Mary Kelliher, BVM (Maurita) died Friday, April 14, 2017, at Marian Hall in Dubuque, Iowa. Natural Burial Rite of Committal was Saturday, April 15, 2017, in the Marian Hall Chapel. Sharing of Memories and Memorial Mass will be held on Thursday, April 20 at 10:45 a.m. Burial is in the Mount Carmel cemetery.
She was born in Casper, Wyo. on July 22, 1927, to Maurice and Mary E. Mahoney Kelliher. She entered the BVM congregation Sept. 8, 1948, from St. Anthony Parish, Casper. She professed first vows on March 19, 1951, and final vows on Aug. 15, 1956.
Sister Mary taught elementary and secondary school in Des Moines and Council Bluffs, Iowa; Lincoln, Neb.; Butte, Mont.; Chicago; and Petaluma, Calif. She was religious education coordinator in Denver, Colo., and Gillette, Wyo. She served in parish ministry in Green River, Wyo., and in Hispanic ministry in Casper, Wyo.; Kankakee, Ill.; and Solola, Guatemala.
She was preceded in death by her parents and sister Rosaleen Webster. She is survived by sisters Rita Rochelle and Patricia Tripeny, both of Casper, Wyo.; nieces; nephews; and the Sisters of Charity, BVM, with whom she shared life for 68 years.
Sister Mary Kelliher, BVM (Maurita)
Marian Hall, April 20, 2017
Good afternoon and welcome to the celebration of life of our Sister Mary Kelliher.
Mary Theresa Kelliher entered this world on July 22, 1927, in Casper, Wyo., as the third child of Maurice and Mary E. Mahoney Kelliher. She joined her sisters Rita and Rosaleen and was followed by her sister Patricia. Mary’s mother emigrated from County Cork, Ireland, and became a registered nurse in Chicago. Mary described her as “down to earth” and “stoically unsentimental.” “She had a good heart, but she didn’t like to show it,” said Mary. Her father emigrated from County Kerry, Ireland, and was the fire chief. “My dad, well his head was in the clouds,” commented Mary. “My dad loved socializing . . . I enjoy the traits of both my parents.”
Mary’s family moved to Wyoming, where she attended St. Anthony ES, which was staffed by BVMs. “Since the fifth grade I was very ‘holy,’” she commented. “I was a devil at home and an angel at school. I always wanted to be like the sisters. My father thought they were wonderful women. [He] had a very profound respect for them and I believe that they really did influence me.” Mary attended a public high school and worked as a nurse aide during World War II. After high school, she studied Latin at Clarke University for three years until the call to religious life compelled her to enter the congregation on Sept. 8, 1948. She received the name Maurita upon her reception on March 19, 1949, professed her first vows on March 19, 1951, and lived 68 years as a BVM.
Mary taught at St. Mary in Lincoln, Neb.; St. Joseph and St. John in Butte, Mont.; St. Cornelius in Chicago; St. Vincent in Petaluma, Calif.; St. Joseph Academy in Des Moines, Iowa; and St. Francis Xavier in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She entered parish ministry, teaching religious education at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Denver, Colo., and was the coordinator of religious education at St. Matthew Parish in Gillette, Wyo. She also worked in parish ministry at Immaculate Conception Parish in Green River, Wyo.
Mary’s appreciation for Spanish and Mexican culture coupled with an increasing Hispanic population, compelled her to learn Spanish. In 1993, she began a Hispanic ministry volunteering in Casper, Wyo., and later in Kankakee, Ill. Through a BVM Ministry Grant, she traveled to San Andrés Semetebaj, Guatemala, where she taught the Hermanas Misioneras de la Eucharistia (Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist). The purpose of this religious community, comprised of indigenous women, was to bring the Word of God and the Eucharist to small villages in remote areas.
In her memoir, Mary recounts the trepidation she experienced as she arrived in Guatemala. “Fear, the right kind of fear, can easily turn to trust. My trust is in God; Her presence cushions my being. I felt Her with me, “your hand will guide me.” Yet fear swept over me as it does with every new beginning. My beginnings were merely in location, because my vocation has remained dually as Christ’s friend and as teacher.” Years later Mary would recall: “[I was] fueled with hope to impact the future missions of these indigenous women religious as they would pass on Christ’s love.”
After returning to the United States, she taught ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at Kankakee Community College and volunteered in Hispanic ministry at St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee. While at St. Theresa, Mary worked in a food and clothing center and helped to establish “The Mothers’ Cooperativa” where Hispanic mothers took turns providing childcare so other mothers could take English classes.
Members of Mary’s BVM community in Kankakee remember her “as one of the most generous, hospitable and caring persons they had ever lived with,” commenting that “there was never enough that Mary could do for you, serve you, or inconvenience herself on your behalf. Sometimes even to the point of annoyance! She would offer you 17 choices of drinks and snacks and with each ‘no response,’ she would elicit a whole new list of offers.” They also noted her amazing interest in and ability to retain trivia; she would come out with the funniest data. One time she read that if you soak raisins in gin and refrigerate them, eating seven a day would ease arthritis. One day when the refrigerator was crowded and others objected to a big quart jar with only three raisins in it, Mary took the jar and said, “Oh, okay, I’ll overdose.”
While Mary may have experienced internal fears when confronting new situations, those who watched her observed what appeared to be total fearlessness. Her limited Spanish was never an excuse for not getting involved with the most complicated situations in which Hispanics found themselves. If she didn’t know how to proceed, she would go to the ends of the earth to find out the best solution. It didn’t matter what time the phone rang, she was ready to offer her Spanish and compassion to those who sought her assistance. She was always cheerful and positive in her ministry and presence.
When Mary retired in 2008, she chose to live in Chicago because it was easier for her and her family in Wyoming to visit each other. After the sale of Wright Hall, she moved to Mount Carmel, commenting, “Home is the place where they take you in because they know and love you and you know and love them.”
Mary, St. Paul’s message to the Ephesians reminds us that Christ was alive in your heart through faith; planted in love and you built on that love. You knew and loved your family, your sisters, all those God placed in your life, and all in God’s creation. Now with all the saints you are filled with the utter fullness of God. Indeed, you have been called home to a place where they take you because they know and love you. In this Easter season, we celebrate you in your own poetic words.”
The circle of love a horizon unfurled
A sky rimmed with trunks and branches of black
stretching into filigreed twigs against blue.
And ahead in the west appeared a patch of different hue:
A stately yellow willow came into view.
Now, O my soul, isn’t that a graceful transition . . .
Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and thence to Easter.
Mary, your daughter rejoices. Your Son, my brother, is alive!
(From Walk Around the Block, Maundy Thursday, 2008)