Sister Mary Jean Hanavan

Written on: July 10, 2011

The following reflection was delivered by Sister Julia Lanigan at the funeral liturgy on July 13, 2011

“Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His faithful ones….” We’ve prayed these words together so often, yet how deeply meaningful they become at moments like this as we come together to remember and to bid farewell to Sister Mary Jean Hanavan—Mary Irene Hanavan—our beloved sister, Aunt, teacher and dear friend.

Those who were here for the memorial service last evening heard many Sisters—especially her former students—sharing fond memories of Sister Mary Jean. Their stories repeatedly described her graciousness, her concern for others, her love of her students, her faithfulness to religious life, and her constant attitude of gratitude. What a wonderful legacy to leave with us!

Sister Mary Jean was born to Eugene and Leona Hanavan in South Buffalo in 1918. She was raised there with her brother Eugene and her sister Ruth and remained staunchly devoted to both of them and their children—and to her South Buffalo roots—throughout her life. Prior to joining the Grey Nuns in 1940, Sister Mary Jean graduated from St. Teresa’s School, Nardin Academy and D’Youville College. Immediately after joining the Grey Nuns, she began her 63-years of educational ministry at Melrose Academy where she taught for two years, one year on each side of her formal year of Canonical novitiate. From there she went on to her beloved Holy Angels Academy where she spent 59 of the next 61 years, leaving only for a two-year stint at St. Mary’s Academy in Ogdensburg.

At Holy Angels Academy Sister Mary Jean taught religion and math, particularly geometry. She loved her students and many kept in touch with her over the years. She was noted for reminding them frequently of the importance of good posture and genteel behavior in addition to academic excellence. After leaving the classroom, she continued to be a constant presence in the school, assisting with attendance and keeping up with the lives of students, faculty, parents and alums.

In 2004 Sister Mary Jean moved to the Motherhouse due to failing health. Although she left Holy Angels and Buffalo with a heavy heart and great reluctance, she transitioned to life in Yardley with her typical graciousness toward all. Although she promptly engaged herself in activities here, she maintained a lively interest in all things related to Holy Angels Academy, her family and Buffalo. This year was Holy Angels Academy’s 150th anniversary and in April it held a special Gala and Auction as a major event of this celebration. That evening Mrs. Joan Thomas, President of the Academy, read the following note that she had received from Sister Mary Jean to the attendees:

Dear Joan and the Holy Angels Family,

How I wish I could be with you! I would love to see each
one of you and celebrate the years we were together at our
beloved HAA. I wish you only the best in the years ahead. Let us
continue to be united in prayer! May our dear Lord bless each
one of you with His choicest blessings!

It was clear from the applause of the crowd that Sister Mary Jean’s fondness for Holy Angels Academy was definitely not one-sided!

As Sister Mary Jean “settled in” at the Motherhouse, her gracious presence became a pervasive influence here as well. Although she came to rely on a wheelchair to get around, she definitely didn’t allow that to curtail her independence. Though her legs weren’t good, there was nothing wrong with her vision or her hearing. She quietly walked herself around in the wheelchair, slowly but surely getting around to most parts of the house in the course of the day. She read all the notices and newspapers and visited with Sisters and staff as she made her round and was known to enjoy a good game of cards. She loved the outdoors as well and took every opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the grounds. When she couldn’t get herself out anymore, she enjoyed views of the courtyard and its flowers, often sitting at the open door to it as long as the weather wasn’t cold.

In 2009 Sister Mary Jean was one of the original five Sisters to move from Providence Hall to D’Youville Manor. In her typical fashion, she accepted the move graciously, expressing gratitude to those who helped her move her personal belongings. The difference between a lovely licensed facility designed for lay residents and the convent-sized bedrooms to which she was accustomed was clearly surprising to her. As many of you heard last night, she was delighted with her new room with its wonderful “blue” décor. When she first visited the room after hearing that five Sisters were going to move, I asked her how she liked it. She looked at me wide-eyed and said, “It’s beautiful, but all five of us could live in just this one. I can’t believe it’s just for me!”

Once settled in her new location, she continued to express gratitude for her good fortune and to enjoy meals with the Sisters in the Motherhouse dining room—especially deserts—as well as her daily excursions around the house. When Sister Kay Healy arrived and began to assist her with things like caring for her clothes and letter-writing, she was glad for her companionship and welcomed her assistance—as long as it didn’t involve too much fussing about straightening out the clutter in her room which she rather enjoyed! And after all, she didn’t choose to spend much of her time in there anyway.

When her health finally necessitated her moving to St. Joseph Manor, Sister Mary Jean again made the transition with graciousness and gratitude. Once finally confined to her room, she still enjoyed visitors, thanking each one for coming and thanking the staff for everything they did for her. She quickly became one of their favorite residents as she had been one of ours.

With our own hearts filled with gratitude for the life that she so generously shared, we now commend Sister Mary Jean to the loving Heart of Jesus. May she rest there in peace and joy forevermore.

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