Sister Nancy Donovan, MM

Born: June 22, 1932
Entered: September 6, 1950
Died: March 17, 2011

A true daughter of Erin, Sister Nancy Donovan went home to her Creator God on March 17, 2011, the feast day of St. Patrick, patron Saint of Ireland! Like Patrick, Nancy was a woman of deep faith and commitment to justice for the poor of the world. She was 78 years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister 60 years. As she lived generously, so she died generously donating her body to the Westchester School of Medicine for medical research. In the last six months Nancy communicated mainly through her smile and a quiet awareness of all that what was happening around her. The nursing staff will remember her by her smile and blue Irish eyes. Since 2008 Nancy has been a member of the Eden community, gracing everyone with her gentleness.

Nancy Louise Donovan was born June 22, 1932, in Waterbury, Connecticut, to Elizabeth (Casey) Donovan and James Purtill Donovan. She had one brother and three sisters.

Nancy studied at Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury graduating in 1950. She entered Maryknoll from Sacred Heart Parish in Hartford, CT, in September, 1950. In a recommendation letter from a Sister who knew her well in high school, she was described as “a girl who does the unglamorous jobs behind the scenes as willingly as another will take a ‘center stage’ job.”

She made her First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1953 at Maryknoll in Ossining, NY, and later received a B.E. degree from Maryknoll Teachers’ College in 1956. Her Final Vows were celebrated on the same date in 1959 in Guatemala.

Sister Nancy worked in the countries of Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico for almost 40 years, especially with the indigenous people of these regions. After studying Spanish, she was assigned to Nicaragua in 1957 where she taught grade school for two years in Siuna, a remote jungle area. Next she was assigned to Guatemala where she continued teaching for 9 years, first at the Monte Maria School in Guatemala City and later in the rural areas of San Miguel Acatan, Huehuetenango. In 1968 she was sent to the Yucatan peninsula in Merida, Mexico, where she became principal of San Sebastian School. Four years later Sister Nancy returned to the U.S. to do mission education for two years in Catholic parishes and schools in the Chicago area.

In 1973 she went to the rural community of Bachajon to a new work with adults in community development and pastoral ministry under Bishop Samuel Ruiz in the Diocese of Chiapas in Southern Mexico. Sr. Nancy considered the experience of living and working among the indigenous peoples to be one of the most valuable of her mission life. Nancy noted that this was a great preparation for her return to Nicaragua in 1981 after an absence of more than twenty years. Nancy found Nicaragua vastly different from the country that she had left in 1959.

The Sandinista Revolution had taken place and the country was struggling to rebuild itself after a devastating civil war. She first began pastoral work in the northern town Ocotal and later went to nearby San Juan de Limay. The peoples of this north-eastern border lived with great political insecurity and dire poverty. Many of the local people had either been killed or kidnapped. Sister Nancy herself was kidnapped on January 8, 1985, by a U.S. government contra group and held for more than eight hours. There was an outcry of love and concern by the people of San Juan de Limay for Nancy, their sister and friend.

In 1987 she began working among the Sumu indigenous people in Rosita, Nicaragua. Sister Nancy with her co-workers helped facilitate the social, medical and religious needs of the Sumu people, assisting them in the formation of leaders to address these needs of the people. In 1994, she received a letter of commendation from The Rigoberta Menchu Center of Formation of Sumu Women. They thanked Sister Nancy for her valuable contribution made with much care, in favor of the Sumu ethnic minority, particularly the women, in their struggle to preserve, now and into the future, their ethnic identity, culture and language, even their survival.

Sister Nancy returned once more to the U.S. to do mission awareness promotion on the West Coast 1995 through 1998. Once again she returned to Nicaragua for two more years. She was assigned to the Sisters Retirement Community in Monrovia, CA, in 2001 and transferred to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in New York in 2003 due to health concerns. She was assigned Guatemala as her prayer ministry. In 2008 she moved to the Maryknoll Sisters Residential Care where she resided until her death. We extend our gratitude to all the Maryknoll Residential Care staff for their wonderful care of Nancy throughout these three years.

We are happy to welcome today Nancy’s family and friends.

We also welcome and thank our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Kevin Hanlon, who will preside at this Memorial Liturgy to remember Sr. Nancy. Thank you for accompanying us.