Sister Grace Stewart
“O Come let us sing to the Most High, Creator of the cosmos.” (Psalm 95:1 translation by Nan Merrill)
“I am happy to read this commentary for Sister Grace, written by her good friend, Sister Bernice Kuper, especially because I share, with so many sisters, a great love and respect for a great friend, Sister Grace,” said Sister Jeanne Knoerle during the commentary for Sister Grace Stewart, who died Sept. 1.
“Several years ago when Sister Grace asked me to write the commentary to be given at the time of her death, she told me that first and foremost she wanted the theme of thanksgiving to run through the account of her life — much as a colored thread is woven into a garment. She also wanted her story told with candor, including not only the bright side but also its shadow side because, she said, ‘I want my story to be a testimony to God’s unfailing presence throughout my 96 years of life,’” read Sister Jeanne.
“It is for this reason that I chose to begin this commentary with the lines from Nan Merrill’s translation of Psalm 95. They seem to reflect Sister Grace’s final words to us as we gather to celebrate the life she lived in our midst. To have known Sister Grace is to have known without doubt that God was truly her first love and that in her faithfulness to that love she had become a loving, compassionate presence to others,” continued Sister Jeanne.
Born Feb. 20, 1914, in Indianapolis, Mary Elizabeth Stewart was the daughter of Grant and Irene (Brooks) Stewart. Her brother, John, died before she was born. “Shortly after her birth, Mary Elizabeth’s father withdrew from the family home, leaving her mother alone to provide for her daughter,” read Sister Jeanne.
“When Mary Elizabeth was five years old, Mrs. Stewart, realizing that she needed to work outside the home and having no other support system to provide care for her daughter, approached the Sisters of Providence at St. John’s Academy in Indianapolis to ask if her daughter might board there. Although crowded conditions already existed at the school, an agreement was reached. This arrangement continued until Mary Elizabeth reached seventh grade when Mrs. Stewart felt that her daughter could ride the street car to and from school and be alone in the house until she herself returned from work. Sister Grace shared happy memories of this time in her young life and spoke of it with deep gratitude because of her mother’s faithfulness in visiting and also because of the kindness of the sisters and students at St. John’s. Sister Grace gratefully acknowledged that the seed of her vocation to religious life had been planted by the loving care she received from the sisters who were her mentors during those formative years,” read Sister Jeanne.
For her secondary education, Sister Grace graduated from St. John Academy, Indianapolis. She entered the Congregation Aug. 20, 1929, and professed first and perpetual vows Jan. 23, 1932, and Aug. 15, 1937, respectively. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in education from Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
Sister Grace began teaching at Our Lady of Mercy, Chicago, in 1932. In Chicago, she also taught at Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Leo. She spent 17 years at Dunblane, Washington, D.C., which was a boarding school.
“In speaking of her ministry during those years, Sister Grace acknowledged that her compassion for the students there grew out of her own experience of having grown up in a boarding school,” shared Sister Jeanne.
Sister Grace’s other teaching ministries included Holy Trinity, New Albany, Ind.; St. Ann, Washington, D.C.; Lady Isle, Portsmouth, N.H.; and St. Joseph, Jasper, Ind.
“As loneliness had been part of Sister Grace’s early years, so it came again in another form in mid-life when she suffered a period of deep depression and needed to be hospitalized,” said Sister Jeanne.
“Sister Grace returned to the Woods in the early 1970s. Although she struggled with bouts of depression throughout the remainder of her life, Sister Grace never lost her passion for mission. First, she prepared herself to be a nurses’ aide and ministered in our health care for 14 years. In 1986, she officially retired from active ministry but two years later her desire to serve others called her back to Washington, D.C., where she undertook a variety of volunteer ministries including care of the sick and elderly and parish service. Her very favorite volunteer ministry in Washington, D.C., was that of being a docent in the National Basilica,” said Sister Jeanne.
“Sister Grace maintained a faithful correspondence with persons with whom she had established a relationship over the years. Sister Grace’s keen intellect made her an avid reader. She was always ready to share with others her reflections, her insights and even her books. At the age of 90, Sister Grace learned to use the computer and the Internet to expand her knowledge and to keep in touch with the times. Sister Grace kept a special place in her heart for children. One of her recent ministries was the development of a Children’s Corner in her room. The centerpiece was a scrap book in which she invited sisters and staff members to place pictures of children for whom they asked her to pray,” continued Sister Jeanne.
“And so, Sister Grace, as we bid you farewell, we know that we will miss your loving presence in our midst but we join you now as you sing your own hymn of praise for the many blessings God bestowed on you in life. We add our own thanks for the countless ways in which you have been “Grace” to us and to so many others as you faithfully walked the path marked out for you!” concluded Sister Jeanne.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Grace was celebrated Sept. 8, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding.
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