Laurian McDonald, BVM, 87, died Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, at Caritas Center in Dubuque, Iowa. Arrangements are pending. Burial is in the Mount Carmel cemetery.
She was born in Alhambra, Calif., on Nov. 9, 1928, to Lawrence and Laura McCall McDonald. She entered the BVM congregation Sept. 8, 1947, from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Santa Barbara, Calif. She professed first vows on March 19, 1950, and final vows on Aug. 15, 1955.
Laurian was an elementary school and religious education teacher in Phoenix, Ariz.; Kansas City, Mo.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Glendale, Petaluma and Santa Ana, Calif. She served in pastoral ministry and adult education in Mesa, Ariz., and in parish ministry and as director of religious education in Glendale, Calif.
She is preceded in death by her parents and brother Lawrence. She is survived by a sister Gloria Foley (Edward), San Jose, Calif.; nieces; nephews; and the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with whom she shared life for 69 years.
Sister Laurian McDonald, BVM
Marian Hall, Oct. 11, 2016
Good afternoon and welcome to the celebration of life of our Sister Laurian McDonald.
Phyllis Ann McDonald was born on Nov. 9, 1928, in Alhambra, Calif., the second of three children of Lawrence and Laura Minerva (McCall) McDonald. Her father was a native of Jefferson, Iowa, who remained in California after serving in the army during World War I. Her mother was a native of Pennsylvania who went to California to care for her aunt. As a convert to Catholicism, her mother lived an inspiring faith life and made many sacrifices to send her children to Catholic schools.
During the Depression, her father moved the family north to Santa Barbara to find employment. In 1940, the BVMs went to Santa Barbara to establish a coeducational school. In her autobiography, Phyllis wrote, “The BVMs who pioneered this mission were great women, and it warms my memory . . . to recall their names and the role they played in our lives . . . [Sisters] Paul Joseph Pollard, Elrita Archer, Austin Dehnert, Denis Gregory, and Agnes Celine Stokes were members of the first BVM group who planted the seeds of love and gratitude for the BVM congregation.”
After graduating from Santa Barbara Catholic, Phyllis worked as a correspondence clerk for an insurance company for almost a year before pursuing her religious vocation. She entered the congregation on Sept. 8, 1947, and received the name Laurian upon her reception on March 19, 1948. Although Laurian entered with her parents’ blessing, her mother felt personal pain at the separation. However, after visiting Mount Carmel in 1948, her mother said she would never doubt her daughter’s decision and life choice again. Laurian professed her first vows on March 19, 1950, and lived 69 years as a BVM.
While her profession was a time of great joy, the events prior to her final profession remained seared into her memory. On the night of July 18, 1955, Laurian was living at the Motherhouse when the fire broke out in the infirmary. On the 50th anniversary of the fire, Laurian was interviewed by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. The article reads, “Firemen directed [the young sisters] to get the elderly sisters out to safety. McDonald carefully helped two infirmed sisters outside—one by picking her up and carrying her . . . McDonald recalled another young sister who, against firefighters’ orders, rushed back into the burning building to rescue one last nun she knew still was inside. ‘I remember seeing her bring out this bundle. Just as she came out, the roof fell in where she had been,’ said McDonald, overcome with the emotion nearly 50 years later . . . ‘It was an absolute miracle of God’s abiding love that we didn’t lose anyone that night.’”
Laurian was a fun-loving and creative elementary school teacher who “thoroughly enjoyed” this ministry for 37 years. She was missioned at St. Agnes and St. Matthew in Phoenix; St. Aloysius in Kansas City, Mo.; St. Charles in Oklahoma City, Okla.; St. Joseph in Wichita, Kan.; and in California at Incarnation in Glendale, St. Anne in Santa Anna, and St. Vincent in Petaluma.
From her early years in Santa Barbara and throughout her many years of ministry in the Southwest, Laurian had a special affection for Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Hispanic people. She taught English in grades sixth through eighth as well as other subjects in seventh grade classes at St. Matthew in Phoenix, a school with 85 percent Hispanic students from families who struggled with living on minimum wage salaries. In an interview for Salt magazine, she stated her goal as their teacher: “Their world was very small; [I] helped move them into larger worlds.”
She also served as director of religious education and in parish ministry at St. Vincent Parish in Petaluma, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Glendale, and All Saints Parish in Mesa, Ariz. After retiring in 1996, she remained in Phoenix and volunteered at St. Louis the King Parish in Glendale until moving to Mount Carmel in 2002.
Laurian was a very positive, common sense person who loved people. She was deeply spiritual and prayer-centered. She formed close friendships and at times served as a spiritual advisor. She enjoyed traveling and loved knitting, with a number of her creations resembling Native American shawls. Declining health exacted an emotional and mental toll at times, but on one very good day about two months ago, she could be heard singing tunes from The Wizard of Oz.
The BVM community was very important to Laurian, who supported and encouraged the younger sisters and enthusiastically participated in congregational activities. In 1989, “spurred on by a keen desire to return to [her] roots,” she spent part of her sabbatical year serving at Marian Hall. She wrote, “My love for the congregation has been deepened through my contacts and visits with the sisters in residence . . . I have appreciated the quality time to visit, celebrate, and pray with them. I feel blessed to be a recipient of the wisdom that these life travelers have to give . . . I have never been close enough to celebrate anyone’s resurrection in the chapel at Marian Hall, and this experience has been a rich part of my personal renewal.”
From Isaiah, we will hear: “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.” While anticipating her golden jubilee, Laurian wrote, “God’s faithfulness to me has been overwhelming!” She would readily affirm that God “strengthened [her] hands” and “[made] firm [her] knees” on her earthly journey. As we celebrate her life, we rejoice for and with Laurian as she “meet[s] her God with gladness and joy.”
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