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Sister Maureen Abbott

Almost two years ago, Maureen asked me to write her commentary. Her one and only stipulation was that I not make it a “laundry list.” Maureen, I hope I’ve managed to follow your gently spoken but very firm directions. However, as the author of the fourth volume of the history of the Sisters of Providence, you will agree that context is essential to understanding. So I will quickly mention some context setting facts, said Sister Denise Wilkinson in her commentary for Sister Maureen Abbott, who passed away on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 84-years-old and had been a Sister of Providence for 66 years.

Sister Maureen Abbott

Sister Denise continued: Maureen was born to Francis and Winifred McCarrick Abbott in Buffalo, N.Y. The family moved to Robstown, Texas. Maureen was second in the lineup of seven children: Jean, Maureen, John, Liz, Kathy, Pat and Christine. From this loving family, Maureen began her journey of following the light toward God, the God whom she knew best as Providence.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke:

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it. When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”

Sister Maureen was not the woman who lost the coin; but rather she was the frantic woman’s perceptive, calm, insightful, unhurried and patient neighbor.

The Maureen we know would have entered quietly. With determination and an eye for detail, Maureen would have spotted the coin. Her unfailing respect and compassion for others would have found a way to “let” the distraught woman find the coin herself. Maureen had no need to be in the spotlight or the center of attention.

Let’s not forget what the woman who finds the coin does. “She calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”

No doubt Sister Maureen would have lent a hand in planning the party to celebrate finding the lost treasure.

She loved parties. Her preparations would have been meticulous evening ironing the tablecloths. (Sister Maureen loved to iron. She ironed her sheets). The invitations would be hand painted by Sister Jeremy Gallet and her. Maureen would join in the meal preparation, especially the baking. Vegetables grown in her courtyard garden would be prepared. Flowers from the courtyard garden would brighten counter tops and tables. Maureen would have place cards on the dining table – each card demonstrating her self-taught skill in calligraphy. No doubt libations would be served; but in my research and interviews no one mentioned her preference.

Sister Maureen Abbott, author of “New Lights from Old Truths: Living the Signs of the Times,” (right), along with Mary K. Doyle, author of “Saint Theodora and her Promise to God,” (left) chat before signing books for visitors.

Sister Maureen’s gift of finding valuable coins in others was a lifelong gift — not a onetime event.

A superb teacher, Sister Maureen had a knack for connecting with her pupils, for finding and bringing to light gifts and talents they didn’t know they had. Her teaching skills were appreciated by a wide variety of students — junior high and high school students as well as adult learners.

Of special interest to the Sisters of Providence was Maureen’s work with our new members in the areas of spirituality and community history. One of these students wrote of Maureen: What impressed me most is that until her very last breath she lived and breathed the mission of Mother Theodore Guerin and of the Sisters of Providence.

She found coins in persons who had no or very little faith in themselves. Maureen participated in prison ministry here in Terre Haute and a co-worker commented that “Maureen was great at talking with the prisoners. She was at ease with them.”

Through her years of service in the Portland diocese’ Marriage Tribunal she guided persons of good will and integrity to end, to reclaim or begin lives of adult fidelity in terms of marriage commitments.

It is so tempting to be more specific about Maureen’s ministries and places of ministry; but that would be too much like the forbidden “laundry list.” To follow her directions, I won’t mention Maureen’s two master’s degrees — one in Education Administration from the University of Washington and the other in Theology from the University of Notre Dame.

Again following her wishes, I won’t call attention to that fact that her Sisters of Providence in California called her to elected leadership twice in the roles of Provincial Counselor and then as Provincial of St. Michael province.

God knows I won’t let on that she co-authored a book entitled “With Love Beyond All Telling: A Biblical Approach to Adult Spirituality.”

The Abbott family is a treasure Maureen did not need to seek out. Their love for one another embraces all of them. Yet, it seems Sister Maureen was a special treasure to them.

Her older sister, Jean, recalls that growing up she and Maureen would hide under their covers, flashlights in hand so they could read into the night. I’m sure their mom and dad never suspected. Jean also remembers she and John had starring roles in performing plays written by Maureen. The family garage served as their theater.

Sister Maureen Abbott during a prayer moment.

Christine, the youngest of the Abbott siblings, revealed the startling news that Maureen was a cheerleader for the St. John’s High School football team, the Eagles. Not wanting Christine to feel left out, Maureen made Christine the team mascot. Maureen sewed a mini-cheerleader outfit for her little sister – a blue corduroy jumper with a blue gingham underskirt. (I hope you have photos of you and Maureen in your outfits, Christine. We’ll be sure they are published in the next volume of the SP history).

Christine also shared this wonderful story about Sister Maureen. The six Abbott women embarked on a tour of Turkey, meticulously researched by Maureen. Visiting Mt. Nemhut an opportunity presented itself to scale that very mountain. The guide warned against it; experienced hikers only. Maureen found Option B. She rode to the top of the mountain on an experienced donkey led by an experienced guide.

Niece Sarah remembers spending a Thanksgiving with Maureen and Jeremy in Portland. Sarah wrote: “You showed me around your neighborhood, we feasted, we laughed, we went to church. I loved my walks and talks with Maureen and dog Toby. She shared lots of stories about her life and her work.”

Another niece, Stephanie, described her aunt Maureen as “always up for a good time … enjoyed adventures with gusto … knew how to rise to a challenge.” Stephanie continued “she would often be still and know … and now she does know.”

It seems clear that Maureen and her whole family knew they had found a valuable coin in one another.

So many events point to Maureen’s sense of adventure. She traveled extensively across the United States, in Europe and Asia, in Latin America. A remarkable trip was her 1997 summer spent in Ukraine. She traveled there at the invitation of the D.C. based Office of the Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe. She taught English to sisters of the Order of St. Basil. On the last evening of her stay in Lviv, Maureen was gifted with an icon of the Trinity. Here are her words to describe its effect on her. “Glancing at it now as I write this, I can only wonder at a God so expansive as to enter so many lives in so many diverse ways. Tutored by the Divine Liturgy which teaches us our purpose in life with its manifold paths, we need simply to center ourselves in the Godhead and from this center bring Providence in the world.”

We Sisters of Providence rejoiced (and still do) in Sister Maureen’s presence among us. If I were to list all the words used to describe Maureen, it would not be a laundry list but a poem of gratitude. The poem would certainly include numerous mentions of Maureen’s deep spiritual life and contemplative spirit.

Other words to describe our experience with Sister Maureen are: A beautiful soul, went to the essence of things, profoundly wise, a woman of prayer, perceptive, subtle humor, always accepting of people and life events, unassuming and understated, trustworthy and hope-filled. All of these qualities contributed to the quality of her life as she courageously lived with cancer.

We all know Maureen was not all work and no play. One sister remembers every summer she and Maureen played tennis together. According to this sister, “Maureen was quite the tennis player.”

Sister Maureen Abbott

Another sister, a colleague of the SP Archives, shares this memory: “We often went to movies before COVID came. Which was at times rather hilarious because Maureen could not see in the dark and I had to lead her to her seat in the theater thinking to myself all the time that people are wondering why this blind person is coming to a movie.” Sister Maureen and Sister Jeremy took many camping trips together. Both reveled in the beauty of Earth as they enjoyed each other’s company.

One other direction given to me about this commentary came from Sister Jeremy. “Don’t make her sound like a perfect person.” Diligent searching netted only one indication Maureen wasn’t perfect. Her grades from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College were all A’s or B+’s. Except for one – a C+ in guess what? Church history!

Maureen more than made up for her temporary lapse in Church history – how else would she have written the fourth volume of the Congregation’s history? Entitled “New Lights from Old Truths: Living the Signs of the Times.” The years covered in the book are 1926-1966.

Sister Paula Damiano remembers asking “Maureen if she would be willing to write the next volume of our community’s history, knowing how smart, how capable she was to take on such a task. And, to be honest, to write about such a tumultuous time in the history of the world, the church and in religious life would be quite the challenge. Maureen’s reply was humble and gracious … ‘if this is what the community is asking of me. I’ll try my best.’ And, for those who have read volume IV we know she did indeed give her best!”

In the days between her death and today so many stories about Maureen have been shared, so many memories recounted, so many expressions of our sorrow have been spoken.

So I want Maureen to have the last word. I want Maureen to once again, in her quiet way, inspire us.

These are her words: “Our Congregation’s traditional celebrations, like the St. Anne Procession, were likely the seed-bed of my image of life as a pilgrimage. When a sister died, we walked along behind the casket to the Cemetery, which brought home to me the fact that there are only so many years to walk on this Earth. I knew I wanted to make the best of them.”

“… there are only so many years to walk on the Earth. I knew I wanted to make the best of them.”

Funeral services for Sister Maureen took place on Thursday, Feb. 2, and Friday, Feb. 3, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

A Wake took place from 2:30-4:30 p.m., on Thursday, Feb. 2, with Vesper Services at 4:30 p.m.

An additional Wake took place from 9:30-11 a.m., on Friday, Feb. 3. Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Friday, Feb. 3.

Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Maureen Abbott to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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

Complete list of ministries

In California: teacher, St. Ambrose, Hollywood (1965-1966); teacher, St. Joseph, Hawthorne (1966-1969); principal, St. Joseph, Hawthorne (1969-1973); teacher, St. Ambrose, Hollywood (1973-74); principal, St. Anthony, Gardena (1974-1978); provincial, St. Michael Province, Tustin (1988-91); religion teacher/campus minister, Mercy High School, San Francisco (1992-98)

 In Illinois: religion teacher, Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove (1978-79); principal/administrator, Costa Catholic School, Galesburg (1979-1982)

In Indiana: teacher, St. Andrew, Indianapolis (1961-1965); community historian, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2015-2023)

In Oregon: tribunal, Archdiocese of Portland (1998-2015)

In Texas: director of ministries/vicar of education, Diocese of Corpus Christi (1983-88)

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  1. Avatar Carol Howe on January 26, 2023 at 9:52 am

    RIP Sister Maureen, I remember her from when she was principal at St Anthony of Padua school in Gardena, Ca. I was on the PTO school board then. She was a great principal to work with and very gracious lady. We were blest to have had her in our school.

  2. Avatar Eleanor and Elaine Bersano: sisters on February 5, 2023 at 12:10 am

    Sister Maureen Abbott was much loved at St. Anthony’s School. She lived a blessed 84 years. We were honored to know her .
    Bersano family

  3. Avatar Frances Vandal on May 5, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    Sr. Maureen was my eighth grade teacher at St. Joseph’s Elementary School in Hawthorne, Calif. She introduced new teaching methods to our 1968-1969 class that prepared us for high school and drew out talents we didn’t know we possessed. She wrote and directed a modified musical version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” called “Scrooge” that was performed by our eighth grade class to much praise and fanfare.

    Only last year (2022), I reconnected with Sr. Maureen inquiring about the names of the Sisters of Providence who taught at St. Joseph’s during our tenure at the school (1960-1969). Being on the Archives team, she was the perfect person to ask. Her memory of those days at St. Joseph was as sharp as ever. She even joined some former class members and I on a Zoom call the day of the Oscar Awards in 2022! We reminded her of our class performance of Scrooge and she told us that she and a few other novice sisters wrote that play to be performed by junior high classes. Several of the students in that play went on to act or become teachers of musical theater; another wrote comedy sketches for television. All credited that formative experience. She certainly was one of my most beloved teachers.

    Sr. Maureen was a kind, empathetic, humble and witty human being with such vigor for life. I am so very happy I reconnected with her before she took her last journey!

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