“Sister Marie was just absolutely, completely and totally dedicated to Mercy High School,” remembered Mary Beth Lennon, president of the all-girls school and a member of the class of 1985.
Sister Marie ran Human Development Services, the school’s equivalent of a guidance counseling department, and also taught, including Lennon’s future studies class.
“She really urged my classmates and me to fulfill our fullest potential,” Lennon added. “She really wanted us to go out and be the women that God wanted us to be.”
A native of South Dakota, Sister Marie first came to Baltimore in 1948 as a student at the former Mount St. Agnes College, according to an obituary written by her friend and colleague, Mercy Sister Augusta Reilly.
Sister Marie joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1950. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she began her ministry in 1953 as an elementary school teacher at the former Mount Washington Country School for Boys in Baltimore, Sister Augusta wrote.
After that, Sister Marie spent the next three years teaching elementary classes at St. Mary’s School, in Mobile, Ala. As the eldest of nine children, Sister Augusta, then in high school, got to know Sister Marie when she picked up her two younger brothers at St. Mary’s.
“Sister Marie had a way of encouraging people that was truly unique,” Sister Augusta, who now lives in Baltimore, told the Catholic Review.
She added that her brothers – one of whom became an FBI agent, the other an executive at Procter and Gamble – benefitted from the young nun’s tutelage.
“She made my brother, Danny, understand that if he worked he could do a lot with his life,” she said, “and he did.”
Apparently Sister Marie helped the teenaged Sister Augusta understand the same thing.
When Sister Marie returned to Baltimore in the late 1950s, Sister Augusta wrote, she was singled out by her order’s provincial superior, Mother Stella Maris Bergin, as “just the person to answer the growing demand for developing special education programs at Catholic elementary schools.”
Sister Marie taught and eventually headed special education programs in both the Baltimore and Atlanta archdioceses into the early 1970s, according to Sister Augusta.
After earning a master’s degree in psychology and special education and taking a sabbatical of independent study, Sister Marie began her four decades on the faculty at Mercy High School in 1973.
Mercy Sister Carol Wheeler, who served as Mercy High School’s president and principal for 36 years, starting in 1977, remembered Sister Marie’s ability “to be both challenging to kids and supportive at the same time.”
She didn’t limit her support and encouragement to students. When a parent was struggling with the apparent heedlessness of a daughter, Sister Marie told them to keep guiding them.Her saying was, “Everything goes in,” according to Sister Carol, meaning that despite appearances, children were listening to their parents.
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