Sister Mary Donahue, MM

Born: March 13, 1917
Entered: July 2, 1941
Died: July 14, 1997

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed.” These words, taken from today’s Liturgy of the Resurrection, beautifully describe the life of our Sister Mary Donahue. Sister died peacefully in the Residential Care Unit at Maryknoll, New York ,at 9:50 a.m., July 14, 1997. Sister’s last mission assignment was among the Navajo in Tohatchi, New Mexico. How fitting it is that she would enter into the fullness of life on the feast of St. Kateri Tekawitha!

Mary Barbara Donahue was born March 13, 1917, in Woburn, Massachusetts, to Margaret McElhenney and John Donahue. She had one sister and three brothers.

Mary received her early education at Woburn High School and worked for several years before entering Maryknoll on July 2, 1941, at the age of twenty-four. At Reception she received the religious name of Sister Regina Cordis. Shortly after making her First Profession on March 7, 1944, she was assigned to Hawaii where she taught in the Kindergarten in Waialua. It was in Waialua that she made her Final Profession three years later. In 1950, she returned to New York to enter the Center Cloister and remained there for eight years.

From 1961 to 1969, Sister taught religion in Walterboro, South Carolina, and later at the Novitiate in Topsfield, Massachusetts. After returning to the Center to attend Mary Rogers College she went to Boston Chinatown and continued to do catechetical work. In 1972, she was transferred to Gallup, New Mexico, where she worked in religious education among the Native Americans in the San Rafael Mission. She helped to form small Christian Communities and did home visiting and hospital visiting. Sister Dennis McCarthy who worked with Sister Mary recalled a time when they visited an elderly Navajo women who was dying of cancer. Sister Mary was so present to her. To comfort the woman she sang two of her favorite hymns. At the end of the visit, the dying woman had a beautiful, serene smile on her face.

The Mission at San Rafael was without a priest and Sister Mary helped administer and coordinate the parish. In evaluating her own work at that time, she wrote, “We two Sisters are the first Sisters here and are appreciated by the people. Our CCD Program has definitely brought rejuvenation to the parish, and our personal interest and love for the people, we are told, give them a feeling of belonging to the Church more than ever.”

Blessed with a beautiful voice, Sister Mary loved to sing and she led the choir and congregation in song during the Eucharistic Celebrations on Sunday in the parish. During the week at morning Lauds and also during Evening Prayer she would enhance the worship service by leading everyone in a favorite hymn.

Those who have known and lived in mission with Mary describes her as a person who loved people. She fought for their rights, visited with them and helped them in their need. Long after she left Hawaii and Boston Chinatown, the people she worked with kept asking the Sisters for news of her. Sister Mary was particularly interested in young people and felt they should get more attention. She found that working with the church choir gave her an excellent opportunity to get to know them and the trips and activities she arranged with them broadened their outlook and horizons.

During this time, Sister was elected and served as President of the Diocesan Sisters Senate from 1973-1974 while continuing her work in pastoral ministry. Diminishing health brought her back to Maryknoll, New York, in 1981.

Sister’s health continued to decline throughout the years. The spirit in which she accepted her illness deeply inspired the Sisters who met her. In 1986, after she visited our Sisters in Terryville, Connecticut, one of the Sisters in that community who was so impressed with Sister Mary’s acceptance of her suffering, wrote the following:

“When Sister Mary stayed with us in Terryville for a few weeks she showed some evidence of her approaching illness. Soon after the doctor informed her that her condition would become progressively worse, Sister said, ‘I can now accept it as God’s will for me.’ So she made her offering to God with knowledge of her sufferings.”

Sister Mary made many friends who appreciated her and wrote of her “genuineness, buoyancy and expansive spirit.” The Sisters who lived with her described her as “lovely, joyous, generous and adaptable.” We shall miss her but rejoice that she is now with the Risen Lord in the fullness of life promised by our God.

We extend our sincere sympathy to Sister Mary’s family and friends, and thank our Maryknoll brother, Father Bill Mullan, who will lead us in this Celebration of the Eucharist.