Five Sisters of St. Mary of Namur celebrate 65 years of consecrated life
FORT WORTH — Later this year, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur will mark a milestone anniversary: 200 years as a religious order. But before then, five of those sisters were honored for anniversaries of their own Sept. 15 during a Mass and luncheon held at Our Lady of Victory Center in Fort Worth.
Sister Mary Elaine Breen, Sister Jane Conway, Sister Joan Markey, Sister Mary Dorothy Powers, and Sister Mary Jean Warmuth marked 65 years with the religious order by renewing vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience before a gathering of friends, family, and fellow sisters.
“The Lord receives your gift. May you receive God’s blessing,” the order’s provincial, Sister Gabriela Martinez, said at the end of the brief ritual.
Bishop Michael Olson, the Mass celebrant, offered prayers of gratitude for the five sisters who were called by Christ and followed Him into religious life.
“Our ministry is a response to Christ’s call, but it is also something we share,” he said, addressing the jubilarians. “Particularly in religious life, it’s a ministry you share as members of a community and part of a tradition.”
The community has existed since 1819, and since then members of the Belgian-based congregation have touched millions of lives around the globe through education, healthcare, and missionary outreach.
“The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur will celebrate 200 years of history and that history is made up of women who are heroes,” enthused Sister Gabriela. “They are women who give of themselves always and are witnesses to God’s love for all.”
Noting that upcoming bicentennial anniversary, the bishop recalled the order’s early days in Belgium. Encouraged by their pastor, two women combined religious instruction with sewing lessons to educate impoverished girls in Namur. Their ministry quickly flourished beyond the parish.
“They went out to find the lost sheep,” Bishop Olson said, referencing Sunday’s Gospel (Lk. 15:1-10). “Early in their life in Namur, they reached out to young women who otherwise would have been lost and overlooked.”
The Sisters of St. Mary continue to help the poor who often fall through the cracks of society.
“Through your charism and ministry as sisters, you’ve always been there to prevent the fall,” he pointed out. “And to those who do fall, you pull them out of the crevice.”
Saying “yes” to the call of Christ each and every moment of the day takes courage, the bishop added.
“May the Lord bless you and your community with great joy, peace, and the ongoing love of Christ that never fails,” he said in closing.
Many of Sr. Mary Elaine’s family members joined her for the celebration. A graduate of Our Lady of Victory Academy, she entered the convent as an 18-year-old and became a registered nurse in 1960. The healthcare professional went on to become a midwife in the Congo and worked at the order’s hospital and dispensary in Rwanda during her career. Sr. Mary Elaine used her medical expertise to help design OLV’s infirmary.
“It’s been a wonderful 65 years,” she told the North Texas Catholic.
Her brother, Michael Breen, said their mother always wanted a sister and priest in the family. His sibling fulfilled part of that dream.
“She was so proud of Elaine and would be so happy today,” he said.
Sr. Dorothy Powers referred to her 65 years as a Sister of St. Mary as a “wonderful roller coaster ride. If I could do it all over again, I would in an instant.”
After earning a degree in Spanish language and literature in Mexico, she taught Spanish at Nolan Catholic High School and later served as principal at two Catholic elementary schools. The OLV graduate returned to Mexico and co-founded a mission of the Sisters of St. Mary in Zihuatanejo, Mexico along with Sr. Gabriela. After retiring from her position as director of religious education at St. Joseph Parish, Sr. Dorothy was named co-director of formation and is now part of the order’s leadership team.
“The future of the Sisters of St. Mary is up to God. We’ll go where God leads us and answer the needs that are there,” she said. “We pray there are other women who are inspired and will listen to God’s call.”
Sr. Joan Markey served six years as provincial for the order’s western province and looks back on that time with fondness.
“The sisters are so engaged and giving,” observed the Wichita Falls native who earned undergraduate and advanced degrees in English from the University of Dallas and Rice University and a master’s degree in library science from the University of North Texas. “They have such enthusiasm and ideas.”
Her apostolate included working as a teacher or administrator at the elementary, high school, and college levels.
Hymns sang at the Jubilee Mass were accompanied on the piano by Sister Jane Conway, one of the day’s honorees.
“I have always loved music, and my parents and the sisters nurtured that,” said Sr. Mary Jane who first met the Sisters of St. Mary as a first-grader in Dallas and later attended OLV.
The accomplished musician taught at OLV Academy and Nolan Catholic High School when it opened in 1961. At the University of St. Thomas in Houston, she chaired the music department and was an instructor in applied music, theory, and chamber music.
“What’s the best part of being a sister? It’s living with people who have similar aspirations,” she said. “I like to teach and was able to do that.”
Sr. Mary Jean Warmuth still remembers the first time she walked into a classroom. There were 54 boys and girls sitting in a first-grade classroom at St. Alice (now Holy Family) School. A few years later, the Wichita Falls native took time off from teaching to become a licensed vocational nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Worth. She later returned to the classroom and served there until retirement.
“I remember a lot of my students and they remember me when they see this,” she said pointing to her blue veil. “I spent close to 50 years in the classroom. It was always so rewarding.”