5.13.2007

a very small giant

Last fall we had an assignment for our History of Religious Life Class, namely to chat with one member of our community about what life was like before, during and after Vatican II. I decided to talk with one of my favorite sisters in the infirmary, Mary Byrnes. We have dinner next door with the sisters on Sunday, and we always help to clean up and set the tables afterwards. Mary was always the queen of the napkins. There she'd be, scooting herself along in her wheel chair with her feet, placing each napkin just so on the tables. Mary was many other things in addition to being queen of the napkins - catechist, teacher, director of our school for the blind (where a building is named after her), mentor and spiritual guide.

Anyway, one day I mentioned to Mary that I'd love a chance to chat with her for my project and clued her in on some of the questions. I told her I'd get back to her to figure out a good time to meet.


The next day, my novice director knocked on the door just as I was getting out of the shower. Mary was on the phone. She wanted me to come over right away to talk about the project. When Mary talks, you listen, so I headed on over.

I walked over to the infirmary and down the hall to the last room on the right. Mary was sitting up in her chair, anxious and alert. "I've been up all night," she said "thinking about what I want to tell you. I know you have your list of questions from the teacher, but let me tell you what I want and then if you need to you can ask your questions."

She proceeded to share with me her experience of the renewal of religious life, something she had taken very seriously. She had so much to tell me, and I was enthralled. It was definitely worth the unexpected summons to the infirmary.

It turns out that Mary's name "in religion" before the renewal was "Concordia." I asked her how she'd come by such a name, and she told me her story. She had asked for name after name and been denied. Finally, one of the other novices told her that the superior's sister was a sister in a different community and had the name Concordia. "Ask for that name and you'll get it," said the novice which Mary did and she did. I asked Mary what Concordia meant. "One with heart," she said. "Sometimes I wish I'd kept the name because it held me accountable, but when it comes down to it I'm just plain Mary."


Well, I'm here to tell you that Mary was Mary, but Mary was also definitely one with heart. I'm also sad to say that Mary passed away this afternoon.

I'd visited Mary a number of times over the past weeks when she was in the hospital and then when she returned to the infirmary for hospice care. The last time I saw her in the hospital she was clear as a bell and we had a nice visit. She was weak, but her spunk and her heart shone through. Mary was a giant - small of stature, but gigantic of heart, spirit, love, energy, committment and passion for the gospel of peace. She will be greatly missed by many, including me.

When I started writing about our recently deceased sisters on the blog, it was to tell their stories as real life courageous women of faith. It really is an honor to have known them and to be part of something they helped to shape and form. What I didn't expect was that I'd be writing so many of these "in memory" posts. It's part of the reality of religious life these days I suppose. There are so many elder sisters in their 80's & 90's. But we've had a string of deaths this year, whereas during my first 2 years with the community there were only a handful.

Please keep the sisters in our infirmary and assisted living center in your prayers. If I'm doing my math right, this is the fifth death this year in this house alone, not to mention the three sisters in the west and one in the UK. Demographic reality or no, it's got to be hard on this wonderful women.

6 comments:

Kelly_SSJ/A said...

I will be watching in prayer with you all. It is definetly hard....

Anonymous said...

Prayers for all of your deceased sisters. But now they are with the One they gave their lives to, I am sure they are very happy.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss...what a remarkable woman!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susan, for such a beautiful and accurate portrayal of Mary - you really captured the spirit of a remarkable woman who never acted like she was more than "just plain Mary."

Terry

Regina Clare Jane said...

A lovely tribute to a wonderful woman of faith...
Prayers for everyone...

xsquared said...

I'm so sad to once again send my deepest condolances to you and your community on the loss of your dear sister. I'm holding all of you in my prayers, and especially those in the infirmary and assisted living.