Sister Mary Ryan
Several years ago, Mary and I received free airline tickets for being willing to be bumped off a flight that was over booked. Mary was not too sure she wanted to do this, but I talked her into it. As a result, with those free tickets, we used them to take a trip to California to visit many of our sisters in the area and do some sightseeing. One day, we decided to drive to Joshua Tree National Park. A description of the Joshua Tree states, “The Joshua Tree tells the story of survival resilience and beauty borne through perseverance.” This is how I would describe Sister Mary Ryan, said Sister Jane Iannaccone in her commentary for Sister Mary Ryan, who passed away on Monday, August 23, 2021, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 73 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 32 years.
Sister Jane continued: Sister Mary was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 15, 1948, to James Bartrand Ryan and Mary Elizabeth Garrity Ryan. She was the oldest of three and the only girl. She had two brothers, James and Paul. Paul, along with her parents, predeceased her. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Jimmy and his wife Marilyn, her cousins Ann and Richie Saurman, and her other family members, as well as her many colleagues and friends both here and in the northeast.
Mary entered the Congregation on August 16, 1989. She professed her first vows on June 28, 1992, and final vows on July 20, 1996. She was not educated by the Sisters of Providence, so her first contact with us was when she met Sister Shawn Marie McDermott, who at the time was ministering as a pastoral associate at St. John the Baptist Parish in Peabody, Massachusetts, which was Mary’s home parish. Sister Shawn Marie became her mentor and loyal friend.
Mary attended Danvers High School in Danvers, Massachusetts, and graduated in 1966. She attended Salem State College where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She taught for many years in Massachusetts. She also worked for The Salem Newspaper as an outreach educator to children. When she entered the Congregation, she also taught in Illinois and Indiana. Mary always dreamed of becoming a children’s librarian. She studied for a master’s degree at Dominican University and received a degree in library science in 1998.
In 1998, she was hired as a children’s librarian in Beverly, Massachusetts. She was excited to be returning to the Boston area. Unfortunately, it was also at this time that she was diagnosed with oral cancer, an illness which she faced courageously. She was so highly regarded at the library where she was hired that they held her position until she was able to return after treatments. Mary’s cancer was a great cross to her because one of her greatest pleasures was to share a good meal with friends. She was a good cook and enjoyed preparing special meals for others. As a result of the prior radiation treatments in recent years, her swallowing became more problematic, and she no longer could eat by mouth. She had to have a feeding tube inserted in 2013 to received her nourishment and take her medications. She greatly missed eating, but more importantly, she missed the social aspect of sharing a meal and community with others.
Mary returned to the Woods in September 2005 to become the Congregation archivist, a position she had for 10 years. She was very gracious, professional, and creative in this role. She especially loved to teach community history to the sisters in initial formation and anyone else interested in coming. She made the history of our community come alive with her instruction.
Mary was very fashion-conscious and loved to shop. She had a fondness for shoes and would be especially excited to purchase a pair at a bargain price. She also liked to dress well and would be dressed up even when she went on her errands to Walgreens. She also loved books; if she saw a bookstore, there was always a stop there.
Since Mary’s type of cancer only affects 3 percent of the population, Mary searched for a support group. She contacted the National organization, Support for Persons with Oral, Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC). There was such a group in the Boston area in which she participated but, when she arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, she discovered that the closest such group was in Indianapolis. She was encouraged to begin a local group in Terre Haute. She did this and facilitated the group for 10 years. Because of ill health, she stepped down from facilitating the group in 2019. The organization did not forget Mary though. In gratitude for her service, she recently received in the mail a letter of appreciation, a medallion which was inscribed Outstanding Volunteer, and a Willow Tree Angel of Hope. Working through her illness, Mary brought support, hope and encouragement to others. She was surprised to be honored in this way because she felt the group helped her as much as she helped the group.
As her health continued to decline, she courageously pushed on going to medical appointments. She recently shared with me that taking care of her health was her new ministry as she was no longer able to volunteer at the library or the Administration Building because of COVID concerns. She was excited to recently have received her first COVID vaccination as she felt this would give her more freedom.
Mary had a sense of humor. One year, she and I made a trip to St. Louis to sightsee. We decided to take a boat tour on the Mississippi River, and as we were riding by the scrap metal yards and industrial plants, she turned to me and said, “This must be the Industrial Tour.”
She was also able to laugh at herself. During her Canonical novitiate one day, as many sisters may have experienced in their formation years, she was having a pity party for herself. One of the sisters made her a computer print cartoon of an old pitiful Pearl woman. She thought this was wonderful and hung it on her bedroom door for all to see.
Mary also was known for making to-do lists. She had a list for everything. The most important list she kept though was a list of people in need of prayer. I believed that the strength she received from prayer was what enabled her to keep going. Mary was a great woman of prayer. During her prayer time, she would go over that list every day. I for one was comforted by this, especially when I would be going through a difficult time.
Mary was an introvert and relished opportunities to sit on the porch in Lourdes and have a conversation with a friend. Mary was very engaged in the happenings of the community. She faithfully attended LGU meetings and participated as she was able in all aspects of community life.
Mary, the cross of not eating and your numerous other health issues has now ended. You can now share in the heavenly banquet that has been prepared for you for all eternity.
Funeral services for Sister Mary took place in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on Tuesday, August 31.
A Wake took place at 10:30 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Mary to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Mary in the comment section below.
Sister Mary Ryan
In Indiana: Teacher, Holy Cross Central School, Indianapolis (1989-90); Congregation Archivist, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2005-15); Volunteer, St. Patrick School Library, Terre Haute (2016-18); Receptionist, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2016-20); Volunteer, West Vigo School Library, West Terre Haute (2017-18); Volunteer, Vigo County Public Library, Terre Haute (2018-20); Residential Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2018-20).
In Illinois: Teacher, Holy Family School, Joliet (1991-93); Teacher, St. Dennis School, Lockport (1993-96).
In Massachusetts: Children’s Librarian, Beverly Public Library, Beverly (1998-2005).
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