Sister Mary McFadden (1930-2021)

Sister Mary hailed from the Philadelphia area, met our sisters at West Catholic High School and in 1948 joined the Congregation in Ilchester, Maryland. She was a proud member of the band known as the Violets and was ever ready to claim her Irish heritage.

Sister Mary had a long and diverse ministry record in schools from Maryland to New York, from Virginia to Philadelphia. She was an excellent first grade teacher and a talented remedial teacher during those 37 years. After a pilgrimage experience in Namur, she served as Director of the Ilchester Conference Center. There she welcomed thousands of retreatants in what they acclaimed as “an oasis of prayer and renewal.”

When the Maryland Province closed the Center in 1994, Mary enjoyed a sabbatical year at Berakah (A Place of Blessing) in New Hampshire. She then became Pastoral Associate at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ilchester, Maryland. Her duties prioritized the sick and elderly of the parish, but that did not stop Mary from encouraging the formation of groups and committees to enrich participation in parish life.

In 2003, Mary accepted the opportunity to become Pastoral Associate of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Baltimore. Wherever Mary went, she made friends and blessed people’s lives with kindnesses. She is quoted as saying, “I am trying to live out the charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, witnessing to the Goodness of God. I do it in my own Mary McFadden way.”

Sister Mary died on May 29, 2021.

Reflection for Mary McFadden

June 18, 2021

I met Mary for the first time when we were postulants and Sister Mary Kevin was teaching the kindergarten at Trinity Lower School. She was known for being a great teacher and since we all would start out as teachers, we wanted to be just like Mary. I still do.

Even across the great divide between the Professed House and the Postulate, we saw that Mary exuded self-confidence, energy and joy.

From her high school days at West Catholic in Philadelphia, Mary enjoyed, and even cultivated a reputation for being mischievous. She had the eye for it – didn’t she? And the Irish wit. Mary often talked about ‘getting in trouble’ as a good thing – a badge of honor. I’ve gotten into trouble a few times myself. It was never as much fun as Mary made it out to be. But Mary had the secret: remember it, and haul the story out 30, 40, 50 years later. I wonder if those people who got Mary in trouble ever regretted it.
I think Mary plotted her fun while walking to school. If you were a West Catholic girl you walked to school no matter if you lived a great distance, carrying your books in your arms and picking up friends along the way. The West Catholic uniform was a hunter green jumper with a tan blouse and peter pan collar – starched.

We sisters have a directive: to create community wherever you are.” Mary started this in her high school days and would go on to do it the rest of her life.

When Mary greeted you, you really felt ‘seen’ didn’t you? She was delighted to see us and greeted us with a warm hug. You felt welcomed, expected and needed: Now we can go on – you are here!

Mary took a great interest in each of us. She was truly curious about how things were going, what projects you were working on. Your concerns. Mary always heaped praise on me, and thanked me for my good works. Of course I felt greatly encouraged to do more!

And in this encounter, Mary was remembering your high school, your cousins, and if you were from Donegal – even better.

Whether we know Sister Mary from Woodlawn, The Conference Center, the Summer Bible Vacation Camp, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Victory or the Associates, you knew that Mary was dedicated – really devoted to you. And she would begin to think of special projects: A Welcome committee, and, she got 100 parishioners to deliver homes to the housebound. If you were part of these programs it was Fun – but also you were on a mission. And a very important cog in the wheel.

Mary was good at big long ranging programs like RCIA. But details did not escape her. She made note if a room needed to be painted, if new bedspreads were needed – and Mary remembered birthdays and anniversaries.

Mary had a sweetness about her. She was dear. But don’t get the wrong idea that Mary was an old softie. She could be very determined and let nothing stand in her way when it was necessary. When her old school chum Sister Rose Lafferty was in hospice care. Mary, who was on oxygen at the time, wanted to visit her. But there were lots of little obstacles. No problem! Mary hired a limousine driver and he wheeled her into Rose’s room and sang Irish songs and hymns.

As Mary was doing all these things, if she called you to do something outside your comfort zone…there was only one answer: “Yes, you must say!” –and somehow you found the grace.

Where did all this strength come from? How did daily Eucharist at Our Lady of Victory end up with coffee at Heather Hill with Sister Elaine? How did she get that idea for the Three Queens party?

Well, when Mary left the Conference Center, after she closed the door on that little office, Mary visited the cemetery. She stopped at the grave of Sister Ann Richard and other great Notre Dame women. Mary knew. She acknowledged the source, right back to St Julie. God is good. How good is God. How good is the good God. That was Mary.

I didn’t like the idea of Mary dying up North far from us. But when I heard that Sister Elaine had read our names to Mary I felt I could let her go – and Mary let go too.

Let’s call to mind the Sister Mary we knew and who knew and loved us. Let’s fill ourselves with gratitude for having Mary in our life. What a blessing. What a blessing. Thank you. Thank you Mary for being so responsive to grace. How did we get so lucky?

And let’s look outward. There will be someone today who needs to be praised. Thanked. Encouraged. Let’s do that for Mary today.

– Sister Barbara English, SNDdeN

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