Sister Mary Vernard Chapman, MM

Born: December 26, 1896
Entered: November 21, 1920
Died: April 11, 1975

On Friday afternoon, April 11, close to 3:30 p.m., Sister Mary Venard Chapman passed into eternal life. She had been admitted to Phelps Memorial Hospital the evening previous. During the last months of her life, although faced with a rapidly declining condition, she maintained her optimistic spirit. After recuperation, she was up and about, greatly concerned for others, visiting the patients, eating in the dining room and attending Liturgy in the Chapel. When I visited her at Easter time, she expressed contentment to be at Bethany because of her weakened condition. This is remarkable it seems to me since she spent the major part of her Maryknoll life at the Motherhouse, except for four years at the Venard and nine years in residence at Crichton House, commuting daily to the Field Afar Office.

Lily Jane Chapman was born on December 26, 1896 in Rushden, Northamptonshire, England, of an English father and an Irish mother. She came to the U.S.A. in July of 1903 at the age of seven with her mother to join her father who had emigrated from England a few months previous. The family lived in Lynn and later on in Saugus, Massachusetts in Blessed Sacrament Parish, where Lily attended the Parish grammar school. After graduating from grammar school in 1911, she went to work for the General Electric Company in Lynn where for 8 years she worked hard and efficiently as a parts-maker of electric meters and time switches. On her application form for entrance into Maryknoll to the question: “How did you happen to get interested in Maryknoll?”, she wrote in brief but revealing words: “Through Sister Mary Peter and the Field Afar”. When she filled in that statement little did she realize that she would spend 31 years of her mission life at the various desks of the Field Afar (Maryknoll) magazine. Her application was accepted and she entered Maryknoll on November 21, 1920.

Sister Mary Venard made her First Profession of Vows on August 4, 1922 and was assigned to the Venard that same year where she worked in the laundry, rectory and kitchen. She made her final vows at the Venard on August 4, 1925 and returned to the Motherhouse in 1926, at which time she took up her work at the Field Afar magazine office, where she was to spend 31 years of her life in an unsung but nevertheless needed role, donating the gift of herself to the mission education of the U.S. Church and enhancing the Community’s response to mission around the world through the Maryknoll magazine.

In 1957 she was assigned to the Motherhouse Promotion Office, and in 1961 to the Motherhouse Mission Education Secretariat where she worked for ten years. In 1971 she took charge of the audio-visual equipment in Rogers College at which post she faithfully served until ill health necessitated her retirement to Bethany.

The eve before her death, when she was extremely uncomfortable and fully aware of the seriousness of her condition, Sister Mary Venard made three outgoing gestures to her Sisters which were typical of her concern for others ever at a moment of pain: she told Sister Eucharista she wished to give her her very best habit as a parting gift; reminded Sister Madeline Maria Dorsey to read the spiritual bulletin called Daily Word which she had given her as a gift; and congratulated Sister Mary Lou Andrews on the results of the elections for Coordinator of the Senior Region.

What can we say of a life poured out here at the heart of Maryknoll? –a generous missionary heart that remained faithful to the end, responsibly, willingly, and graciously carrying out the duties given to her with love and dedication and the certainty that for those who love God all things work together unto good. This is the kind of self-gift to God on which Maryknoll is built and on which its future depends: a single-hearted, joyous, steadfast, humble, self-forgetting and loyal YES to the call of the Lord Jesus to mission. In Sister Mary Venard’s file are several notes which she wrote to Mother Mary Joseph. In reading these notes I am struck by her docility, unpretentiousness, confident and loving manner with Mother. I would like to quote here a paragraph from a letter written to Mother Mary Joseph in the early 40’s:

“Be assured, Mother dear, of many a fervent
prayer during this time of grace. May I
ask a wee prayer, Mother, that I may be
generous with our Lord and be what He wants
me to be!”

As we look at her life, and celebrate her gentle and peaceful passage into eternity, we can affirm that her favor has been granted… “she has been generous with God and has been what He wanted her to be.”

Please remember our dear Sister Mary Venard with the celebration of the Mass of the Resurrection and give thanks to God that she was and is our sister in Maryknoll.”