Sister Marie de Lourdes Bourguignon, MM

Born: August 3, 1899
Entered: May 18, 1919
Died: April 14, 1978

On Friday morning, April 14th, the anniversary of the death of Bishop James Anthony Walsh, Sister Marie de Lourdes Bourguignon took the last step of life’s journey. She died peacefully at Phelps Memorial Hospital.

Anna Mary Bourguignon, was born on August 3, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York. Her application to the “Teresians” in 1919 was followed shortly by a letter from her spiritual director to Father James Anthony Walsh recommending her for admission as an “exceptionally good pious and zealous young girl.” After her profession in 1921, Sister was sent to Ossining Hospital and later to Providence Hospital in Seattle, Washington, to study nursing. Upon her graduation in 1923, she received a letter from Father James Anthony Walsh in which he wrote: “Know that we are pleased and proud to have one of our Sisters registered as a nurse. A noble profession in itself and made more so by being grafted on religious life. Historically, you will be the first of the Maryknoll Sisters to complete a nursing course!”

Sister’s entire life was one of ministry to others. Upon completion of her studies, she was assigned to Yeungkong in China where she had several near run—ins with local bandits and political terrorism. The history of Maryknoll comes alive within her letters as she recorded her associations with Mother Mary Joseph, Sister Trinita, Sister John, Bishop Ford, Father Drought, Bishop James E. Walsh. I was particularly touched by the clarity and frankness with which Sister was able to state in her letters to Mother Mary Joseph, her own capabilities, interests and wishes, always finishing with “Whatever you wish, I will do.” In one letter, she added, “I try to consider myself always as just a tiny little part of our Maryknoll.” Several times during the early years she requested permission to enter the Cloister, saying “I am leaving myself and this request in the care of our Blessed Mother.” This request was never granted, but each one of us can witness to the fact that Sister Marie de Lourdes lived out her contemplative vocation by totally gifting herself to others. Obedience to her call to mission was, for Sister, a way of life.

From 1926 to 1944 Sister worked tirelessly in the Philippines with the exception of one year in Hong Kong. During that time she returned once to Seattle, in 1935, accompanying her own blood sister, Sister Mary Frederick, who was dying. The two sisters renewed their vows together as they watched the sunrise the morning Sister Frederick was scheduled for surgery, from which she never recovered. In 1944, Sister Marie de Lourdes returned to mission USA in Los Angeles followed by Bethany, Valley Park and The Center, always extending a healing hand both to broken bodies and bruised spirits.

Since 1957 Sister was a member of the Staff at Bethany. In recent years, she was both assistant sacristan and organist; she took as a special focus, ministry to the dying, being present both praying with and serving her Sisters. Holy Week was an especially busy time and it was shortly after that she contracted the cold which ultimately progressed into pneumonia and her final call from the Lord.

Just as we found Sister’s life among us both an example and an inspiration, so, too, the hospital staff at Phelps, who remarked repeatedly, “She’s such a nice lady” and responded with great sensitivity to her delicacy and gentleness. They, as we, had experienced the truth expressed by her spiritual director years before that Sister Marie de Lourdes was, indeed, “an exceptionally good, pious and zealous person.”

As we celebrate Sister’s new life with the Lord in today’s Eucharist, we, at the same time, offer our sincerest sympathy to her family and friends. We unite our prayers particularly with those of our Bethany Sisters who feel greatly the loss of Sister’s presence among them. As we celebrate together this Liturgy for and with Sister Marie de Lourdes.

“May the great obedience
Which in Christ we see
Perfect all our service:
Then we shall be free!”