Funeral Reflection for Sister Mary Walker
Sister Nicole Kunze, Prioress
March 13, 2021
We gather as a monastic community today to celebrate the life of Sister Mary. We extend our sympathy to Sister Mary’s family and friends here in the chapel with us and others joining us through the livestream. We thank all of you for your prayers and support for us.
In Chapter 53 of the Rule of Saint Benedict, entitled the Reception of Guests, Benedict writes, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” In all ways throughout her life, Sister Mary lived out that recommendation from Saint Benedict and warmly welcomed every person she encountered.
Sister Mary welcomed students into her classroom, first at Priory High and later at the University of Mary. At Priory High, known as Sister Matthew, former students remember her kind, loving and caring spirit, her humor and her intelligence. At the University of Mary, she received others as Christ with warmth and attentiveness within and outside the classroom. Numerous online remembrances from former University of Mary students give us a glimpse of the impact she had on their lives. I want to share a few with you.
She told me I could, when many others told me I couldn't. She taught me the humor in liturgy, life and the mundane. Her rare and beautiful sense of awareness of the complex, while teaching how to pray through grief, illness and pain, were unparalleled.
I was her work-study student my freshman year and developed a close relationship with the photocopier.
This comment confirms the nickname “Sister Mary Handout” that she received from faculty and students for the numerous articles and handouts she gave in class.
She had a profound effect on shaping my life. As an older than average student at then Mary College I took her "Modern Day Prophets" course. The books I read, the personal journal required, and the most amazing discussions gave me the confidence needed to continue my studies and graduate with honors in three years.
How did Sister Mary look upon her role as a Theology professor? These comments she included in her December 1987 Christmas letter to family and friends provides us with some insight:
“For me working with students in the field of Theology is a labor of love, a type of privilege, a spiritual privilege, to meet people in this way, through God and surely learn new truths about God- even new ‘faces’ of God through students. I like to believe and teach that each of us contains a portion of the immense truth of God and I find this approach can open all of us – in a course – to the riches that are within each person.”
Sister Mary was always reading – books, journal and magazine articles, and the newspaper. In her 1987 Christmas letter, she recommended 18 books, listed alphabetically by author with her own commentary on each. Authors cited included Father Walter Burghardt, Garrison Keillor, Henri Nouwen, and Toni Morrison. As you can tell, Mary didn’t confine herself to any one particular genre.
This same 1987 Christmas letter shared one of Mary’s other talents – writing. She offered a Prayer for Christmas and I will share with you the first few lines: “Grace your fragile earth O God, with salvation’s story ever-old, ever-new, of a child destined on a midnight clear for a birthplace among nobodies.” She provided our community with many reflections on the Sunday Gospels. I want to share a remembrance that Sister Grace provided me about Mary’s creativity: “In our afternoon group at the monastery, we could be creative in planning our prayer service each week. Mary’s prayer services were very unique. She would find some stories and snippets of favorite sayings. The prayer sheet would look like a patchwork quilt with her writing all around the margins and in between. Her handwriting was absolutely illegible. I could not figure out the beginning or the end, but Mary could.”
Sister Mary’s gift of hospitality and genuine graciousness continued during her years as a resident at St. Vincent’s Care Center. Even in her later years, when one wasn’t entirely sure she understood the conversation, she would respond wholeheartedly to news from the monastery with an “Oh, isn’t that great!” or “That’s terrific!” Our monastic community is grateful to the staff of St. Vincent’s for the outstanding care they provided Mary for more than 11 years. I also want to acknowledge and thank Wanda for her many visits to Mary over those years and Zona for the cards and packages she sent regularly to Mary.
Thank you, Sister Mary, for sharing your life with all of us and welcoming each person into your life as if they were Christ. We are grateful for the gift you have been to us. May you now share in the glory of God with the saints in heaven.