams in high school and college and was a lifelong tennis enthusiast, her son said. As a young woman, she competed in a pro-am tournament at Merion Cricket Club against the legendary Althea Gibson.
Mrs. Phelan served on the boards of St. Edmunds Home for Children in Bryn Mawr, St. Francis Country Home in Darby, and Country School of the Sacred Heart, which is now in Bryn Mawr.
In recent years, she and her husband divided their time among homes in Bryn Mawr; Naples, Fla.; and Avalon, N.J. She was a eucharistic minister and lector at Catholic churches in Naples and Avalon and at St. John Vianney Roman Catholic Church in Gladwyne.
In addition to her husband, son, and daughter, Mrs. Phelan is survived by sons James III and Paul; daughter Mary Frances de Bellescize; a brother; and 14 grandchildren.
A Funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at St. John Vianney Church, 350 Conshohocken State Rd., Gladwyne, Pa. Interment will be in Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken. Relatives and friends are invited to a Visitation Thursday, Nov. 1, from 7 to 9 p.m. at McConaghy Funeral Home, 328 W. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, Pa., or on Friday, Nov. 2, from 9 to 10 a.m. at St. John Vianney Church.
Donations may be made to the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, 480 S. Bryn Mawr Ave., Bryn Mawr, Pa., 19010.
Contact Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.