Memorial Mass honors life of former rector Sister Mary McNamara
Natalie Weber | Friday, February 16, 2018
Relatives, members of the Notre Dame community and Sisters of the Incarnate Word gathered Thursday to honor the life of Sister Mary McNamara, the rector of Breen-Phillips Hall, who died Feb. 7 due to complications from a stroke.
University President Fr. John Jenkins presided over a memorial mass held in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Fr. Pete McCormick, director of Campus Ministry, delivered the homily in which he recalled the times when Sister McNamara invited him to say Mass at Breen-Phillips Hall (BP).
“[McNamara] would always start by standing and thanking everyone who attended, saying ‘I recognize there are a number of places you could attend Mass this night but you honor us with your presence to be here in BP.’ My brothers and sisters, on this night we remember a woman of great faith, a woman who witnessed her religious vows to so many people,” McCormick said. “We honor her by your presence as we gather in prayer.”
Sister McNamara usually began Mass with a joke, McCormick said. In honor of this tradition, McCormick opened his remarks with a joke, telling the story of a young man who collect-called his father in need of money. McCormick said like the father in the joke, who eventually suggests the phone operator pay the son in his place, people often wish others could “pay” their grief.
“You know, I think sometimes in grief, when we lose a loved one, it feels a whole lot like ‘Man, I wish someone else could pay this grief’ because we feel it in every part of our being,” McCormick said. “Some days are good, some days are bad. And let’s be perfectly honest, sometimes it’s broken down into seconds. Some minutes are good, some minutes are bad.”
McCormick recounted the words of Fr. Henri Nouwen, who reflected on preparing for death by living a “fruitful” life.
“I love this notion of preparing for your death, mainly because it has far less to do with how we die and it has far more to do with how we live,” he said. “And we of the Christian faith and tradition have no greater example than Jesus. Jesus demonstrated how to die, to die for one’s friends, to die in service to others, pointing towards a greater reality.”
McCormick said while those gathered mourned the passing of Sister McNamara, they also celebrated the joy she exhibited in her own life.
“We gather in sadness, but we also gather in gratitude, gratitude for a woman who lived her life to the fullest,” he said. “A woman that spoke to us exactly what it meant to rejoice.”
Following the Mass, Sister Margaret Taylor of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, — Sister McNamara’s religious congregation — recounted Sister McNamara’s love for the Breen-Phillips community.
“First, I want you to know that being rector of Breen-Phillips these last six years has been her dream job,” Taylor said. “ … She was thrilled to be accepted as the rector of BP in July of 2012 and she hoped this ministry would last until her retirement.”
Residents of Breen-Phillips Hall filled the pews, wearing pink shirts marked with the words “We live in hope,” one of Sister McNamara’s favorite sayings. Taylor reflected on these words, saying Sister McNamara’s life was shaped by her faith.
“[McNamara] would often to say ‘We live in hope’ and we say the same tonight because we know we will see her again,” Taylor said. “What she experienced the last week of her life was truly her own paschal mystery. At her bedside, we witnessed the motto of the Holy Cross Congregation: ‘Hail the cross, our only hope.’ We are grateful for her 51 years of prayer and presence as a Sister of the Incarnate Word.”