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Sister Mary Rita Griffin (formerly Sister Mary Paula)

Mary Rita Griffin was born November 20, 1936, to Paul F. Griffin and Nell Morders. Paul was born in Washington, D.C., and Nell just outside of D.C., in Bushwood, Maryland. Mary has one brother, Jack, who originally planned to be here with us. We extend our sympathy to Jack, his wife Nancy and their children: Martin, Sean, and Beth Ann, said Sister Mary Ann Phelan in her commentary for Sister Mary Griffin, formerly Sister Mary Paula, who passed away on Friday, March 6, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 83 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 65 years.

Sister Mary Rita Griffin

Sister Mary Ann continued: Mary attended Saint Ann Elementary School and Immaculata High School in Washington, D.C., graduating in June 1954. One month later, Mary answered the call to become one of the laborers for Christ as she entered the Postulancy on June 22, 1954, and received the name Sister Mary Paula, was accepted into the novitiate on January 23, 1955, pronounced first vows in 1957, and perpetual vows on the same date in 1962. Sister Mary Rita went to her eternal reward on March 6, 2020.

Mary’s life of public ministry began in January 1957. Mary’s service started in Indiana but took her to many other places such as Washington, D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Chicago, Taiwan, and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Twenty-eight of those years were spent as a teacher, mostly middle and upper grades as well as high school. Part of these years, she served as a full-time principal or principal and teacher at the same time.

In 1985, Sister Mary Rita began 18 years in a different and loved type of ministry, that of serving the poor and forgotten people in Washington, D.C. Then, there were two years in Taiwan, followed by nine years at Woods Day Care/Pre-School, and finally at Providence Spirituality & Conference Center as Coordinator of the Our Lady of Providence Shrine and Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Mary served in these ministries up until three months before her death when she resigned because of declining health.

When I first started gathering my thoughts for this commentary, I asked our liturgy director Karen Sagraves if we could use the old hymn “Whatsoever You Do,” as the entrance hymn at the wake service. My reason for that is I feel that the words are a picture of Mary’s life of service.

Sister Mary Rita Griffin reacts with delight to something said by a person at her table.

Eight of the years which Sister Mary Rita worked with the homeless were spent with SOME – “So Others May Eat.” The hymn’s first stanza says, “When I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty you gave me to drink.” The second stanza talks about the homeless and anxious: Mary was involved with the homeless in Day Care Centers and the Community Council as Director and Resident Manager.

After leaving the Homeless Day Care Centers, Sister Mary Rita came to the Woods Day Care as Administrative Assistant and showed the same love and dedication to the children and their parents that so many in Washington had come to know as part of her life. Anytime she spoke of her work, she had an attitude of joy for what she was doing.

Those of us who knew Mary well know that her most loved time in ministry was when she was able to be a spiritual guide for others. Ezra Meadors, a Providence Associate with whom she walked, saw her as an example of living a life as a true follower of Christ. Sister Mary Rita told a friend that being the Coordinator of the Our Lady of Providence Shrine was like an answer to her lifelong dream. Many people across the world are truly friends with Sister Mary Rita even though they never met her, because of the letters they received when they asked for prayers.

Mary loved the outdoors, the ocean — which she was able to enjoy often through the generosity of Jack letting her use his beach home, whether alone or with friends. Mary was a true optimist. If you knew her well, you knew that above all, she loved Jesus and his Mother Mary with every ounce of her being. Those who worked with her knew that her name appeared on every ‘need for volunteers’ list she ever read.

Sister Mary Rita Griffin at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence

The refrain I spoke about earlier is “Now enter into the home of My Father,” which Mary did a short time ago.

Mary, we know how difficult it was for you when the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was changed from an Exposition to an Adoration Chapel, however, we know that you are with Jesus. We love you and miss your quiet giving way with us.

Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass for Sister Mary Rita took place at 11 a.m., on Tuesday, March 24.

We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Mary Rita in the comment section below.

Sister Mary Rita Griffin (formerly Sister Mary Paula)

Complete ministry

In Indiana: Teacher, Our Lady of Greenwood, Greenwood (1957-58); Teacher, St. Francis Xavier, Vincennes (1960-64); Administrative Assistant, Woods Day Care/Pre-School, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2005-14); Coordinator, Shrine of Our Lady of Providence and Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2014-20).

In Washington, D.C.: Teacher, St. Ann (1958-60); Principal, Dunblane (1972-76); Principal, Teacher, Dunblane (1976-78); Teacher, St. Ann (1984-85); Coordinator of Volunteers, SOME So Others May Eat (1985-90); Director of Day Center for the Homeless, Friendship Place (1993-95); Administrative Director Friendship Place, Community Council for Homeless (1995-99); Haven Resident Manager, Community Council for Homeless (2000-03).

In Massachusetts: Teacher, St. Rose High School, Chelsea (1969-70).

In Maryland: Teacher, St. Clement, Lansdowne (1964-69).

In North Carolina: Principal, Teacher, St. Therese, Wilson (1970-72).

In Illinois: Principal, Our Lady of Sorrows, Chicago (1978-84).

In Taiwan: Bookkeeper, Teacher, Mother Marie Gratia Center (2003-05).

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12 Comments

  1. MARTHA L MIDDLETON LLOYD on March 9, 2020 at 11:02 am

    My father, Blair Middleton, has many great memories of Sr Mary Rita, as a classmate at St Ann’s in DC. I was privileged to meet her when I attended Immaculata. We both joyously followed her work throughout the years at SOME. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Sisters, as well as her family.

  2. Jeannette A List on March 10, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    Sister Mary Rita was one of my 8th grade teachers at St. Clement is Lansdowne, MD. She challenged me to be my best and made me want to learn. I have fond memories of making many mistakes but we laughed and her comments were always encouraging, even as she corrected. Her life is an inspiration and she will be missed. Peace to her family and community.

    • Ann Todd on April 7, 2020 at 3:52 pm

      Sister Mary, as I knew her from DC’s Community Council for the Homeless, was the kindest, wisest, holiest person I’ve ever met. She counseled me, as a volunteer, much as she ministered to homeless women in her care. When I became upset that one of the women was calling me at home, she asked me to pray for the woman. The last time we were together was two years ago when we spent a day touring Dunblane and Immaculata, where she was a celebrity, looking at a new men’s shelter, and even driving by the house she grew up in.

      Her passing is a great loss for everyone who knew her and came in contact with her. As she promised in her last phone call, with God’s mercy, we will see each other again.

  3. Susan Hall on March 10, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Sr. Mary’s goodness and the way she treated prisoners impacted my life and so many other lives. Prisoners at the federal prison in Terre Haute and Vigo County Jail truly loved her, especially the women at the jail who looked forward to her weekly hugs. She oozed the love of God through every pore of her tiny body without ever having to say a word!

  4. Jenny Nowalk, PA on March 24, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    I love so many of these comments…….she oozed the love of God! Sister Mary took me under her wing in 2015, after receiving a prayer quest to the Our Lady of Providence devotion.
    The time before she left us, went by so fast! As an Associate, every Sister of Providence touches my life and helps to shape the way I am trying to live my life. Mary and I had face to face meetings, emails and phone calls before God took her home……May I always, always be grateful for such grace given to me! I think she will continue to open doors for me and to challenge me to walk through them!

  5. Debbie Fifer on March 24, 2020 at 5:23 pm

    My daughter, Giuliana and I worked at Woods Daycare and was very blessed and lucky to know Sister Mary Rita. She gave me words of advice when I needed them and was always a positive role model. We loved her and we will miss seeing her smile.

  6. Sister Editha Ben on March 28, 2020 at 11:20 pm

    Simplicity, single-heartedness, prayerfulness are a few gifts that I experienced with Sister Mary Rita. I first met her for the first time in Taiwan. She gently broke the language barrier to minister. She loved much and she was so much loved for who she was to people. I always went to her for prayers and hers were powerful. I love you, Mary Rita.

  7. Bill Hillegeist on March 29, 2020 at 4:47 pm

    God rest the soul of this remarkable woman. Mary Rita was the older sister of my good friend, Jack. She was truly a living saint and I enjoyed the times we spent together. I believe the last time I saw her was at Jack and Nancy’s home in Rehoboth. She loved her visits there. The Griffin’s have a long history with my mother’s family. Nell Griffin went to high school with my mother,

  8. David M Crawford, Ellicott City, Maryland on March 30, 2020 at 7:26 am

    Sister Mary Rita Griffin was my Eighth grade teacher at St Clements in Lansdowne, Md. Great memories of this lady. She always seemed to catch me while I was performing as the “class clown.” Her timing was always amazing and frequently not to my benefit….😄.

    Fast forward a half a century (ouch) and I began a journey to find my two teachers at St Clements. I started at the school, which is now a school for underprivileged girls, and spoke with staff. Although they didn’t have records, they did point me to the Sisters of Providence organization and were very helpful indeed.

    A handful of phone calls later I found her. Although, I did query “Are you sure?” I knew her as Sister Mary Paula. Nevertheless I drove out to Indiana from Maryland and found her. When we reunited she commented later, “I recognized you right away.” Hmmm, I don’t remember having gray hair in Eighth grade….🤦.

    We visited on a Sunday and she gave me an awesome tour of the campus. During our drive I asked her, “Why did you change your name? I mean are you on the lam or something?” Knowing of her prison ministry I got the reaction I was hoping for. She smiled, laughed and said something to the effect, “I remember you and your humor.” When she laughed I took that as a compliment. Remembering it now, I am almost sure….😂

    Tour complete, she left me in the gift shop. She was disappointed she didn’t get to meet my bride of 30 years Mary Catherine but I promised to return with her soon. Summer of 2020 was our date to return but even then that might have to be postponed until covid 19 was reconciled.

    As many have wrote, she was a blessing to all that knew her, an emissary of God and when you spoke to her you felt like you were talking to a sister of Jesus. Rest In Peace Sister Mary Rita. You will be missed!

    • Diane Weidenbenner on March 30, 2020 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing this warm remembrance!

  9. Lucy Morales on April 9, 2020 at 11:07 pm

    At many Sunday Masses at St. Ann in Washington, DC, my family sat behind Sister Mary Rita. Over time we got to know her. She was a powerful voice for those experiencing homelessness, and her example inspired me and my family to do what we could to help. This evening I felt a strong desire to know how she was, so I set about searching for her. She’s home, where she belongs. Thank you, dear Sister Mary Rita. Your example will continue to light my path.

  10. Paula Sprigg on April 22, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    I’m so sorry to learn of Mary’s passing. She was such a gentle kind soul, and I know she is surely basking in the beauty of Heaven. Bless you lovely lady.

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