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In remembrance of a pioneer

February 11, 2013

The following article, written by Susan Bailey, current chairperson of the Commission for Women, is reprinted from the Catholic Free Press.  With this column, the Commission will be revitalizing its monthly column and commentary, “Concerning Women,” which will run monthly in the Free Press.

It seems most appropriate to begin that monthly column with a tribute to one of the original contributors to that column, and longtime Commission member, Mary Donovan.

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Proverbs 31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 

maryMary T. Donovan was a wise woman, born of a deep faith. Her wisdom was gentle yet firm, and devoid of arrogance. It began with words and manifested itself in action. Above all, it was rooted in love.

She spoke softly, amiably, with a twinkle in her eye and always with conviction. She worked tirelessly for her church community at St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury and the Worcester Diocese, for social justice, and for the role of women
in the Church.

Mary spoke out for her local community as the longtime editor and publisher of the Shrewsbury Voice . She served the Diocese as a board member and contributor to the Catholic Free Press.

As one of the founding members of the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester, Mary served with vigor and enthusiasm and we are deeply saddened by her passing on January 25
at the age of 89.

Carolyn Black, former chair of the Commission recalls that “Mary was grounded in her love of God, family and life and she lived all of them to the fullest. She had the gift of discerning what was important and was able to put that into meaningful words. In Mary’s presence at a discussion I always came away enlightened. She was one who moved the Commission to think beyond the mundane and reach for God’s plan for us.”

Founded on April 18, 1989 by Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, the Commission’s role is to recognize and encourage the role of women in the Diocese. Former treasurer Joan Talbot worked alongside with Mary and recalls travels to Jacksonville, FL for a gathering of national representatives interested in brainstorming ideas concerning the role of women in the church.  “As a result of that session and I’m sure other collaborations, the document ‘From Words to Deeds-Continuing Reflections on the Role of Women in the Church’ was published.”

She continues, “Mary was always interested in ideas. The readings we pursued involved inclusive language, our Mary Magdalene study, the Madeleva lectures and other writings by prominent
Catholic authors.”

A crowning achievement of the Commission was a study of the feasibility of ordaining women to the diaconate which was submitted to Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly for consideration by the Vatican. Mary was a key player in that project.

Former chair Anne Ancona was drawn into the Commission in part because of Mary’s regular column in the Catholic Free Press, “Concerning Women.” She recalls, “I was always excited when one of her columns was in the paper that week. It was always thought-provoking and affirming of women. I met Mary at a presentation about Women and the Diaconate and became interested in joining the Commission. I looked on Mary as a role model as a wife, mother, a woman of strong faith, and a Catholic. I often said we’d like to be like Mary as we grew old. I’m so grateful she was my friend.”

Commission members on retreat at the Weston Priory. From L to R, 1st row: Mary Donovan, Anne Ancona, Susan Bailey, Ann O'Connor (retired member), Barbara Legassey, Ann Wagstaff (former member). Second row: Carolyn Black, Shirley Pukaite, Frankie Nugent (retired member)

Commission members on retreat at the Weston Priory. From L to R, 1st row: Mary Donovan, Anne Ancona, Susan Bailey, Ann O’Connor (retired member), Barbara Legassey, Ann Wagstaff (former member). Second row: Carolyn Black, Shirley Pukaite, Joan Talbot

My fondest recollection of Mary reaches back several years to a March weekend retreat with Commission members in Vermont near the Weston Priory. Sitting around a crackling fire in the hearth, we shared from our lives and experiences. Although I didn’t know Mary well I was taken by her soft voice and wise words laced with a keen wit. To me she was beautiful, her face glowing with warmth from a love entrenched in her soul. I don’t remember exact words but rather her presence and long for the day when we can converse again in the next life.

Mary was part of that first generation of women pioneers emerging from the home front into public life, testing their mettle, finding their voices and being heard at last. She used her voice during the Civil Rights era and the Vietnam War, and advocated throughout her life on issues of poverty and the concerns of women.

She was a pioneer in our diocese, giving all women a voice through her work with the Commission.

May she rest in peace.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynne Cota permalink
    February 11, 2013 9:32 pm

    I was sad to read of the passing of Mary Donovan. Please keep me (us) abreast of the progress of allowing women to be in the Diaconate. I have long been an advocate of the inclusion of women in the Diaconate–especially in a trained role.

    Thank you for your work.

    Lynne Cota
    Athol, Ma.
    Our Lady Immaculate

    • February 11, 2013 9:49 pm

      Unfortunately nothing really came of the study that was done by the Commission although it was taken seriously by Bishop Reilly. It remains to be seen whether women will be trained as deacons and if there is any further news, we will update the blog with that news.

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