Sister Jeanne Marie Lyons, MM
Born: April 1, 1904
Entered: April 28, 1928
Deceased: October 19, 1987
Dear Sisters, Relatives and Friends,
In the Scripture readings chosen for today we hear, “And so I prayed and understanding was given to me; I entreated and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me… compared to wisdom I held riches as nothing. In her company all good things came to me; at her hands, riches not to be numbered.”
We are gathered here this morning to praise, to celebrate and to thank God for a wonderful lady, a gracious and attractive woman religious whose gifts of nature and grace, whose gift of her life to Maryknoll have become part of the Community inheritance and enriching us all. In the company of this wise and prudent woman many good things indeed came to us!
Sister Jeanne Marie Lyons died at Phelps Hospital at 03:10 am on October 19, 1987. She was 83 years old.
Grace Agnes Lyons was born in Baltimore, MD., on April 1, 1904, the daughter of William Lyons and Mary Eleanor Carroll Lyons. She went to grade and high school in Baltimore and graduated from the College of Notre Dame in 1926 with a B.A. Degree. On April 28, 1928, she entered Maryknoll. 50 years later, speaking of this moment Sister said: “I cannot give a factual account or reasoned explanation of why I decided to be a Maryknoll Sister. At the deepest level, of course, it was because God chose that for me. A variety of things about the Congregation appealed to me — its missionary character, its informal and cheerful approach to religious life, its newness and apparent vigor, its inclusion in the Dominican family. Beyond all that, however, I was drawn by an attraction that I cannot identify or name.” (8/2/78). In an arrangement which, in those days, could only indicate that the Community saw in Agnes very special gifts, she was sent as a postulant, to study in London. There in 1929 she obtained the Cambridge University Teacher’s Certificate of Education. Sister returned to Maryknoll, and in 1930 (October 28) she pronounced her first vows; three years later on October 28, 1933 she made her perpetual profession.
Impressed with her remarkable gifts of mind and her lively, witty, stable and mature personality, the Community decided that Sister should go on for further education In 1939 she received her M.A. in Religion and then in 1941 her PH.D. in Philosophy, both from Catholic University. The letter telling her that she had successfully completed her Doctoral Studies was handed to her on her knees. She was doing her charge, scrubbing the floor of what we now call the Sunset Wing.
The Maryknoll Community and leadership recognized Sister’s gifts. In 1942-43 she served as Education Supervisor for the schools in Hawaii staffed by the Maryknoll Sisters. In 1956—57 Sister toured the Maryknoll missions for 15 months.
The delightful diaries of this long journey which she made with Mother Mary Columba are a tribute to her gift of observation, appreciation of cultures and her gift for writing. In 1963 Sister was sent to tour our Latin American missions.
A short appreciation of Sister’s life, such as this one, can hardly do justice to her outstanding achievements. She served the Community in many capacities: Director of Students, Director of Continuing Education, Novice Mistress, Motherhouse Superior, President of Rogers College; she was on several occasions a Chapter Delegate. In a way we can say that she spent her entire mission life working within the Congregation and essentially in the United States, primarily concerned with the intellectual and spiritual formation of the Sisters. Of this aspect of her life at Maryknoll she wrote: “This is not what I anticipated when I came… the stay-at-home character my life assumed caused me some pangs, especially at the season of the year when others were assigned and left for their missions. In time I recognized and accepted the fact that I was doing something for the missions by helping others to prepare themselves for the part I was not to play. Being at this dynamic mission Center has turned out to be my particular way, I think, of living ‘Thy Kingdom Come.'”
In a letter dated May 22, 1968, written to Mother Mary Coleman, she asked to retire as President of Mary Rogers College: “I will be 65 in April of 1969 and, although I hope to continue making a real contribution to the work and spirit of Maryknoll, I do consider it wise and enlivening to make room in positions such as mine for younger Sisters who are mature and well prepared to fill them.”
This action is typical of another aspect of Sister Jeanne Marie’s personality: her willingness to stand aside, to be kind, to recognize the potential in others and delighted to bring them happiness.
Sister Jeanne Marie is also noteworthy for her numerous literary achievements which include articles, poems, short stories published in such distinguished reviews as The Thomist, Commonweal, America, and many more, and also for her translations. She will no doubt be remembered best of all for two magnificent works: Maryknoll’s First Lady and the translation of Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange’ s two-volume spiritual classic, The Love of God and the Cross of Jesus.
In reflecting on the changes which were taking place in religious life following the Second Vatican Council, Sister wrote: “The headlong rate of change during recent years in the world, in the Church and in my Community has involved some pain, some growth, some loss, some gain and I have participated in all that. The essentials of my life are the same: the desire and effort to follow Jesus Christ and to share in His mission. I am not disturbed because our ministries have changed and I will not be as long as we continue to be with the Church where her reach is longest and we have always been.”
In the later years Sister was concerned about our relationship to and role within the U.S. Church. She felt that our greatest contribution was to be in the vanguard of the Church’ s global awareness mission. To this end she became active in areas of social concern, keenly enthusiastic in the Bishops of the United States and their recent social and peace pastorals. She was a founding and faithful member of Center-Cerns, eager to keep us abreast of social issues that touch on the rights and dignity of human beings and on peace in the world. Hunger, suffering, poverty, war, the world, Maryknoll, her family — all these were the concerns of her mind and heart, a mind and heart full of love, loyalty, understanding, wit and humor.
At this Liturgy today we sing: “You are ever a part of our lives, all the good that we share will live on in our lives.” Yes, we are grateful, dear Sister, for all the times we shared together; we are grateful to you, because so often your words and deeds helped open our eyes and our mind to see what we and Maryknoll had become. Yes, we are grateful for your creative person whose broad vision celebrated faith and whose abundant God-given gifts so generously shared, have become ours.
Rest in peace, dear Sister, and rest also in our love.
Our celebrant for this Eucharistic Liturgy of the Resurrection is Maryknoll Father Del Goodman.