Sister Shawn Marie McDermott
I was told that Shawn Marie read the scriptures every day during her morning prayers. So no wonder – after 61 years, she was able to choose these beautiful passages as her last words of love to you, to her family, friends and colleagues:
“… You have a permanent place in my heart. God knows how much I miss you; loving you as Christ Jesus loves us. I pray that the love you have for each other may increase more and more.”
Then in the Gospel, she chose these words: “Do not worry. Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field in all their splendor. You are more precious than these.”
Isn’t that just like Shawn? But where did all this tender love come from? For the fruit falls not far from the tree, said Sister Carolyn Glynn in her commentary for Sister Shawn Marie McDermott, who passed away on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Malden, Massachusetts. She was 80 years and was a Sister of Providence for 62 years.
Sister Carolyn continued: Shawn was baptized Kathleen, the daughter of Packie McDermott, who grew up with 12 siblings in a small thatched cottage in County Roscommon, Ireland. Her mother was Agnes Roach, one of six children, raised in County Mayo. They immigrated to this country with little else but their deep Celtic faith, a wealth of storytelling laced with druid, saints and fairies. They carried with them kind and generous hearts, and most of all the gift of hospitality. These qualities they passed on to Joe and to Shawn – and now on to Kate.
About a week or more before her death, I sat with Shawn and told her that I had too many beautiful and tender stories. How will I ever fit them into a commentary? There were enough for a book! She said, “Carol, just keep it short.” I assured her that I would bundle them tightly in as few words as possible. I don’t think I told her that I would place them gently into the image of the Irish Visiting House because, when I think of her life, I think of her as the keeper of the Visiting House.
Whether you are Irish or not, you’ve heard stories of the Irish Pub, but perhaps not of the Visiting House. This was a practice of neighbors gathering in the evenings at a house in the village to share news and stories. “Did you hear that Pat Waldron died? Sure didn’t I know the fairies were coming for him. Wasn’t he a cousin to Nora Fold who married Tom Rooney? They went off to America some time ago.” Historians tell us that the folklore was kept alive for thousands of years at such houses. I asked Teresa Costello if, like in the Pub, there would be dancing and drinks. She said, “You’d be doing well to find a seat near the fire.”
Shawn was not always keeper of the Visiting House. Like the rest of us, she was sent out to teach. She loved teaching, was a natural, and did as Mother Theodore instructed: Love the children first, then teach them. It was only years later, when she returned to the big house on Ashland Street to care for her father that her life took on an added ministry. Young Brendan from Ireland was one of the first to arrive. Not only did he get a bed and a good meal, he got encouragement and hints about navigating study in Boston. The Irish relatives would stop by to visit because he was family. Later came Sister Marie Do, our Vietnam Sister who had studied at the Woods. Now rice and Asian food replaced the baked potato. And Maria’s Vietnam friends gathered in the parlor.
Shawn had time for everyone. Most sat at the kitchen table for a cup of tea and a chance to pour out their worries to one who would listen intently; others would come to practice their English conversation. As Shawn would say, “When our lives seem to have problems, nothing helps like a cup of hot tea.” Through the years, our Sisters came for meetings or for visits to the East. Quite often, the four bedrooms on the top floor were occupied. They were welcomed before they got to the front steps. Only now do I wonder how she ever kept the food budget.
Shawn’s kindness seemed to seep under the door and down the steps to where Sister Danielle was caring for her mother. She fell in love with the grandchildren. It was evident that Kali was very bright but could not read, so Shawn took her in tow. Off to the library they would go on Saturday morning and end with a visit to Dunkin Donuts. The same kindness found the rambunctious little redheaded boy on their street. He told me at the wake that Sister Shawn Marie saved his life by her kindness and encouragement.
Perhaps the most beautiful story I heard was from Nula Grady. I may not have all the details right but what I recall: Pat was dying at home when Nula and the grown children gathered around his bed with Shawn. She didn’t read a book of prayers. She took Pat’s now withered hands in hers and, together, they told the story of those hands that had worked so hard for them, hands that had fingered the rosary in prayer, hands that had guided them, hands that had kept them safe, hands that had held their children. It was a sacred moment and they had hardly stopped the storytelling and prayer when Pat went home to God.
From whence did that beauty come? For Shawn, “the sacred” was not something out there. It was right here – in this moment – in this place. As Celtic spirituality would express it: “The veil is so thin.” It seemed as though that veil became all the more transparent as she ministered in hospice and then faced her own cancer prognosis. “Do not worry. Our lives are in God’s loving providence. We are precious in God’s sight.” This sustained her to the end. True to the way Shawn lived, she slipped away without a sound from the tender care of Joe and Kate into the eternal embrace of our loving God. We were blessed to have her as our Sister.
Funeral services for Sister Shawn Marie took place on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at St. Athanasius Church in Reading, Massachusetts.
A Wake took place at 10:15 a.m., with liturgy at 11:30 a.m.
Additional funeral services for Sister Shawn Marie took place on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place at 10 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Shawn Marie to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Shawn Marie in the comment section below.
Sister Shawn Marie McDermott complete ministry
In Indiana: Teacher, St. John the Baptist, Whiting (1964-66).
In North Carolina: Teacher, St. Patrick School, Fayetteville (1966-68).
In Massachusetts: Teacher, St. Patrick School, Stoneham (1966-76); Substitute Teacher, Malden (1982-85); Pastoral Associate, St. John the Baptist Parish, Peabody (1985-89); Teacher, St. Raphael School, West Medford (1990-98); Teacher, St. Agnes School, Arlington (1998-2010); Hospice Volunteer, Merrimack Valley Hospice, Lawrence (2012-2021).
In New Hampshire: Director of Religious Education, St. Thomas More Parish, Durham (1976-82).
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