One of my favorite authors is Abraham Heschel who once said “to remember is to love.” And so today, we gather to remember and celebrate the life of Mary Ella Morrison: woman religious, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, sister and sister-in-law, aunt, cousin, colleague, and friend.
We celebrate her life: we remember her and we continue to love her. I’ve been friends with Mary Ella for 58 years. She and I joined the Dominicans in Newburgh, New York with many of the sisters who are here today. We call ourselves “the band of 62.” How blessed we are to have each other.
As I thought about “Target,” our nick name for her, two words came to mind: blessed and blessings. She was blessed in life and truly a blessing! So I would like to take a few minutes to share my thoughts about Mary Ella being blessed and blessing.
Mary Ella was a faith-filled human being. Her God, she believed, would love her forever; never to abandon her, always to be her constant companion throughout her life. She trusted in God’s plan even when that plan seemed unclear and difficult to discern. She knew deeply that God would provide for her, that God always keeps his promises.
Because of her belief in a loving God, she made possible many opportunities for others to grow in their relationship with God. One of those opportunities was the development of “Women Bearing Gifts,” a retreat with Sister Pat Peters, for the women of West Virginia and the surrounding areas. Many women gathered together to share their beliefs, to affirm their gifts, to pray and praise the God whom they called Creator and Redeemer. Women Bearing Gifts Retreat was held for 26 years: what a blessing!
Mary Ella loved to preach! She embraced every opportunity that was offered her to speak God’s actions in Scripture, in her own life and the lives of those she served.
She was blessed!
Courage was a virtue Mary Ella possessed. There were times in her life when she felt called to be about something new and different. More often than not, she went for it. One of those times was, as a young Dominican sister, she felt called to consider the Carmelite life style. She left her Dominican Community for a few months and lived in the Carmelite Community in the Bronx. I remember her calling me one night and saying “Chunky (my nickname), I have discovered that I am more a Dominican than I thought” and with joy she returned to live the rest of her life as a Dominican Sister Of Hope. I think it takes courage to honestly say “I tried but this is not for me”.
The last few months have been difficult for Mary Ella. I never heard her complain. She persevered courageously asking only for prayer– nothing more, nothing less. Mary Ella understood well the pain of loss, suffering and acceptance, the cost of living well, speaking one’s own truth, trusting in a loving God.
You might be one of her friends who received a gift of a small, olive wooden cross from her at some time, reminding you that our life journey would challenge us to hold tight to the one who brings us through suffering to resurrection.
Blessed and blessing!
And finally, Mary Ella, my friend, loved and was loved!! Oh boy, I can’t imagine the celebration in heaven when God embraced her and she returned God’s embrace. She was greeted my many including her Mom and Dad, her Grandfather, Kathleen and Tom, Aunt Bette, Sister Marie Margaret, and Fr. Ferrar Smith…. Wow !
And how about her family here on earth – especially Margie and Joe, Joseph, Catherine and Brianna- your care and love is beyond measure! You loved Mary Ella from life on earth to God’s eternal life, to Gods eternal embrace. She was so blessed to have you as family and although I know you will miss her, she will live in your hearts forever. And Brianna, your Aunt will celebrate your wedding with Luke. Her spirit, her smile, her laughter will be present as you promise to love each other.
She loved us, and we loved her. There are many who cared for her and walked with her these last few months. She was ever so grateful and I hope each of you will get a chance later to share your stories of care, gentleness, and humor.
And finally, but not least of all, she loved her community of St. Brendan’s and Saint Patrick’s in Elkins and Colton, WV. where she served for 30 plus years as a Pastoral Assistant, Pastoral Care Minister and a Hospice Chaplain. She paid attention to the real life, everyday experiences of those she served and she went beyond what was required of her to be a “spark of God’s Divine Light” in their lives, bringing many Eucharist and, oh, such comfort.
Mary Ella learned not only to give of her gifts but to receive from her beloved friends in WV with open hands and an open heart. Her ministry there was definitely one of vulnerability and mutuality.
Before she left WV, Mary Ella received an award given by the Knights of Columbus in honor of the Four Chaplains who died on the USS Dorchester on February 3rd, 1943. The citation reads:
“The Chapel of the Four Chaplains is pleased to present the Legion of Honor Award to Mary Ella Morrison on June 14th, 2020 in recognition of her lifetime service to all people, regardless of race or faith. This award symbolizes all Americans and for all times, the unity of this nation, found upon the Fatherhood of one God.”
Blessed and blessing!
Thank you, my friend. You have encouraged us by your life to grow as believers, to practice courage everyday, to LOVE and be LOVED.
You believed in God’s plan- a plan full of hope for you.
You ran the race and now wear the crown.
You lived the beatitudes with COURAGE and LOVE.
Rest in peace!!