Sister Mary Walsh, MM

Born: April 9, 1903
Entered: October 15, 1929
Died: October 24, 1996

For his sake, I have forfeited everything…so that Christ may be my wealth” (Phil. 3:8) words taken from today’s first reading especially chosen by Sr. Mary Walsh for this Liturgy of the Resurrection. They are words that aptly describe the life of our Sister who came to Maryknoll “to serve God” and who lived her 93 years of meaningful service. In the early evening on October 24th, while three of our Sisters were with her in prayer she had a smile on her face and as they sang the last note of the Salve, Sr. Mary entered eternal life.

My recollection of Sr. Mary Walsh goes back to the days when, for our Reflection Year, we attended Core Theology classes at the Maryknoll Seminary in the mid-70s. She was very friendly and approachable. The students and the faculty related very well with her. She attended to everyone who came to the Rector’s office. Then there were others who would come back from mission overseas and Sr. Mary was there to listen to their stories. Her thoughtful presence was her mission and she offered it with zest and always with a loving smile.

When she joined Maryknoll in 1929, she brought her skills as secretary which were put to immediate use at the Office of James Anthony Walsh, the co-founder of the Maryknoll Society. After Canonical Year, she returned to this office working for James Anthony Walsh, the Superior General and for Father Patrick J. Byrne, the Assistant General. Then in 1934, she became secretary to Fr. John J. Considine, who was Secretary General until 1945. It was during this time, in 1941 that Mary Assisi authored the Maryknoll Manual of Correspondence Practice for use in offices in the Public Relations Department.

The next three years, she was assigned to Stockton, California with three other Sisters to open a new house. There she did catechetical work and home visiting. In 1947, Mary did secretarial work in the Maryknoll Sanatorium in Monrovia, California. After 3 years, she returned to Stockton to assist Sr. Mary Xavier O’Donnell in the Social Service Office. Later, she was assigned to work for 11 years for the Congregation’s General Council. Specifically she was secretary to Sisters Victoria Francis Larmour in the Decennial Office and Sr. Mary Paul McKenna and later to Sr. Rose Agnes Duross, then Vocation Directors.

Mary served as a 2nd Councillor here at the Center in 1959 and in the Fall of 1963 she was assigned to Topsfield as Assistant Superior to work with Sr. Mary Trinita and Sister Scholastica. This assignment was to be short-lived as Mother Mary Coleman asked her to consider the request from “our good Maryknoll Fathers” for more qualified help. Seeing that “the need is greater,” the Sisters decided to cover her work in Topsfield and support her in assisting the Seminary Rector, Fr. Albert Fedders. From then until 1986, she worked at the Rector’s Office for 9 consecutive Rectors who consistently affirmed her role as an outstanding co-worker. She is remembered especially for her great ability to relate to the students and faculty alike. Fr. Fedders was succeeded by Frs. Weber, Glomski, and Cappel.

Fr. Tom Keefe, the Maryknoll Seminary Rector in 1971, who is with us today wrote  lengthily about Mary’s contribution to the Rector’s office. Mary was 68 at the time and would have been affected by the new retirement policy, but her service was deemed very important. He said,”… Sister manages to do excellent work because of her dedication and extreme sense of responsibility. .It would be most difficult to find someone to replace her who put in the time on the job that Sister puts in generously and selflessly. Her competency makes her indispensable at the present time.”

Another Rector, Lawrence Schanberger, noted her creativity, initiative, and good judgment, her approachability and deep interest in student life in general. Students and faculty frequently called on her. He wrote, “In summary, I am blessed with her presence. Her great interest and devotion to the work of Maryknoll cannot be measured in terms of salary and contract. I esteem and appreciate her contribution very much.”

Consistently, her contribution as Executive Secretary to the Rector of Maryknoll Seminary was considered outstanding. James R. Whitmore wrote about her efficiency and a high spirit of generosity and dedication as well as the warm relationship she had toward the faculty, students, and others at the Maryknoll Center. John J. Corcoran mentioned that Mary gave “continuity to the Office and entire administration of the Seminary.” Bernard Byrne affirmed her competency, dependability and generosity.

Sr. Mary Josephine Walsh, formerly Sister Mary Assisi was born on April 9, 1903 in Jamaica Plain, Mass. to Elizabeth Nagle and Patrick Walsh. She had two brothers and 5 sisters, all deceased. She attended Leo XII Grammar School and Central Evening High School in Boston. She finished a 2-year course at Cheverus Commercial where she specialized in general office work, stenography and bookkeeping and had one year at Boston College. Before coming to Maryknoll, she worked at American Mutual Insurance Co. and First National Bank in Boston. She entered on October 15, 1925 from the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Boston, but left in January 1926 for health reasons. She re-entered on October 15, 1929; had First Profession on January 6, 1932 and Final Profession on January 6, 1935 at Maryknoll, NY.

It was on the occasion of her Final Profession that the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Maryknoll was given to her by Father, later Bishop Patrick J. Byrne for whom she worked when he was Assistant General. The statue which she left to us “with all love, gratitude and happiness that I have experienced over the years” stands today in front of the altar for this liturgy. It was the first wood statue of Our Lady of Maryknoll and Mary Assisi recalled that Fr. Byrne, although Vicar General, had to get written permission from Bishop James A. Walsh, who was seriously ill in Florida at that time. At the base of the statue reads the following inscription: “To Sister Assisi, in grateful appreciation of your devoted helpfulness, and hoping for a daily memento” Pang Sinpu (Fr. Patrick J. Byrne, 1/23/35.)

Mary Walsh was a very grateful Sister. In community, she is remembered as someone who was kind, gentle, thoughtful, patient, and appreciative of anyone who could do anything for her. Her smile was her gift to those around her; she brought delight to others and was constantly interested in our mission stories. Gilmary Simmons remarked at the wake that “her smile could sell anything, even raffle tickets for the bazaar!” She also had a quiet and contemplative way about her. Her collections reveal that she valued excerpts from Thomas Merton, Dag Hammarskjold, and many of the mystics, saints, and spiritual giants of her time. She rejoiced in her “Maryknoll vocation and thanked God for the privilege of serving Him these many years as a Maryknoll Sister.” She wrote about her “38 happy years of service with the Maryknoll Fathers, for which I shall be forever grateful.”

At the age of 86, Mary Walsh ended her administrative and pastoral ministry at the Maryknoll Seminary. Fr. Robert E. Sheridan wrote: “She possesses a vast knowledge of many generations of seminarians and combined this with a limitless availability for service to major assets much appreciated.” Then she came to the other side of the road to work part-time in the Congregation’s Treasury Department. She worked here for a year. At 89, she was admitted to the Residential Care Unit in 1992. Sr. Pat Noland, remarked how much she loved her family and the Maryknollers.

Last evening at the wake, Sister Claudette LaVerdiere affirmed a most precious gift that Mary Walsh has bequeathed to us – her deep sense of appreciation for our Maryknoll priests and brothers. Mary was for us a bridge and a dedicated ambassador of goodwill. Her ministry of 38 years at the Maryknoll Seminary was generously given to nurturing relationships among so many members of the Maryknoll family. In many ways, she continued the caring presence that Mother Mary Joseph had for “her seminarians.”

We are grateful to have with us Father Tom Keefe, our Maryknoll brother, one of the Seminary Rectors with whom Mary worked. It is but fitting that Tom preside at this Liturgy of the Resurrection to celebrate with us the beginning of Sister Mary Walsh’s risen life. We are grateful for her life and we know now that she is in the company of our Maryknoll Founders and Foundress, our Maryknoll saints and martyrs. To her who wanted to be remembered “as trying to live Christ on earth” we give our thanks and appreciation. Let us praise God and celebrate the life of our Sister who showed us that Christ was her wealth and who gave all she had for mission.