Written on: May 4, 2016
At the Funeral Liturgy for Sister Mary Ellen, Sister Donna Lord shared the following reflection:
Our first reading today urges us, because God has chosen us and loves us, to be clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Mary Ellen knew that God had chosen her and loved her, and she manifested that love in her many friendships and in her ministries. Earlier in life, she was a teacher, dedicated to helping the children learn about our loving God, but also learn the proper way to use the English language.
She was a strong advocate for proper grammar and usage, and for a rich vocabulary. The dictionary was her friend, and it definitely needed to include etymology.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus says: “I am going to prepare a place for you.” Because her heart beat with the Heart of Christ, Mary Ellen was touched by the plight of older people who were in need. She found a way to serve them through Catholic Charities Department of Aging, where for fourteen years she visited older people with all kinds of needs, referred them to places where they could find help, and advocated for them with those agencies.
When doing that ministry was no longer possible for her, she worked one-on-one with a new immigrant, helping her learn the English language so that she could find employment and move toward citizenship.
It is not possible to think of Mary Ellen without thinking of the color purple. She had a passion for purple, mostly purple clothes which she wore with pizzazz. She did like to create drama, and purple helped her do that.
As her life moved forward, her girth changed. At one point heavy, she became slimmer, and her clothes no longer fit. Into the crisis moved her three sisters –Paula, Kathy, and Susie – and took her clothes shopping. Home she would come with new outfits to show off, and they fit her. This scenario was repeated often, including when she was living in the Yardley area, and her fashion advisers had to travel many miles to get her dressed properly.
She loved her three sisters and she loved the shopping excursions.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” says Isaiah the prophet. Good news was part of Mary Ellen’s life, and she proclaimed it loudly. While her feet may not have met the standards of the fashion industry, her voice was eloquent. She was willing to be a spokesperson for persons living with handicaps, and was quite effective. After dining at Betty’s, a Buffalo restaurant, one day, where access was poor, she advocated with the owners until they provided a ramp for persons who use wheelchairs. This became her favorite restaurant, and she patronized them often.
When she herself began to use a wheelchair, she did not let that stop her. She would call paratransit (a wheelchair van), and get picked up at her door and taken to wherever she needed to go.
Living with a handicap, she was advised at one point that playing a musical instrument could help her eye-hand coordination. She began taking piano lessons at the Community Music School, and found a real improvement in her manual dexterity. An article she wrote about the experience was published in a magazine.
One of her great passions in life was her love for classical music. Her radio was on all day long tuned to “the station” which was the classical music station where she was a volunteer for many years and received a special award of which she was very proud. She was known to preach to people in her life, including her housemates, about contributing to the station during their fundraising drive. She saw it as a moral obligation, and felt the rest of us were lax if we withheld funds.
She believed strongly in the need for the Catholic Church to move toward equal roles for women and men. She joined a kind of alternate Catholic community called Spiritus Christi where women and men both took roles of leadership, and inclusive language was used. She worshipped with them weekly.
The last few years have been a kind of purgation for Mary Ellen:
She who spoke so eloquently could hardly speak a few words.
She who enjoyed life so fully existed in a kind of coma.
She who loved music so dearly lost the capacity to listen and enjoy.
Knowing that God makes all things work unto good for those who love God, we can only trust that this lack of engagement and lack of music was preparing her for something greater to come. Now she can appreciate fully being in the presence of her loving God. Now she can listen to the music of the heavenly choir, and enjoy beautiful music more deeply than ever before. May her spirit live on in her family and friends, and in her Grey Nun community, who love her and honor her memory today.
Sister Mary Ellen’s obituary and details about her funeral may be found here