Sister Mary (Elizabeth) Friel

“Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” – Deuteronomy 30:19

Sister Mary Friel was born on December 9th, 1938, in Worcester, Massachusetts.  She had an older brother James Patrick (RIP) and three younger siblings, Kathleen, Robert, and Gerard (RIP). The first four years of her life were in Springfield, Massachusetts where her father had a furniture store.  He loved retailing and had an opportunity to manage a large department store in Upstate New York.  At the age of four, her family relocated to Utica, New York. Here she began her education, attending and graduating from Our Lady of Lourdes parish school (Class of ’52).

Sister Mary loved growing up in Utica, a vibrant ethnically diverse community, close to the Adirondack Mountains.  Against the wishes of her father, she left the Catholic education system, attending Utica Free Academy for High School (Class of ’56). That year her family moved to Oswego, NY, where her father had purchased the George H. Campbell Department and Furniture stores. Oswego, located on beautiful Lake Ontario, is a much smaller community in which Sister Mary made friendships that would go on to last a lifetime.

In the fall of 1956 Sister Mary entered Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass.  Here she met many Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who served as instructors in her classes.  “In a word,” she recalls, “they were inspiration.”

Directly after graduating from Emmanuel College, in 1960, Sister Mary took a job in Anchorage, Alaska, teaching 10th grade biology in an urban public high school.  Following this experience, she returned to Boston to earn her master’s degree in Guidance Counseling from Boston College.  From 1962-1963, she worked as a school counselor at Brockton High School, in Brockton, Mass.

It was around this time that Sister Mary began to hear an inner voice compelling her to consider becoming a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. Following advice from an SND who knew her well, she entered the Novitiate in Fairfield, Connecticut, on September 8th, 1963. While in the Novitiate she took courses in psychology at the nearby Fairfield University.

After entering, Sister Mary served as a teacher, counselor, and, eventually, as the guidance director at East Catholic High School in Manchester, Conn.  While working here, she continued to take courses in psychology at the University of Hartford.  Eventually, she completed the Certified Advanced Graduate Study Program (CAGS), in School Psychology, from Fairfield University.  Certified as a School Psychologist she was hired in that capacity to serve the non-public schools in Waterbury, Conn.

While working full-time for the Waterbury school system, Sister Mary collaborated with four other religious sisters to establish the Urban Center and the Intercommunity Urban Sisters Residence in the north-end of Waterbury.  They devoted their time and energy to social justice organizing in the local community. One day, a part-time teaching position in Psychology appeared on the Special Services bulletin board. Aware of her love for teaching, she called Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT. and spoke directly to Dr. Boit Brannen, Chairman of the Psychology Department. Immediately, Sr. Mary set up an interview with Dr. Brannen and was hired.

In January 1970 she began to teach Psychology part-time at WCSU. This would prove to be the start of a twenty-eight-year career. Initially, she taught and counseled underprepared students in the Basic Studies Program. WCSU was growing and developing many undergraduate and graduate programs. The administrators asked Sister Mary, in concert with several other faculty members, to develop and teach in their fledgling graduate program in school and agency counseling. To meet state and national certification requirements faculty were required to have doctorates.

Sister Patricia Agnes, Provincial in the CT Province, gave the ok and asked that she find a fellowship to fund her studies. She did! While working full-time at WCSU, she worked toward earning her doctorate from Boston College. For two years (1976-1978) she commuted once a week from Danbury to Boston to attend classes. After class she would study in the BC Library, receive the hospitality of the Radnor Road community, stay overnight and drive to Danbury the next morning to teach an afternoon class.  Sister Mary successfully completed all course work in 1979.  The following year she was granted a PhD in Higher Education

In 1998, Sister Mary retired from WCSU.  She was awarded Emeriti Professor for her twenty-eight years of successful teaching and supervising hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students. At the invitation of three other SNDs, who were creating a welcoming community on a farm in East Hartford, she returned to the Greater Hartford area. Again, it is the joy of teaching that enabled her to teach part-time at Manchester Community College (MCC) in nearby East Hartford. She taught a variety of Psychology courses there for eighteen years and loved it. Sister Mary admitted to never “burning out" because she was always willing to teach courses that other faculty were not willing to do.  Looking back at the last 60 years, she says that she is “grateful to God for good health, a supportive family, friends around the planet and, last but not least, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who continue to be an inspiration to me. She remains active and enjoys gardening, hiking, swimming, traveling, and getting together with family and long-term friends.

Enjoy this video reflection, taken at the time of Sister Mary's 60th Jubilee: