Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sister Mary Ann Walsh: The Nuns Who Form Us

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

We’re formed by those around us. As the National Religious Retirement Collection comes up (the collection is December 8-9), I cannot help but think of the many religious who formed me.

Sister Patricia Newell was my fifth grade teacher and advised us students to name our guardian angels. I named mine Michael, as in Michael the Archangel. I’ve called on his protection in large and small ways, asking everything from “Wake me up on time” to “Get me out of here alive” (in that case, a reporting assignment in Beirut.)

Sister Veronica Joyce, my eighth grade teacher saw I finished my work quickly. She also believed that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. So she assigned me to write the class play, class history, class song, class prophecy and whatever else she could think of. She even let me work in my own space, alone in the little used nurse’s office. Years later when I told the story, a fellow nun said, “Wow. She isolated you and got you to think you had your own office!” I still love writing.

Sister Mary Carmel Gaynor taught journalism to a lot of us who went into that field. She hammered “clarity and accuracy” at us over and over again. That guiding principle for the communications business stood as good advice not just for the news business but for life.

Sister Katherine Hanley, an English professor at the College of St .Rose, treated students as if everything they said was deathless prose. It drew us out of ourselves. It was empowering. When I taught, I tried to do the same.

It’s dangerous to name names and if I miss someone, I apologize. Two years ago I faced breast cancer and nuns surrounded me. Amy Hoey, Janice Bader, Linda Werthman, Peg Sullivan, Kay Graber, Jean McGinty, Katie Mindling, Patti Donlin and many more helped run my life when I couldn’t run my own. They prayed with and for me, cooked meals, filled out insurance forms, helped me make wise decisions, accompanied me to appointments and offered encouragement I never dreamed I’d need. Mary Ellen Dougherty, who paused leaving my hospital bedside one night remarked, “God wants you to get better.” I was scared and that never occurred to me, but when she said it, I knew it was true.

Sister Sharon Euart made a quilt with squares gathered from supportive friends and today it hangs in my bedroom. It reminds me that God’s love flows freely to us through many people not because we’ve earned it but because God is goodness itself.

Sister Lilyan Fraher, who this summer as director of my annual retreat, suggested that as I fall off to sleep I ask, “Where did I see the face of God today?” It’s a great way to enter into the night.

None of the above thought what they were doing was extraordinary because such giving is an ordinary part of their lives. That’s how it is with religious sisters, brothers and priests. God’s goodness courses through them; their lives are wordless sermons, and I haven’t even told (or even know) the half of it.


Sister Mary Ann Walsh is a member of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and Director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Editor's Note: To contribute to the Retirement Fund for Religious, visit: or

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