By NICHOLE GOLDEN | Published December 19, 2013
ATLANTA—The year 2013 was one of milestones for several sisters in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Celebrating jubilee anniversaries with their congregations this year were Sister Margaret McAnoy, IHM; Sister Nora Ryan, OP; Sister Mary Paul, OP, and Sister Mary Ellen, OP.
Sister Margaret McAnoy, IHM
Sister Margaret McAnoy celebrated 60 years with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation this year. She is the Vicar for Religious for the archdiocese and has served in various capacities in Atlanta for 44 years.
“I love doing what I am doing,” said Sister Margaret.
As vicar, Sister Margaret is the liaison between some 150 men and women religious working in metro Atlanta and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. There are 30 different communities represented by the religious in Atlanta.
Sister Margaret said Archbishop Gregory is “extremely supportive” of the religious. “He’s probably the most connected,” she added.
Sister Margaret and her older sister both became nuns, another sister married and had several children, and their brother became a priest.
Sister Margaret said she always had her parents’ support no matter what, and eventually went to them and said, “I think I want to become a sister.”
Her congregation is based in Monroe, Mich. When she was a schoolgirl in Detroit, Sister Margaret had only one lay teacher with the rest religious. “It was a different time then,” she said.
Sister Margaret came to Atlanta to teach at St. Pius X High School and then served as principal of Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School. She was also director of Cursillo for the archdiocese, but says her most “profound” experiences and “dearest” friendships were formed when ministering to men with AIDS. She worked in the kitchen at the Shrine, where Tuesday night suppers were served by the ministry, and then coordinated elegant shows and dinners for the men.
After obtaining a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) certification, Sister Margaret worked as a chaplain at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and then-West Paces Hospital.
The sister has also “loved” working with the permanent diaconate program in the archdiocese.
The diamond jubilarian was among 14 IHM sisters celebrating 60 years in 2013. Sister Margaret attended a special celebration and Mass held at the Monroe motherhouse in July.
Sister Margaret has never regretted entering the convent. The only inkling of “what am I doing here?” occurred when she was wearing a traditional wool habit in the sweltering heat of summer. It was “hotter than Hades,” she said.
“I think religious are a gift to the church,” said Sister Margaret. Without the demands of a family life, they are “freer to be where we are needed,” she added.
Sister Margaret shared a well-known quote from her congregation’s co-founder, Father Louis Gillet: “I desire to be everywhere when I see so many needs.”
Is there more the Catholic faithful can be doing to support the work of women religious? “We always feel the support of the laity,” she said gratefully.
Young women growing up today have more career options than 60 years ago, but families can still encourage religious life or work for their sons or daughters.
“I think parents have a great role in fostering vocations,” said Sister Margaret.
It used to be that nuns taught until they were in their 70s, noted Sister Margaret.
“We always went where we were sent,” she said. After the Second Vatican Council and open placement adopted by many orders thereafter, nuns could undertake the type of mission that suited them most.
It’s clear that Sister Margaret has found her place here in Georgia. The one-of-a-kind nun, who enjoys playing cards, had originally planned to stay in Atlanta for just 10 years. Over four decades later, she is still ministering.
“I’m the only IHM down here,” she said.
Sister Nora Ryan, OP
Nebraska native Sister Nora Ryan, of the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, is also celebrating her 60th anniversary in the religious life.
Sister Nora was one of 26 nuns celebrating a 60th jubilee at a Mass in Queen of the Rosary Chapel at Sinsinawa Mound in Michigan in June.
The mission of the Sinsinawa Dominicans is to work for the poor and less privileged. “I’ve embraced that mission,” said Sister Nora.
Sister Nora has ministered in Illinois, Wisconsin, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida, before arriving in Atlanta. She has now spent more than 25 years in Georgia in service to others.
“My younger years as a sister, I worked with students who were handicapped,” she said.
Sister Nora’s ministry has always been dedicated to teaching and working with refugee children and their families, as well as working in health care chaplaincy and in the AIDS ministry.
In the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Sister Nora worked as pastoral associate and director of Kids Connection at Our Lady of Lourdes from 1987-90 and with the HIV/AIDS Ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
“During that time there were a lot of young people dying of AIDS,” she said. “I tried to be a mentor.”
Sister Nora, now 80 years “young,” earned a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) designation and became an emergency room chaplain at Grady Hospital in Atlanta. She worked with people facing a health crisis, a death of a loved one and lots of other “unexpected” miseries.
“I met a crossroads of people. I was there for eight years,” she said.
After her work at Grady, it was time for a new phase in life.
“I retired … but not really,” said Sister Nora.
Now a volunteer at the International Community School in Decatur, Sister Nora is working with the 400 refugee children enrolled there. They are “so darling,” she said.
The sister’s volunteer efforts do not end with tutoring at the school. She is also working with Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and StandUp for Kids, an organization that fights for an end to the trafficking of children.
It may seem like “radical” work, said Sister Nora, but really it is in keeping with the Sinsinawa congregation’s mission “to make a more holy and just church.”
Sister Nora visited her community’s motherhouse in June for the jubilee Mass and to catch up with “our crowd.”
Sister Nora had two sisters who were also Dominicans and a brother who became a Jesuit priest.
Sister Mary Paul, OP
In September 2013, Sister Mary Paul of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home in Atlanta marked 25 years as a Dominican Sister of Hawthorne.
A New Jersey native, Sister Mary Paul grew up in a family of five siblings. She always wanted to be a nun and entered the congregation later in life after another career.
“I worked at the medical center back home,” said Sister Mary Paul. She was an administrative assistant.
The Dominican sisters would sometimes come to her seashore resort town for vacation. “They used to come to Mass every morning,” said Sister Mary Paul. She asked her pastor about the nuns and arranged a visitation to learn more.
At one time, the Hawthorne Dominicans operated seven homes in the United States, providing free care to those with terminal cancer.
Sister Mary Paul helped to care for the sick at many of those locations, some now closed. She served as a nursing assistant in Fall River, Mass., Holy Family in Ohio, Sacred Heart in Philadelphia, in Minnesota, and at Rosary Hill in New York.
She has fond memories of her time in Ohio, where the town’s primarily Catholic residents would bring the sisters Polish treats to the door. “It was so nice,” she said.
Her last mission before coming to Atlanta was serving in Africa. “It got so dangerous,” recalled Sister Mary Paul about why the nuns had to leave. She added that it was a difficult decision as the African people were “so much in need.”
In January, Sister Mary Paul will turn 81. She recalls submitting her three choices for her name as a nun when taking vows. “I was really sneaky,” she said. She wanted the name “Paul” as part of the name so she submitted the choices of Mary Paul, Maria Paul and Paula Marie, hoping it would not be the latter.
A small icon of St. Paul, a gift from Our Lady of Perpetual Help chaplain Father Paul Burke, hangs on the wall in her room. The sister’s room is simply decorated in anticipation of Christmas with a small tree aglow, and a nativity. She and caregiver Sister Carmela Marie are still in search of the third wise man.
Sister Mary Paul has one brother and sister still living, several nieces and nephews, and remains especially close to one of her nieces in Pennsylvania.
“We had a celebration here,” said the sister about how she marked her 25 years as a nun.
“It is hard work, but fulfilling,” said Sister Mary Paul of the nuns’ mission of caring for the terminally ill. “We try to make it like a home.”
Sister Mary Ellen, OP
Sister Mary Ellen of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home in Atlanta is 93 years old and celebrated 50 years as a Hawthorne Dominican this year.
A native of Bayside, N.Y., Sister Mary Ellen was the third daughter in her family and was followed by a baby brother. She always wanted to be a nun.
“I did want to be. I was afraid to ask,” explained Sister Mary Ellen about her profession of vows made later in life.
Although Sister Mary Ellen’s parents were very easygoing she could tell they “didn’t want to give me up,” she remembered.
Before entering the convent, Sister Mary Ellen worked for her father and had other jobs. “I was a bicycle mechanic,” she said.
When her mother, Ellen, saw her for the first time in a habit, she said, “She really looks like she belongs there.”
Sister Mary Ellen had been around nuns her whole life having attended Catholic school. She thinks today’s children miss that presence in their daily lives. “They feel it too,” she said.
The Hawthorne Dominicans had several cancer homes across the country and Sister Mary Ellen has worked at many of them. She said it’s nice to be moved around so you don’t get in a “rut.”
Using a walker to “speed along,” Sister Mary Ellen attends Mass every morning. “I still feel energetic,” she said.
Sister Mary Ellen’s daily prayer is to ask God’s help in finding others to “take our place here when we leave,” she said.
She and fellow jubilarian Sister Mary Paul were unable to travel to Hawthorne, N.Y., for an official celebration in the fall but did celebrate at the cancer home.
“We had a nice party,” she said.
At her age, Sister Mary Ellen says she just keeps trying to do things and keep going.
“It has been very fulfilling for me,” she said. “It was good work here and I enjoyed it.”