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We live in hope

| Friday, May 17, 2019

Editor’s Note: This letter was originally published on Feb. 9, 2018.

On Wednesday, Sister Mary McNamara — the rector of Breen-Phillips (BP) Hall — was called home to our Lord. This loss is devastating to all who loved this incredible woman –– her community of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word; her BP residents, past and present, whom she shepherded fearlessly and tenderly for the past six years; her family and loved ones; and the entire Notre Dame community.

Sister Mary came to Breen-Phillips during my sophomore year at Notre Dame. We connected instantly as born-and-raised Clevelanders with a mutual love for our city. At the beginning of that school year, I began experiencing frequent panic attacks, the latest development in my experience with anxiety, depression and OCD. Despite only knowing me for a few weeks, Sister Mary accompanied me through this difficult time with grace; when I decided to take a medical withdrawal to address my mental health, she organized a short prayer service with the hall staff. She prayed for my healing and safe return to Notre Dame, and she was instrumental in ensuring I would be able to live in BP upon my return a year later.

Over the next few years, I had the great pleasure of working with Sister Mary as the liturgical music commissioner for the hall and as a Resident Assistant in my senior year. Last year, she invited me to serve as the piano accompanist and vocalist at her golden jubilee, a celebration of her 50th anniversary as a Sister of the Incarnate Word, and I visited with her when I returned to campus.

Sister Mary was all that I aspire to be and more –– a strong, proud woman of God, compassionate to the most vulnerable among us and feisty as hell. She delighted in the daily joys, which she saw better than most of us. She was a no-nonsense leader who earned the respect of all she encountered by simply living her vocation. She had a giggle that spilled out whenever something tickled her funny bone, and her sense of humor was unmatched (for example, she informed our hall staff that the initials of her order, the “Sister of the Incarnate Word” (SIW), really stood for “Send Irish Whiskey”). She was the quintessential rector, pouring out her gifts in the service of the community.

Perhaps it is cliche to say, but Sister Mary was like a mother to me. She accompanied me through the most challenging time of my life, sharing in my grief and pain. She welcomed me home with open arms. She encouraged me to share my gifts with my community and invited me to share them with hers. When I returned to Notre Dame after my medical withdrawal, my mom told me to remember that I would always have a mother looking out for me from atop the Golden Dome. Really, I (and all of the members of the BP community) had a sassy, smiling nun caring for me and the entire community with tough love and a heart of gold.

Sister Mary frequently stated, “We live in hope.” Sometimes, this comment came after a resident had lost their keys for the 10th time or the kitchen was left in disarray yet again. But this is how Sister Mary lived, and it is how she will be remembered –– a woman of hope who placed her trust in the Lord.

I am confident that Sister Mary is at peace with God in heaven. Somewhere, a prayer is ending, and as a chorus of “Amen” rings out, Sister Mary is smiling slyly as she adds, “and A-Woman.”

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.


Maggie Skoch

class of 2016

Feb. 7, 2018

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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