Sister Maryalyce Gilfeather

"We exist for the poor, only the poor, absolutely only the poor."

-St. Julie Billiart (Letter #86)

By the time Maryalyce was 13 years old, she and her family had lived in six different states and attended seven different schools. These many moves brought her family together in a wonderful bond of love. She loved her parents and her brother became her best friend. In 1963, her father suffered a fatal heart attack and so the family moved back to Melrose, Massachusetts for good.

During her early years both she and her brother were always looked upon as 'the new students' in a school as a result of their many moves. This gave Maryalyce a great empathy for ‘new students’ which she carried with her in all her ministries.

Maryalyce was educated by the Society of the Holy Child. During her senior year in high school, she was interested in joining this order but due to the turmoil of the time they were not accepting candidates. Maryalyce had been given a book during her senior year with information on various religious congregations and she remembers marking the Notre Dame de Namur page because she loved the spirit of St. Julie and the charism of Notre Dame de Namur. She loved that Julie was called the Smiling Saint and that joy was part of the spirit of the congregation.

After high school, Maryalyce attended Salem State College, in Massachusetts, where she met some Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who were also attending school there—her first connection with SNDdeNs! In her junior year she had the joy of meeting Sister Karen Hokanson, whom she admired, and which led to her interest in becoming a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.

As a sister, Maryalyce began her ministries teaching first grade students both in Shrewsbury and Tyngsboro, Mass. She loved her students and firmly believed as Maya Angelou so clearly expressed, “That people may forget what you say or do but they won't forget how you make them feel.” As a testament to this belief some of her first grade students from her beginning years in education still stay in touch with her and are now contributing donors to her present ministry at Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School.

Maryalyce had the pleasure of serving in other exciting ministries including Dean of Students at Boston College and on the Ipswich Province Leadership Team. While at Boston College, Maryalyce completed her doctoral work in Educational Leadership. Her dissertation, “Rethinking Mission: Rhetoric and Reality” became the foundation for the Notre Dame de Namur Hallmarks document that is used in many ministries today.

While her present ministry as President of Cristo Rey High School in Methuen, Mass., is the most challenging for her so far, it is the ministry she loves beyond words. She has great admiration for our early sisters who were not afraid to take the risk to open new schools during uncertain times. Most of the students who attend Notre Dame Cristo Rey come from immigrant families from the Dominican Republic. Maryalyce truly sees both the students and graduates from NDCR setting the world on fire with their love, perseverance, and graciousness.

Constantly in Maryalyce's heart and on her lips are the words of St. Julie, "How Good is the Good God!" To date Notre Dame Cristo Rey has graduated over 800 students. What a wonderful Notre Dame victory for God’s deserving children!

Maryalyce's favorite quote of St. Julie comes from the Letter of St. Julie No. 86:
"We exist for the poor, only the poor, absolutely only the poor"

Maryalyce is, and shall forever be, grateful that the poor are God's favored children as well as St. Julie's, and it is her ongoing dream and hope that Notre Dame Cristo Rey students will go forth to enrich the lives of others. Maryalyce's love for Notre Dame and Cristo Rey enriched her Golden Jubilee in 2021 as she lovingly proclaimed, "How Good is the Good God!"

Sister Mary McCue, SNDdeN

If you’d like to make a gift to the Sisters in Sister Maryalyce's honor online, please click here or to give by mail or phone, please click here.