Remembering Sr. Maura Prendergast, SNDdeN
Sister Maura Prendergast, SNDdeN
Professor of French 1964-2005
Remembrance of Sr. Maura by Dr. Deborah Harris-O’Brien
Sr. Maura was a wonderful colleague and friend. When I arrived at Trinity I had the good fortune to have the office next to hers. As a new faculty member I often had questions, problems or just needed someone to listen, and Sr. Maura always had wise words of counsel and gentle humor. Her nurturing spirit and caring helped me as a new academic and working mother of young girls. She became close to my youngest daughter (a toddler when I began at Trinity), who accompanied me to work one day a week. As my daughter grew, Sr. Maura maintained contact with her and often gave her children’s books in French. The last time I saw Sr. Maura, I shared that my daughter was completing her Ph.D. in English Literature and her dissertation involved translating a 14th century writer from Old French. I like to think that Sr. Maura played a role in inspiring my daughter’s love for language.
Language was Sr. Maura’s passion that she shared not only with her own students in French, but with everyone at Trinity. Sr. Maura was proficient in a number of languages and valued opportunities to converse with international students or multi-lingual visitors to Trinity.
While she maintained a strict attitude with her students, Sr. Maura was a warm, supportive soul. She was known for her culinary skills, and she wanted everyone to be well-nourished, not only in spirit, but in body. I had a student who confided that she was only eating one meal a day due to financial circumstances; Sr. Maura took her under her wing and made sure the student had meals in the convent until Trinity administrators were able to set up more permanent assistance for the student. After that, Dean Meechie Bowie began the food pantry for the Trinity community. I think a wonderful way to remember Sr. Maura from her former students and colleagues would be to make a donation in her honor to Trinity’s food pantry or emergency student fund. That would truly be a way to continue Sr. Maura’s kindness and caregiving for those in need.
Tribute to Sr. Maura by Sr. Mary Ann Cook, SNDdeN, Professor Emerita of English
Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over,
has been poured into my lap. (Lk 6:38).
Gratitude is a hallmark of Maura’s life. Unable to capture her boundless gratitude for God’s goodness to her in prose, she turned to a metaphor from Luke’s gospel. Maura had the eye, mind and heart of a poet. She saw God’s presence, action, goodness and love in family relationships and her host of friendships; in all of creation (trees and flowers; the Villa’s family of geese; squirrels leaping on to birdfeeders for some lunch; rain and snow, sun and clouds, moon and stars; in liturgy and sacrament.
Her Golden Jubilee reflections (2002) “run over” with gratitude: for the way her parents “worked hard to raise my older brother, Patrick, and me, and to send us to Catholic school”; the way “there were grandparents to keep an eye on us”; the way she and Patrick “had an unbounded world to play in and animals to share it with us”; the way Notre Dame had given her “wonderful opportunities to develop my skills through study and friendships.” She elaborates: “I am truly grateful to my congregation and to my Sisters with whom I share this life; to my mother and Stan [her stepfather], who always were there on visiting day, however bad the weather, who have always accompanied me, supported me, and loved me; and to my brother and all of his family.” The culmination of her litany of gratitude echoes at once with simplicity and depth: “The Eucharist has been a daily gift of God’s goodness.” Her Diamond Jubilee reflection expands on the meaning Eucharist had for her: “I have learned to find so many loved ones, my mother among them, at Communion during daily Mass, where they have been welcomed into the light of God’s face.”
Maura’s use of Luke 6:38 focuses on all that she has received. In its entirety, though, the verse emphasizes giving. Jesus tells his disciples: “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” The metaphors Maura applied to God’s generosity also describe hers.
“I have rarely met an individual who combines such high qualities of head and heart and who shares both so generously with her community and with her students,” an SND colleague at Trinity College wrote when Maura was teaching there. “With a true spirit of poverty, she is lavish with everything she receives,” combining “brilliance in her field” with “genuine human concern for the welfare of her students and colleagues.”
Maura’s mind and heart were, as St. Julie would say, “as wide as the world.” At Trinity, she took to team-taught interdisciplinary courses like a duck to water, reveling in her interaction with faculty from the whole range of liberal-arts disciplines – science, the social sciences, language, literature, history, art, music. She treasured memories of summer programs shared in Italy and France with faculty colleagues and students. She had a particular gift for advising international students experiencing homesickness and culture shock. As a translator at our congregation’s General Chapters and other international meetings, she reveled in the opportunity to form friendships with, and learn from, SNDs from all five continents.
A Sister from South Belgium, hearing that her “big sister and dear friend Maura” had died, sent an e-mail: “She was my friend for more than 50 years and marked my life through our teamwork as translators at various meetings; our cultural and other visits in Belgium, France and the United States; and our frequent correspondence . . . . Maura was a very generous and gifted woman . . . . Her kindness, her smile, her discretion and help wherever she was needed, remain forever. . . . She lives forever in my heart and I’m sure in many other hearts too.”
SNDs from other countries and cultures frequently “passed through” Trinity; some lived there for a stretch while taking courses to improve their English. Maura was most attentive to them. A Congolese Sister e-mailed her abiding gratitude for Maura’s help – not just with English but in the culinary arts as well. Maura, seeing the Sister’s enjoyment of her eggplant parmesan, shared the recipe and went looking for eggplant seeds she could take back to Congo. “I did plant them,” the Sister wrote, “and the harvest was abundance!”
Maura cared for everyone, wherever she lived and worked. Thanks to her, the guards manning Trinity’s Security desk on Christmas Day or Thanksgiving received a generous share of the dinner she cooked for her Sisters. Maintenance staff digging the campus out of snow and ice got warmed up with mugs of hot coffee and generous ladles of her homemade soup. Cleaning staff took delight from talking with her in their own language. At Villa Julie, she took a personal interest in everyone on staff, whatever their role or department: administrators, support staff, nurses , aides, food-service personnel, maintenance staff, cleaners – all were family, tucked into her love and prayer. At Mount Notre Dame, though she couldn’t say or do much, her gentle manner and gracious smile spoke volumes. Maura lived in the spirit of Pope Francis’s Fratelli tutti!
She was, as we say in Notre Dame, “a community woman.” She did what she could to make the house a home. Her planters, filled with tomatoes and herbs, lined the Trinity community’s dining-room porch. Her daffodils beautified a small plot nearby. At both Trinity and Villa Julie, she loved having Notre Dame Associates come for Mass, reflection, and their annual re-commitment rituals. Area gatherings of SNDs from all three provinces were, for her, grand opportunities to “catch up” with old friends. She entered into traditional community celebrations with gusto, especially on Halloween and St. .Patrick’s Day. At Trinity, her Three Kings Parties , complete with gift swaps, were a tour de force.
But community, for Maura, was not all fun and games. It meant sharing limited resources for the common good. While pursuing her doctorate at George Washington University, she taught there part-time (besides carrying a full course load at Trinity) to earn tuition credit and a modest stipend, reducing province expense and gaining a little income. A few years before her retirement, as she began sensing her own reduced energy and her aging mother’s unspoken longing to see more of her, Maura asked to transition to part-time faculty status. But she was so concerned about the negative impact of a reduction in her salary on the province budget that she came up with a plan. She could do “more of the cooking for the community,” reducing its bills for campus food service. and “giving us a menu more suited to our dietary needs.” In addition, she would be able to devote more time to her mother. “Each time I leave her recently,” Maura wrote to her provincial, “she asks when I’m coming back, as though she ‘hears time’s winged chariot drawing near.’”
Alas, now the “winged chariot” has come for Maura herself. In “the old days,” when an SND died at Trinity, her Sisters would sing a prayer to the melody of Keep in Mind. All of us who knew and loved Maura can sing it now, in our hearts:
May the Lord bless you and keep you. / May he let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May he look upon you kindly, and give you peace.
We give thanks to our God for all our memories of you, / happy at all times in the prayers we offer for you,
So full a part you have taken with us / in the work of Christ’s Gospel.