Sister Mary Agnes Duross, MM

Born: May 7, 1910
Entered: December 8, 1931
Died: December 20, 1995

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am… I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.” (John 17: 24,26) – words taken from today’s Gospel reading chosen by her friends here at the Center which reflect the message that Sister Mary Duross’ life conveyed through her 85 years, 64 of which were spent in Maryknoll. Indeed, Mary’s years with us were a witness to God’s love for her and those she loved – the Sisters with whom she lived and worked and her own family – those whom God gave her to have in her company. These past months and weeks radiated deep peace and calm as she waited for her entrance into new life. Her death finally came on December 20, 1995 at 12:15 in the morning.

Mary Duross, formerly Sister Rose Agnes, lived these years in Maryknoll with great zest for life. I only knew Mary these past years here at the Center when she was still able to enjoy a bridge game with friends on the 4th floor. I also knew her as a person with great understanding for when things got difficult. These two instances are merely a glimpse into the person whom I will now share with you in appreciation for all that she had been for us in Maryknoll.

Many of her friends here at the Center remember her as someone easy to live with, interested in people and as a “ray of sunshine no matter how dark it was.” It is quite fitting that Mary slipped into God’s full presence at Christmas time when a deep sense of hope prevails in the midst of winter here at Maryknoll as we celebrate the birth of the Child Jesus, the Prince of Peace, our Saviour.

One of the special gifts Mary brought to Maryknoll was the experience of being loved and of being part of a big family. She continued to expand this family when she joined Maryknoll. She had great love for them and was very close to them. She had three brothers: Charles, Neil, and Thomas, who became a Jesuit priest; and five Sisters: Catherine, Agnes, Elizabeth, Parthenia, and Anna.

Mary was born to Anna Teresa Mulry and Charles Edward Duross on May 7, 1910, the sixth of 9 children. She was baptized as Miriam in the Church of the Ascension, New York. She went to the Academy of St. Ursula, New York City for Grammar and High School, then to Mount St. Vincent College where she received a B.A. in Specialized Science in 1931. Months later, she joined Maryknoll on December 8, 1931. She made her First Profession on June 30, 1933 and her Final Profession on the same day in 1937 on Maui.

All through her life, she enjoyed being in mission. She wrote that “she grew up with the idea” and had special preference for work with foreign missions. She wanted to join Maryknoll “to save my soul by serving God in the best possible manner, to save as many souls as possible.” Her first assignment was to Hawaii in 1934 where she taught grades 2-8 for several months only. Then she was assigned to Wailuku, Maui where she taught mostly Science subjects to grades 2-12 in 1935-46. One of her former students, Sr. Bea Carvalho, remembers her as an excellent and creative teacher and having “great confidence in the students.” To her, Rose Agnes’ presence was uplifting; she was a real model. Sr. Margaret Hart remembers specifically the experience they had together with the Brownies. Others mention the fun times – excursions and picnics – she organized. She also worked with the parents, families and adults in the community. Sr. Isabel Rabbon, recalls how Mary would visit her family often and learn to speak Ilocano from her mother. Isabel’s parents were immigrants and were delighted to have her come. Bea’s and Isabel’s families loved her and kept in touch with her through the years. That was the way it was with so many she knew in her 55 years in Hawaii.

As a Sister in community, she is remembered as someone who was open to suggestions, tolerant of the other’s difference, and one with a listening ear. She was fair and understanding, helpful and thoughtful. Many Sisters recall her delightful and kindly sense of humor. “She did a great deal toward keeping the house happy” and communicated her own peace and calmness. In 1946, Mary became a Superior and Principal in the Maui mission; in 1952 she was assigned to be the Regional Superior. She was also local superior in Punahou in 1955-58. She was elected delegate to the 1946, 1952, and 1958 General Chapters. In 1958 she was elected to the General Council for 6 years and was also Vocation Director at the time. Her other assignments were to Colegio Monte Maria, Guatemala City, where she was Superior and Principal for 3 years (1964-67) and to Ancon, Panama where she taught English and music in addition to doing library work (1967-71). Jane Zawadzki writes that in Panama she was “‘held in high regard;’ she demonstrated her ability to organize, to present ideas as well as to execute them with great competency.”

Mary will be remembered for her leadership qualities, her gentle smile and contagious laughter. Many knew her as a friend “who let the one who had made known her grievance see the other side; as one on whom you could count for any problem.” She was knowledgeable and kept up with what was happening in the world. She also spoke her mind and could be forthright with those who disagreed with her but when they got to know her, her kindness always prevailed. She saw to it that what needed to be done was done and she flavored it with kindness and a sense of humor. She gave life when she came around whether it was serious business or simply enjoying each other. Above all, she loved the Sisters and loved her work. She had tremendous joy in living, in being and helping others. Esther Donovan, a good friend, shared: “Everyone who really knew her loved her very much; she was a very good friend to have.”

We welcome Agnes’ family and friends who are here to join us for this Liturgy of the Resurrection. Being with all of you makes this  celebration a complete circle of family and friends that Mary loved. We welcome Fr. Bill Donnelly, our Maryknoll brother, who will lead the liturgy this morning. Bill and Mary have the Guatemala connection in common.

Let us all thank God for the life of Mary Duross, our Sister, who has made known to us and to all she knew in her entire mission life the love that Christ has revealed to us and continues to reveal to us everyday through one another.