By Sister Patricia Connor, RSHM
MONTEBELLO, CA. Mary Milligan RSHM, past General Superior, died on April 2, 2011. The following eulogy was written by Patricia Connor, RSHM.
With all our RSHM Sisters throughout the world who cannot be physically present, yet are united with Mary and with all of you who have come to celebrate her life, I ask God to welcome her warmly Home.
As I began to prepare these remarks, a number of thoughts came to mind. Mary—daughter, sister, aunt, poet, author, teacher, scholar, theologian, spiritual guide, gardener and lover of creation, linguist, inspirer of dreams, daughter of the Church, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. I could go on, and I am sure you could go on, too.
Mary is a giant in the Institute of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. For more than forty years she was a huge presence in all our provinces and regions. She occu- pies a very special place in our history. Becoming a general councilor shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Mary contributed significantly to the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council within our Institute and within many other congregations of women religious as well. Totally fluent in French, steeped in French history and French culture, and deeply knowledgeable of French spirituality, past and present, she was uniquely able to lead us to discover anew our mid-nineteenth century French Founder, Father Jean Gailhac, and French Foundress, Mother St. Jean Cure Pelissier, and our first sisters and to help us understand them at a depth we had never known before. She helped us to understand the meaning of the communal charism of a religious congregation and what this offered the Church for the life of the world, and she helped us to discover our distinctive communal charism—to discover the treasure hidden in the field—to understand our past and to link it to our life and mission today. She wrote voluminously on our Sources, translated historical works and letters from their original French and Portuguese with great earnestness for accuracy. She led all of us in an Institute-wide process of rewriting our Constitutions, helping us to articulate in a corporate way our experience of living the Gospel and our life and mission in the Church and the world. As General Superior of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary and under her leadership, our Constitutions were accepted and approved by the universal Church. Her retreats on our Constitutions in all parts of our Institute were a gift, and she challenged us to integrate ever more fully how we were living with our communal word.
Mary loved God‘s Word. God‘s Word was her life. She taught the Word, spoke the Word, and lived the Word. Her love of Scripture was communicated to her students in a way that invited each one to go and discover for herself and himself that, “Yes, God‘s Word is Life.” She was committed to the strong, solid formation of persons for religious life and the priesthood, and she believed strongly that our lives need to be rooted in God‘s Word. She believed deeply in the importance of formation—ongoing as well as initial—and to this end she wrote articles, gave retreats, and was a spiritual director to many.
As a leader of women religious and a theologian, Mary was sought after as a speaker and teacher, and her insights and reflections always contributed greatly to a conference and meeting. She was a member of the International Union of Superiors‘ General Council of 16 with whom Pope John Paul II consulted, was invited to the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and World, and participated in the Church‘s International Meeting on Seminaries and Catholic Institutions of Higher Learning. She was frequently called upon to be part of theological groups studying significant issues of the day.
She was a beloved teacher at Marymount College, Loyola Marymount University, and St. John‘s Seminary. She had a great love for teaching and inspired her students to love learning, continue inquiring, and to dream big dreams. Mary was an international person, a citizen of the world, who was always proud of her southern California roots and, as we would kid her, being a Valley girl.
Fortunately, she has left us a rich legacy. Her books, conferences, articles, her translated works and letters, and many of her own letters remain. Her words will live on, as will the example she has left us. Her life has been very fruitful, and she will continue to give life.
We give thanks to God for you, Mary. Our love and gratitude, Mary, will endure.
Pictured: Sister Mary Milligan, RSHM
Source: RSHM Soundings Roots and Shoots Volume XIV, Number 3 -Autumn 2011
Sister Patricia Connor, RSHM, past General Superior, serves on the Board and tutors at the Alternative Education Work center of A Place Called Home, Los Angeles, CA.