She intended to marry Jackie Donahue, but…

Written on: February 25, 2016

When I was very young I had some peculiar ideas about SISTERS.  For example, when our parish held an Open House at the Convent before the sisters moved in, I was genuinely shocked to find bathrooms in the new building.  It never occurred to me that in addition to their faces and hands which were all that I could see, the sisters had the other body parts common to us all.  It was quite a revelation!

Starting Catholic school definitely complicated my love life.  Prior to that event, it was already settled that my best friend and neighbor, Jackie Donahue, and I would marry when we grew up.  As we progressed in the primary grades we each became aware of a religious vocation, but creatively combined both vocations:

“…we would still marry but Jackie would live in the rectory with the other priests and I would live in the convent with the other sisters. No problem!”

It’s amusing to remember the “certainties” of one’s childhood and the ease with which difficulties were dealt.

From time to time Missionaries would visit our classes and describe their work in faraway lands…

In the middle and upper grades my friend Dolores already knew that she would go to China as a Missionary.  I didn’t want to go to China [It was much too far from Weymouth Street!] but sometimes I raised my hand to volunteer for the Missions just because my best friend did. 

Interesting that in later years both Dolores and I became Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart.  She didn’t go to China which was closed to Missionary activity for many years, but I volunteered for Peru and spent seven years with the amazing parishioners of St. Norbert’s parish in Lima.  Who knew?

Sisters from nine different Religious Congregations taught at Little Flower High School in Philadelphia when Dolores and I attained the lofty status of Freshman. Each group had different garb and we students spent a great deal of time comparing the merits of color, habit design and the general characteristics of each different congregation.  We also began to notice that “normal girls” [as opposed to “goody-goody types”] entered religious life.  At the end of my freshman year, a classmate entered the Little Sisters of the Poor.  They didn’t teach at our school, but they had a home for the sick and elderly poor nearby.  As soon as Mary Anne turned sixteen she joined them.  I missed her and wondered how she could be so certain of her decision.  I admired her then and I still do.

I met the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in my senior year when Sister Mary Jane, newly arrived from Buffalo, NY, came to teach National Problems.  By that time I was preparing for nursing.  I supposed I would enter religious life after nurse’s training.  God had other plans.  Sister Mary Jane’s classes were stimulating.  More importantly, she was interested in us and treated each one as a unique person.  I often sought her company and advice. Eventually I realized that it would be selfish to have my family put me through nursing school.  With Sr. Mary Jane’s guidance I entered the Grey Nuns the September after graduation instead of Nursing School.  I eventually became a teacher, then a principal, then a missionary.  Now I am an archivist.  Who knows what God has planned next?

As for Jackie Donahue, we parted on the best of terms.Mary Karen

Sister Mary Karen Kelly GNSH


Thank you Sister Mary Karen for sharing your interesting journey with us!

If you are not a “goody-goody” but are interested in religious life, please contact our vocation director!


2 thoughts on “She intended to marry Jackie Donahue, but…

  1. Mary Ann Bentz says:

    So nice to know the story behind Sr.Mary Karen’s wonderful vocation and to see a picture of her now, still ready to keep doing good work for the Lord.

    1. Mary Karen Kelly says:

      Thanks, Mary Ann. I celebrated sixty years as a Grey Nun last spring; Sister Dolores will celebrate sixty years this May. God is good!
      Blessings on you & all your family.
      Sister Mary Karen

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