Sister Elizabeth McDermott, MM

Born: April 23, 1908
Entered: September 7, 1942
Died: October 6, 1997

On October 7, 1997, two thousand mourners gathered in Guatemala City at Colegio Monte Maria to celebrate the passing into new life of our Sister Elizabeth McDermott. Among them were many students, faculty and alumni of Colegio Monte Maria, Maryknoll Sisters, Maryknoll Fathers and the people with whom she had worked at the municipal garbage dump.

She died at the age of eighty-nine at 5:30 a.m. on October 6, 1997 while at home at Monte Maria.

Rosa Beatriz de Larios, the Director of Colegio Monte Maria, spoke these words in her reflection at the Liturgy:

“Her words are wisdom, her mission to educate. Sister Elizabeth has left a mark on every graduate of Monte Maria, on every student, on the men, women and children of the municipal garbage dump, on every person who had the good fortune to know her and be with her. She was a combination of religious, teacher, mother, friend, counselor and lately of ‘grandmother’ as the children so fondly called her. She was a woman who lived in the present century but educated for the XXI Century, for the third millennium. She was a ‘liberated’ woman before others were even conscious of such a concept as liberation. Sr. Elizabeth lived ahead of her time, but always aware of the reality around her. This is what she expected of all of us and is her legacy to us.”

Elizabeth Patricia McDermott was born on April 23, 1908 in Worcester, MA to the late Maria Mullaney and Patrick McDermott. She had one sister, Mary McDermott, who died in 1995. Elizabeth attended elementary and high school in the public schools of Worcester, MA. She received a B.S. Degree in Education from State Teachers College in Worcester in 1930.

Her career as a teacher began in the schools of Auburn, Ludlow and Boston, MA. While she was teaching, she completed studies for an M.A. in English at Boston University in 1935. Sister Elizabeth taught Latin at Ludlow Junior High and later History and English at the Massachusetts College of Art.

On September 7, 1942, Elizabeth entered Maryknoll. She received the religious name of Grace Elizabeth and made her First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1945 at Maryknoll, NY. Later that same year, she was assigned to Hawaii where she taught Religion and English at Maryknoll High School in Punahoe. She made her Final Profession of Vows on March 7, 1948 in Honolulu. In 1954, after nine years in Hawaii, she was assigned to Peru where she served as Superior and Principal of St. Rose of Lima School for six years. Sister Elizabeth was assigned to Guatemala in 1960 where she was to spend the next thirty-seven years. At Colegio Monte Maria, she was asked to develop a program for the formation of teachers, a work that she would continue for the next twenty-seven years. During that time she encouraged each graduate to insert herself in the reality of Guatemala, to have an open mind and to be flexible to change. The teachers she helped form would be professionals with a creative young spirit, critical judgment and a sense of humor. The spirit of service that she sought to develop in her students was based on a lived Christianity by which they were both evangelized and evangelizers. As a tribute to her teaching efforts, a group of teachers who are graduates of Colegio Monte Maria, founded the McDermott Educational Association in 1988 50 that every graduate teacher might share and live the hopes, joys and preoccupations in the field of Education in the spirit of Sr. Elizabeth.

In 1988 she returned to Maryknoll for Congregational Service where she served in Treasury and Direct Mail. Returning to Guatemala and Colegio Monte Maria in 1991, Sister Elizabeth began a new ministry at the municipal garbage dump with the women and children who lived there. Working with graduates of Colegio Monte Maria, she helped organize a clinic and day care center for those who earn their living searching through the garbage.

Rosa Beatriz de Larios’ closing remarks in her Eulogy at the Liturgy of the Resurrection for Sister Elizabeth serve as a memorable tribute:

“Sister Elizabeth died as she wanted to die — and where she wanted to be all her life in her beloved Guatemala, together with all of us who so loved her and whom she served with so much love and dedication. Her death is a resurrection to a new life. She is still influencing us. By this death and new life, she has made us conscious once again of the value and importance of our teaching profession, of the transcendental importance of our mission in a country like Guatemala. Her spirit and her work will continue among us in the measure in which we live as she did — a life of profound faith, hope and unlimited love for others, a love filled with joy.”