Friends, fellow sisters and students gather at St. Ann Parish to remember Sister Mary Madden
Tuesday, September 21, 2010 2:23 AM
Sixty people gathered Sept. 14 at St. Ann Parish in Washington D.C. to remember and celebrate their beloved spiritual director, who passed away Feb. 3 in the middle of Washington's record-breaking snowstorm last winter.
Sister Mary Madden, a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, N.Y., served as director of St. Ann's Spiritual Life Institute for 15 years starting in 1982, and she garnered a loyal band of students who would drive long-distances to take her classes. She was also a personal spiritual director to many and later designed religious education programs at the parish.
Those who knew her described Sister Mary as an energetic nun, Vatican II supporter, and a believer in looking at people holistically.
"You'd ask her how she was doing, and she'd say, 'Moving along, moving along,'" said St. Ann parishioner Dorothy Morrison. "She was one of the strongest women I met in my life."
A memorial Mass had been held at St. Ann's for Sister Mary shortly after she passed away in February, which many parishioners braved the blizzard to attend. However members of the St. Joseph Sisters of Brentwood, of which she was a religious for 70 years, had been unable to come from New York because of the storm. Another tribute for her was held on her birthday, June 18. The Sept. 14 gathering was a chance for her fellow sisters and St. Ann friends to honor her once more."How wonderful it is that her congregation is here with us," said St. Ann's pastor, Msgr. Godfrey Mosley at the start of the memorial service. "They would've been here for her funeral Mass but they decided to share the gift of snow with us instead." The monsignor pointed out that normally snow-blanketed Brentwood, N.Y., got less snowfall than D.C. did that winter.
The short service on Sept. 14 included readings, prayers, and remarks from St. Joseph Sisters' regional superior Sister Rosemary Vellantoni, who drove down with St. Joseph leadership team member Sister Eugenia Calabrese.
"She was ever both a teacher and a student," said Sister Rosemary. "May we, her students and friends, learn from her life and continue her legacy to be seekers and purifiers."
After the service portion of the gathering, author and fellow St. Joseph Sister Elizabeth Johnson gave a talk on the Virgin Mary and how "we can connect our modern lives to her," followed by a question and answer period led by Adorers of the Blood of Christ Sister Sara Dwyer, St. Ann's Spiritual Life Institute director.
"I would say she found her real home at St. Ann's," Sister Elizabeth said of Sister Mary. "She found what her heart loved here."
The three celebrations of Sister Madden's life demonstrate how cherished she was at St. Ann's according to her friend and student Marge Lanthier. "She was very funny," the St. Ann parishioner said. "She was totally humble and totally unacknowledged."
Lanthier and her late husband Paul spoke to Sister Mary on the phone a few hours before she passed away and the nun had been in great spirits. "Mamma Mary," as the Lanthiers called her, had always wanted "to die with her boots on," Marge Lanthier said, adding that Sister Mary had been praying fiercely for Paul Lanthier's recovery from pancreatic cancer and had called that day to check in on him. "She truly believed in the power of prayer," Lanthier said.
According to Jenean Jones, who works for the Archdiocese of Washington's Pontifical Mission Societies and was one of Sister Mary's Spiritual Institute students, the nun encouraged centering prayer, the Ignatian exercises, the four point St. Joseph novena, and having her students pray together. "She built community," said Jones. "She was special."
Sister Madden entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood in 1940 at St. Rose of Lima Parish, Brooklyn. She earned a bachelor's of history from Manhattan College, a master's in European history from St. John's University, and a doctorate in medieval history from Fordham University.
She taught in elementary and high schools in the New York State area for many years, was a history faculty member at Brentwood College for 14 years and the Oblate Seminary for two years, served as a retreat director for the Better World Movement for four years, and was a CARA researcher.