23 August 2008 Farmington Hills, Michigan My Dear Mary Helene, As Isaiah pronounced, “We do indeed sing this day for you. We observe this feast in your honor, as you march with your flute toward the mountain of the Lord.” What a glorious song your life has composed! Yet, even as I write these words I can hear you saying “I didn’t compose it, I just tried to sing the score God set before me.” In that case, Mary, you certainly have assembled a sizeable choir. It spans the generations … beginning with the young at IHM, “the merest children” as Matthew calls them, and ending with, well, the mature at McAuley. To young and old alike, the Master Teacher’s voice, resounding in your musical ear, was indeed revealed through you. Your harmony was exquisite; your ability, unending; and yet your robe remained simple ~ usually plain ~ and unassuming. I remember very vividly those first few weeks after entrance. While our three classmates strategized over who could get through candidacy the fastest, you and I retreated to the showers, questioning what we were doing with our lives, and singing our own rendition of Swing Lo in two-part harmony. Years later, when we found ourselves to be the only remaining members of the class of ’82, we smiled, continued to question what we were doing with our lives, and tried to figure out how to fit Swing Lo into a final vow Liturgy.
Music was a passion we shared. We could hum the Michigan fight song in every-other-note duet style, and play trios for the recorder with three instruments and two mouths. We played and sang together often, and talked about the beauty and creativity of the musical word, poetry in motion, and its vast capacity - to heal, to teach, to bring one to tears or to laughter, to leave one speechless with a musical experience. Perhaps the most powerful musical experience we shared happened in 2005. Amidst chemo treatments, fatigue and nausea, you managed to join me in San Antonio for a weekend of music and work. We scribbled and crossed out, and scribbled again on a pile of paper scraps, which eventually became musical scores and a lovely collection of songs on CD. Best of all, Mar, you finally met Anita face-to-face. And there you shared, two women Religious, teachers, musicians, highly educated and successful, battling the same illness with dignity and determination, comadres in this life, and now in the next. These past six years, Mary, have certainly been a most challenging rendition of Amazing Grace. You walked courageously and gracefully through many dangers, toils and snares, and in the end, Grace indeed led you quickly and gently home. If I had to choose just one song to describe your journey through this earthly life, I would choose the traditional Shaker tune, Simple Gifts. For amidst the numerous and prestigious accomplishments you made ~ many of which remain unknown to most ~ you never ceased to be Mary Helene: the fourth of five children, born into a Catholic, Italian (and Irish!) family, who proudly hailed from Motown. Daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, friend, student, musician, teacher … you never lost sight of who you were – ‘Twas your gift to be simple; or from where you had come – ‘Twas your gift to be free; and nothing and no one ever fell below you - To bow and to bend you shan't be ashamed. Spending this time with you, as you journeyed with and toward the Divine, has been nothing less than Sacred Grace; an enfleshed Eucharistic Moment of bread, blessed, broken, and shared. Your continued concern for the comfort of those around you often reminded me of the stories of the death of Catherine McAuley, foundress of our Mercy congregation. When she was close to death and the Sisters had traveled to gather around her bedside, she whispered “Make sure the Sisters have a comfortable cup of tea when I am gone.”
As I sat next to you these days, I found myself praying Catherine’s Suscipe over and over again. I’m not sure who I was praying for, Mar, you or me, but I figured it didn’t matter. So once more, Mary, I pray with you the Suscipe of Catherine McAuley: My God, I am yours for time and eternity.
Teach me to cast myself entirely
into the arms of your loving Providence
with a lively, unlimited confidence in your compassionate, tender pity.
Grant, O most merciful Redeemer,
that whatever you ordain or permit
may be acceptable to me. Take from my heart all painful anxiety; let nothing sadden me but sin, nothing delight me but the hope of coming
to the possession of You
my God and my all, in your everlasting kingdom. Amen. Until always, Mar … Sar, ttss