Sister Mary Jane (Patrick Ann) Newnam
“Jesus said to the disciples, ‘I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear.’” (Luke 12:22)
“This passage just read is a familiar one — and a very comforting one. There is no need for us to be upset or anxious. We are assured that all of life’s needs can be safely entrusted to a loving protector. And yet we often ignore this assurance, preferring to worry along with our own puny plans, blind to the resources of God’s Providence. Not so Sister Mary Jane Newnam! Her friends thought her sometimes too much of a free spirit, happy-go-lucky, oblivious of the need for serious plans. Rather, her relaxed and easy ways were a healthy balance to the over-solicitude most of us bring to plotting and planning every life situation,” said Sister Alexa Suelzer in her commentary for Sister Mary Jane Newnam, who died Feb. 13.
Born Feb. 10, 1930, to Samuel and Kathryne (Schnieder) Newnam, Mary Jane Newnam was one of seven children. She attended St. Patrick Grade School and Central Catholic High School, both in Fort Wayne, Ind. She entered the Congregation July 21, 1948, and received the religious name Sister Patrick Ann. She professed first and perpetual vows Jan. 23, 1951, and 1956, respectively. Sister Mary Jane earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in education from Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.
“Generous and fun-loving is how her fellow postulants described her; she never worried much about anything. Indeed these phrases described her all the years of her life,” shared Sister Alexa.
For more than four decades, Sister Mary Jane ministered as an educator. Her first ministry was in 1951 at St. Andrew, Chicago. In Illinois, she also taught at Immaculate Conception, Chicago, and Divine Savior School, Norridge. She spent four years in California at St. Teresa of Avila, Los Angeles, and St. Anthony, Gardena. The majority of her teaching days were spent in Indiana at St. Michael, Greenfield; Holy Spirit and St. Joan of Arc, Indianapolis; and St. Jude, St. Patrick and Sacred Heart, Fort Wayne. In 2003, she returned to the Woods and volunteered in several different ministries.
“Teaching primary grades by no means narrowed Sister Mary Jane’s horizon. She read widely in literature and claimed Shakespeare as her favorite. But it was in history, especially English history, that she found her forte; to read or study history in any way, shape or form was a delight to her. When she taught the upper grades she offered to switch classes so that she could teach all the social science subjects. Because she was so very well read she held her own in discussions of current events and politics, sometimes feistily defending her position,” said Sister Alexa.
“She was able, as the saying goes, to take everything in stride; nothing really bothered or upset her. As an example: in California when the sister-cook had to leave for the summer, Sister Mary Jane blithely offered her services, along with another inexperienced companion-sister, to cook for 58 sisters. ‘Of course we’ll do it,’ she said. ‘Sister Amata [Dugan] can cook and I’ll make all the desserts!’ Later she did become a good cook,” continued Sister Alexa.
“Sister Mary Jane’s keen mind was open to deriving the most from the enriching travels she enjoyed later in life. With Sister Ann Reneé [Maxwell], her life-long friend, she relished Europe — chiefly England, France and, of course, Ireland. In her 70s, Sister Mary Jane came home to the Woods where she continued to give service in a variety of places. Debilitating diabetes, long a problem, finally required her move to health care, first to Lourdes and then to Mother Theodore Hall. And now Sister Mary Jane has moved quickly through death and has heard for herself Jesus’ loving words, ‘Fear not, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom,’” concluded Sister Alexa.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Mary Jane was celebrated Feb. 18, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She is survived by her three brothers, Samuel of Fort Wayne; Richard of Miamisburg, Ohio; and John of Scottsdale, Ariz.
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