Sister Mary Ann Walsh: The Nuns Who Form Us


Editor’s note: The National Religious Retirement Collection will be taken up in parishes the weekend of Dec. 8-9. If you want to know why it is important, consider the following: The U.S. Social Security system projects that it needs four wage earners for every retired beneficiary in order to keep the system solvent.  By 2022 religious institutes will have one wage earner for every four retired – the exact inverse. If you want a worthy collection, this one is it. Check out This week, the USCCB is running a wonderful series of guest posts by people whose lives were touched by religious. We are very happy to share these and encourage you to prayerfully support this weekend’s collection. LMH

Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sister Mary Ann Walsh: The Nuns Who Form Us

We’re formed by those around us. As the National Religious Retirement Collection comes up (the collection is December 8-9), I cannot help but think of the many religious who formed me.

Sister Patricia Newell was my fifth grade teacher and advised us students to name our guardian angels. I named mine Michael, as in Michael the Archangel. I’ve called on his protection in large and small ways, asking everything from “Wake me up on time” to “Get me out of here alive” (in that case, a reporting assignment in Beirut.)

Sister Veronica Joyce, my eighth grade teacher saw I finished my work quickly. She also believed that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. So she assigned me to write the class play, class history, class song, class prophecy and whatever else she could think of. She even let me work in my own space, alone in the little used nurse’s office. Years later when I told the story, a fellow nun said, “Wow. She isolated you and got you to think you had your own office!” I still love writing.

Sister Mary Carmel Gaynor taught journalism to a lot of us who went into that field. She hammered “clarity and accuracy” at us over and over again. That guiding principle for the communications business stood as good advice not just for the news business but for life.

Sister Katherine Hanley, an English professor at the College of St. Rose, treated students as if everything they said was deathless prose. It drew us out of ourselves. It was empowering. When I taught, I tried to do the same.

It’s dangerous to name names and if I miss someone, I apologize. Two years ago I faced breast cancer and nuns surrounded me. Amy Hoey, Janice Bader, Linda Werthman, Peg Sullivan, Kay Graber, Jean McGinty, Katie Mindling, Patti Donlin and many more helped run my life when I couldn’t run my own. They prayed with and for me, cooked meals, filled out insurance forms, helped me make wise decisions, accompanied me to appointments and offered encouragement I never dreamed I’d need. Mary Ellen Dougherty, who paused leaving my hospital bedside one night remarked, “God wants you to get better.” I was scared and that never occurred to me, but when she said it, I knew it was true.

Sister Sharon Euart made a quilt with squares gathered from supportive friends and today it hangs in my bedroom. It reminds me that God’s love flows freely to us through many people not because we’ve earned it but because God is goodness itself.

Sister Lilyan Fraher, who this summer as director of my annual retreat, suggested that as I fall off to sleep I ask, “Where did I see the face of God today?” It’s a great way to enter into the night.

None of the above thought what they were doing was extraordinary because such giving is an ordinary part of their lives. That’s how it is with religious sisters, brothers and priests. God’s goodness courses through them; their lives are wordless sermons, and I haven’t even told (or even know) the half of it.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh is a member of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and Director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Editor’s Note: To contribute to the Retirement Fund for Religious, visit: or


About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

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