June 23, 1921 – November 17, 2013
As the sun was rising early Sunday morning, in the silence on the second floor, God chose to call Sister Mary McDonnell to her eternal reward.
Sister Mary Gertrude McDonnell or Sister Clarina, as she was known to some present in this chapel, entered the Congregation on September 8, 1943, with a conviction that she was being asked – chosen - by God to be of service to God’s people.
The Consensus Statement from our Constitutions states in part:
“Stimulated by the Holy Spirit of Love and receptive to its inspirations, the Sister of St. Joseph moves always towards profound love of God and love of neighbor without distinction.”
These words express the outpouring of our CSJ life as women religious.
Sister Mary McDonnell appeared to internalize this passage of our Constitution as she daily lived her religious life for the past seventy years. As an elementary teacher in various Ardiocesean parish schools, she saw the need of developing solid reading skills to her students. She attended courses to advance her knowledge of reading and was hired to be one of the first Title One teachers funded by the Boston Public Schools. Even though she enjoyed teaching, a deep impulse from her study of theology called Sister Mary to become not only a Religious Educator but a Coordinator of Religious Education in the Archdiocese of Boston. When approached by the Congregation, Sister acted on grace and accepted the call to take her gifts to Santa Rosa New Mexico. Formation of religious ideals was a format that not only strengthened the spirituality of the people Sister taught, but also fortified Mary’s religious life in the service of the “dear neighbor”.
Perceiving God’s calls seemed to be a segment of Sister’s life. In 1996 she wrote an article for Soundings entitled, Charism and Roots Experiences –Eight Years Journey. This commentary was an explanation of her journey with other Sisters of St. Joseph as they lived community life sharing Sister Julie Harkins’s gleanings from our early CSJ history, which alluded to writings by Father Marius Nepper, SJ. Sister Mary summed up the article by delighting in future gatherings with all fourteen Sisters of St. Joseph, whom she named, who had sometime in their lives lived the Charism and Roots experience.
Life moved on and Sister Mary McDonnell’s life cycle turned onto Bethany Road. Residing on the hill, Sr. Mary became a member of the Alleluia group at St. Joseph Hall. This enabled her to experience a loving community as well as perform ministry, working at Bethany as a member of the Staff. Moving from St. Joseph Hall into Bethany Health Care Facility provided Sister Mary with the nursing care that she needed when her health began to deteriorate. As a lover of poetry, especially Mary Oliver, this segment of time in her life motivated Mary to write a poem about Bethany. (This poem you can read in the Eucharistic Liturgy booklet.)
The first and second stanza however epitomizes Mary’s feelings.
“Bethany’s a special place, The winding road that rises up,
And everywhere I see To set the place apart,
The presence of the living God Provides a space for each to hear.
Reflected up to me. The beat of Jesus’ heart.”
Interestingly, not only did Sister Mary love poetry, but her artistic talent extended to music. Sister participated in the Sisters’ Ensemble as a violinist!
Sister Mary has had many days in the past few years in which she has experienced silent intimacy with the God who chose and loved her. These were treasured moments for Mary in which only she could comprehend. However, as family and Sisters came to visit her, they witnessed a radiance from her that produced a gentle smile and clear beaming eyes. Truly we all knew that God was present to Sister Mary and this was her way of telling us.
The book of Deuteronomy states… “Choose life then, so that you may live in the love of God.”
Sister Mary McDonnell did choose life. In her humble, ordinary life, one that took her to many places and ministries, Sister Mary was able to live in the unconditional love of God, clinging to God’s voice, and following God’s call.
We give thanks for the life of Sister Mary G. McDonnell, Sister Clarina. Her daily following of the Gospel, recognizing herself as a recipient of God’s nourishing vine. This enabled her to spread God’s word, and humbly serve God’s people. It merited her the reward of God’s promise,” This day you shall be with me in Paradise.”
May you, Sister Mary McDonnell, rest in the place God has prepared for you. We, the Sisters of St. Joseph thank you for sharing your life with us for these past seventy years.
Given By: Gail Donahue, CSJ