Sister Mary Eymard Campeggio
“‘Rabbi, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the household tasks? Tell her to help me!’ Jesus replied, ‘Martha, Martha! You are anxious and worried about many things, but only a few things are necessary – really only one. Mary has chosen the better part.’”
Our Sister Mary Eymard was both a Martha and a Mary and without a doubt, we know her relationship with Jesus was very good. However, we would be somewhat hard-pressed to think of her as anxious and worried as the Martha described in the Gospel, said Sister Donna Butler in her commentary on the life of Sister Mary Eymard Campeggio who died Nov. 19, 2013 at the age of 101.
Madeline Emma Campeggio, born May 21, 1912 in Ladd, Ill., was one of six children of Michael and Mary Perucca Campeggio. Her father was born in Turin, Italy and her mother in Ladd, Ill. She had three sisters: Josephine Garzonia, Theresa Jalley and Martha Humble and two brothers: Peter and Joseph. All are deceased. In an oral interview I did with her, Sister Mary Eymard spoke of her family life as very, very good.
Madeline attended public elementary and high school in Ladd, Ill. She told me that at age 16 or 17 she went to Chicago and began working in a factory, coming home at three in the morning. She, her sisters and brothers lived together in a room in a home, but they all worked.
Madeline belonged to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Chicago, and she said to a woman at work that she loved nuns and “Oh, I want to be a nun.” The woman took her to Our Lady of Sorrows Convent and introduced her to the sisters. After a few visits Sister Aloyse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods was contacted and an interview set up. The entrance process was quite different in those days. After the interview, Sister Aloyse said, “Well you look like you’re ready for the Novitiate.” Madeline, right then and there, went across the hall and dressed in her postulant uniform and the rest is history. She was 19 years old when she entered on Aug. 18, 1931. Sister Mary Eymard received the habit in 1932, made her first profession in 1934, and took final vows in 1939.
Sister Mary Eymard did not want to be a teacher. When her first mission assignment was given, she asked, “What will I do?” Over the years Sister Mary Eymard ministered in a wide variety of roles: as housekeeper, cook, dietitian, Food Service Director, receptionist, in community service and as sacristan. She ministered at Immaculata in Washington, D.C., and Marywood in Anaheim, Calf. In Indiana she served at St. Philip Neri, St. John Academy and Ladywood in Indianapolis, at Providence Retirement Home in New Albany and at the priests’ house here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. In Illinois she served at Providence High School in Chicago and Marywood in Evanston. And in Massachusetts she served at St. Rose in Chelsea.
Beginning her retirement in September 1987, she continued at Providence Retirement Home in New Albany, Ind., doing community service and serving as sacristan. Sister Mary Eymard returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in June of 2000 and became part of the residential services staff until February 2002 when she began her ministry of prayer for Providence Food Pantry.
Who was this woman we loved so much? She was a person who enjoyed simple things like playing cards and keeping in touch through written correspondence. She was a listener to people’s worries and cares. She loved coffee – two cups with each meal, sometimes more, but always piping hot! Even a few weeks ago when she became confined to bed, she had not lost her taste for “black cows!” Now green beans – that was another matter! She refused to eat them! I told her that’s probably because she prepared too many of them in her life and she laughed. Her laugh was as wholehearted as her smile. Many years after her time in New Albany, Sister Alice Ann Rhinesmith asked her if she remembered Alice Ann’s favorite meal. “Liver, onions and mashed potatoes,” she replied.
When Notre Dame played, Sister Mary Eymard’s voice carried down the hall as she cheered them on. On her 100th birthday, she received a letter and autographed picture from Notre Dame’s head football coach, Brian Kelly. Her birthday cake had a Notre Dame theme.
Sister Mary Eymard never had any college or university degrees, but her heart was well educated by the God she loved. She had a PhD in how to be a loving person. Those who knew her never heard an unkind word about anybody. She was a happy person. When I would greet her with my favorite nickname, “How’s my sweetie?” She would say, “Fine and how are you?” Her smile could radiate sunshine on a dark and gloomy day. One of our aides, with tears rolling down her face, echoed the feelings of the many who cared for Sister Mary Eymard: that her loving heart had touched them so deeply. I think of that song refrain: “Loving and forgiving are you, O God. Slow to anger, rich in kindness, loving and forgiving are you.” That’s who she was, Sister Donna continued.
Was she, like Martha, ever anxious or worried? A few times she realized her coping limitations and asked to change ministries. Her requests were granted, especially the time she threatened to leave if her request was not granted.
While at the Retirement Home in New Albany, an ordinance was passed that meals had to be served individually. Sister Mary Eymard, who served the meals family style, was upset because “passing food around the table lets residents help one another and it makes them feel closer.” She so strongly preferred this less institutional manner of eating that the home applied for a waiver and received one for at least one year.
While the Martha in her was generous and gracious enough to do many types of service, the Mary in her loved being sacristan most of all. The Martha in her heart always greeted others with such warm hospitality and the Mary in her loved her quiet times of prayer, especially in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. When I looked up Eymard to try to understand why she may have asked for this name, I read that St. Peter Julian Eymard was called the “Apostle of the Eucharist.” When I asked her “What has been one of the best things about being a Sister of Providence?” she replied, “Being so close to God all these years.” Every night before going to sleep, she would ask for her rosary and hold it close to her.
We say our goodbye with sadness for ourselves but with the greatest of joy for you, Sister Mary Eymard. In celebration of your joy, I close with this poem by Carmelite Sister Jessica Powers, Sister Donna concluded.
This Spirit newly freed from earth,
is all amazed at the surprise
of her belonging to eternity
to see herself, to realize
the heritage that lets her be
at home where all this glory lies.
By naught foretold could she have guessed
such welcome home, the robe, the ring,
music and endless banqueting,
these people hers; this place of rest
known, as of long remembering
herself a child of God and pressed
with warm endearments to His breast.
Jessica Powers, DC
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Mary Eymard was Nov. 26, 2013, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She had lived 82 years as a Sister of Providence.
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