Sister Susan Lonergan, MM
Born: October 19, 1903
Entered: April 5, 1929
Died: February 10, 1991
On the evening of February 10, 1991, Sister Susan Lonergan slipped off to meet her Beloved God, just as quietly as she had lived her life these past 62 years in Maryknoll.
Susan Josephine Lonergan was born on October 19, 1903 in Charlestown, Massachusetts to Susan Doherty and Bernard Lonergan, the last child in a family of four brothers and three sisters. Susan’s mother died when Susan was just three years old and so her father, older brothers and sisters, especially her sister May, cared for her in those early years. Susan attended Bunker Hill Grade School and Charlestown High School, finishing her education at Somerville High School in 1921. After graduation, Susan worked as a bookkeeper for six years before coming to Maryknoll on April 5, 1929.
Soon after finishing high school, Susan attended a meeting of the Catholic Women’s Club at St. Benedict’s Parish in Boston and Father James A. Walsh was the speaker and in the course of his talk showed slides of the “mission lands”. It was Father Walsh who first sparked an interest in the missions for Susan. During her years of working after graduation, she assisted with the catechetical instruction of the children of the parish, as well as being a member of the Sodality. On entering Maryknoll, her pastor Father John Hogan described her as a “splendid woman, an example of fidelity in the service of God”. And when asked why she wanted to become a Maryknoll Sister, she answered in her simple, concise manner, “To serve God better.”
At Reception on October 28, 1929, Susan was given the name, Sister Bernardus, which she retained until 1972, when she asked to return to her baptismal name. At the time of her Reception, Susan wrote a prayer that was later found in her copy of the Constitutions by Mother Mary Joseph. Susan prayed, “My Dearest Jesus, grant that on this day of my reception into the Maryknoll Community, I may give Thee my whole heart and soul; and that my mind may be united to Your Mind, my soul to Your Soul and my will to Your Will.” Then she went on to pray for her beloved family, for the people who helped her come to Maryknoll, and finally one last prayer for Mother Mary Joseph and all Maryknollers.
Soon after First Profession in 1931, Sister Susan was assigned to Hawaii and taught at St. Anthony’s Grade School in Kalihi for 10 years. These were happy years and in a letter to Mother Mary Joseph, when she was assigned back to the Center, she expresses both her happiness to be returning to the Knoll and her sadness over the separation from Kalihi and her life there. In her own words she said, “How happy I am to be going home to be with you and all our Sisters again…It is well worth the pain as I can still help the Sisters and the people by my prayers.” She ended the letter with these words, “That is one thing the Missions do, Mother, make us realize the value of prayer.” This time also proved to be an opportunity to be close and to comfort her invalid father.
For the next five years, Sister spent a great deal of time in the Infirmary or in the hospital. In 1946 when her health improved, she was able to go to Seattle, then Mountain View and finally to Monrovia to share her bookkeeping skills and her mission spirit with the communities there. In an interview she gave in 1967 upon her return to Maryknoll, she was asked what she considered the most pressing problem facing the Church in these areas. Again, her care and concern for others are expressed in her answer. “To help the people realize their own dignity and value as persons and their need to love and serve others…”
On October 14, 1979, at the celebration of her Golden Jubilee, Sister wrote, “These Fifty Golden years have been precious ones. Mission is still my whole life.”
After some time in the finance department, Sister retired in 1972. Then a few years later, due to failing health, she moved to the Nursing Home where she spent her remaining years.
Father Thomas Egan, MM, is here to celebrate with us this gift of life given to us through our Sisters Margaret Marie and Susan.