Celebrations and Fun
For the Teresians, fun was a part of their lives, even if it were only singing or hum-ming songs through combs covered with tissue paper! Christmas was always celebrated with a turkey dinner, tree, and Christmas stockings. Halloween was the occasion for apple-dunking and a masquerade party. The most popular costumes were of nuns, priests, and even a bishop, dressed up in purple, his crozier a broom handle, his miter a fancy cockade.
On October 15, 1915, Mollie (Mary Joseph) started a Maryknoll tradition by celebrating St. Teresa's Feast Day with ice cream sodas. She secretly set up a soda fountain and booths in the garden, but Margaret Shea unaccustomed to handling such a large bottle of soda, managed to spray it all over the kitchen before the party started, and another had to be purchased. The soda fountain offered such tempting concoctions as "Ningpo Sundae" and "Chop Suey," with Mollie and Margaret serving as soda jerks.
In what also became a Maryknoll custom, the party was followed by three-legged sack races and dancing. There were birthday parties, plays, picnics, and outings to Rye Beach, where the women went swimming in the tank suits of the time!
1916-1920 ~ Years of Struggle for Official Recognition from Rome
The Teresians, who had come to a decision in 1916 to be women religious as Dominicans, struggled from 1916 to 1920 to obtain official recognition from Rome. Correspondence among Cardinal John Farley, Father James Anthony Walsh, Father John McNicholas, O.P., and Mollie directed the process of application. Great care was exercised so that it would not be "when we thought our work finished, it might be discovered we had built on an invalid foundation." The struggle of these years is focused in the historical perspective of three petitions which were sent to Rome by the Teresians for approval.
The First Petition
In compliance with the official Roman procedure, Monsignor Ferrante of the Sacred Congregation of Religious in Rome prepared in Italian the first petition. It was a very simple request to open a novitiate at St. Teresa's under the title of Dominican Tertiaries of the Foreign Missions. It was first sent to Rome on June 30, 1916. It was returned as Father Walsh noted: "because it was addressed to the Congre-gation of Propaganda rather than to that of Regulars." The petition was re-addressed and re-sent to Rome on August 17, 1916.
By January 16, 1917, a reply to this first petition was received by Cardinal Farley at the New York Chancery. It granted the Teresians the right to be organized as a pious society "bound by no religious vows." It was unexpected and a very great disappointment to the Teresians. In fact, it "amounted to a refusal," in their minds.
Mollie expressed her own response in a note to Father Walsh:
The shock of the announcement—which was almost panic—is over and I can see things more clearly. I believe the Teresians as a body will willingly accept the decision. To do otherwise would be to wound the Head of which we are members. It will be a good test of our Catholicity, our vocation and our love.
It was necessary to make adjustments. Mollie wrote in January 1917 about the "new conditions" to Sr. Ruth, O.P., in Sinsinawa, whose plan was all set to come to Maryknoll to form the Teresians along Dominican lines. Mollie's letter noted that despite the negative reply from Rome, they all desired her to come. The letter ended on a poignant line: "…one of the Teresians (Mary Louise Wholean), the first to join, is near death and I doubt if she can live many days."
Mary Louise Wholean
Throughout the years, illness had become a familiar companion to Mary Louise, who agonized through a long, painful illness from incurable stomach cancer. Mollie acted as infirmarian, especially when the duties were heavy. All throughout the fall and winter of 1916, Mary Louise struggled bravely with her illness.
As the new year began, she was bedridden and growing emaciated almost beyond recognition. She had not yielded up her dream to continue the work to which she was so devoted. All at Maryknoll knew she was dying except Mary Louise herself. Her mother came to be with her during those last weeks.
Mollie took on the duties of night nurse and watched and prayed over the unequal battle, bringing such serenity and insight into the sickroom that the dying woman hung on to her presence as if she might drown without it.
By day Mollie carried on as much of her usual work as she was able and snatched what rest she could. When, on February 19, 1917, death finally came to Mary Louise, it found her ready, her resistance laid aside, her own dream of serving God abandoned fully and finally in favor of God's plan for her. It was a great grace. From it, Mollie drew much consolation even while she felt keenly this first death among her companions.
Worn out by Mary Louise's long illness, Mollie remained tired all that late winter and spring. Soon illness came to be her companion. At home it had been almost unknown for her to be sick. Now she embarked upon the first of a long series of illnesses that would pace themselves over the rest of her life like the way of the cross. They would not prevent her working, nor take away her joy in giving herself to the task at hand.
When she had to submit to hospitalization and surgery, she would do so with such humor and relaxation that many, even the Sisters who nursed her, had no realization of her pain and weakness. The effortless way in which she detached her mind from herself and fastened it on the concerns and needs of others, particularly evident toward the end of her life, was the fruit of long habit, as well as Mollie's walking in the way of love throughout her life.
During the spring and summer of 1917, she made a slow and difficult recovery from an abdominal operation, at one time burning with fever and weighed down with pain, at another improving only to relapse again. After several months, the body finally responded, and the infection was sealed off and healed, and she was able to take up her full round of activity.
Mary Augustine Dwyer
Since the fall of 1913, Mary Augustine, one of the three secretaries who had arrived on January 6, 1912, had been acting as bookkeeper, secretary, and housekeeper at the Venard Apostolic School in Scranton, the nucleus of a Junior Seminary begun at that time by Fr. James A. Walsh. Even the virtual independence of this position, and the opportunities it gave her considerable abilities, left her dissatisfied.
On June 14, 1914, Mollie left for Scranton where she was to help Mary Augustine close up the house for the summer, spend a few days with the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, call on Bishop Hoban, and attend to various matters for which she asked the Teresians to remember in prayer.
Mollie was grieved to find how much Mary Augustine's discontent had overflowed into criticism of Fr. Walsh's way of developing the group of women auxiliaries. The difficulties which she created for Fr. Walsh pained Mollie more than any of the suffering which Mary Augustine caused her personally. She had two key complaints.
First of all, she felt the Teresians lacked definiteness. They had no real rule, no status, no stable organization. Mollie replied: "You know as much of the future as I do. God has provided for us thus far. Why should God fail us now?"
Her second complaint concerned the composition of the group itself. Some of the Teresians were trained and some were untrained. She felt that the community of women needed to be in two separate groups: one with skilled office workers and one with domestic workers.
Mollie, holding deep pain in her heart at hearing this kind of complaint, replied gently but firmly, "We can never have any such division among us!"
Mollie, and later as Mother Mary Joseph, always envisioned our community as one family, with a great variety of gifts and diversity of cultures and personalities. Having a heart to love and a will to serve were the main requisites of our Maryknoll mission vocation.
In April of 1916, Mary Augustine Dwyer returned to Boston and successfully re-established her former business. Mollie always appreciated Mary Augustine's hard work and the great contribution she made in the early days. Also, Fr. James A. Walsh visited her whenever he was in Boston.
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Question for Reflection
As we are exposed to difficulties within and beyond our Community, do we experience these trials as being integral to deepening and strengthening our call to universal communion?
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The above Reflections were adapted from Maryknoll's First Lady by Jeanne Marie Lyons, MM; To the Uttermost Parts of the Earth by Camilla Kennedy, MM; Hearts on Fire by Penny Lernoux, and the Picture is from the Maryknoll Archives.
Maryknoll Contemplative Community and the Sisters Centennial Retreats-Reflection Committee
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