Sister Mary Irene Spraley, SNDdeN
October 4, 1925 – November 13, 2019
“We must not listen to anything else when the good God calls us, when he wants to grant us this great grace.”
(Letter 57, St. Julie Billiart, Foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur)
The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi in 1925 brought Clement and Irene Spraley not one but two blessings: the birth of twins. Their second son, Clement, was born first. Their second daughter, Clara, soon followed. Born on his feast day, Clara took the name “Frances” when she was confirmed, and St. Francis and his prayer would be among her favorites throughout her life. One might have assumed that Clara would grow up to be a Franciscan, but God had other plans. She grew up in St. Agnes Parish and attended Julienne High school. Clara’s teachers for grades 1 through 12 were the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Their congregation was the one she knew, respected and admired. If she was going to be a sister, Clara would be a Sister of Notre Dame. But she did not enter when she graduated from high school.
The country was at war when Clara graduated. Her oldest brother was serving with the Marines, her twin might go to war as well. Clara would do her part to help. She was hired at Inland Manufacturing where she operated a Comptometer. Her brother LeRoy was killed in action in the fall of 1943. Clara submitted her entrance application a month later and entered the Sisters of Notre Dame on February 6, 1944.
When asked how she’d like to serve, Clara listed the options of cooking, sewing, and housework as her first three choices. Once again God had other plans. She received the name Sister Mary Irene, made her vows in 1946 and soon after found herself facing a classroom of first graders at St. Peter Canisius Parish School in Chicago. Mary Irene discovered she loved teaching the primary grades and she was good at it. Her four years at St. Peter Canisius would be Mary Irene’s only assignment outside of Ohio.
In Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, Mary Irene taught 1st and 2nd grade for 11 years before being assigned to 7th and 8th grade classes. Her practicality and organizational skills led her Superiors to assign her the added responsibility of serving as principal at St. James Parish School in Dayton. When the Sisters of Notre Dame were asked to staff a new school at St. Paul’s Parish in Westerville, Ohio, Mary Irene was sent with three others to begin the new foundation. She served as eighth grade teacher, principal and superior of the small community. Mary Irene was a good principal, and she would serve in that capacity a number of times. But every time she had the opportunity, she chose to the primary grades. Mary Irene taught 2nd grade at Our Lady of the Rosary in Dayton for two years, and was then needed to serve as principal there. She saw the need for adding a kindergarten to the school, but the budget did not have room for another teacher. And so, for a year, Mary Irene split her time between teaching the half day kindergarten and carrying out the responsibilities of principal. The rest of her years in formal education would find her alternating between teaching the 1st and 2nd grade and serving as principal.
Besides teaching and school administration, from the mid 1960’s through the 1990’s Mary Irene was an active member of the parishes where she served. She served as a Eucharistic Minister and on Education Commissions and Worship/Liturgy Committees. Mary Irene participated in parish festivals, the Christ Renews His Parish program while at St. Helen’s and had the unique opportunity to serve as witness to a marriage while at Sts. Peter and Paul. She enjoyed getting to know parishioners and the families of her students, and her attendance at class reunions and parish anniversary celebrations provided Mary Irene with opportunities to renew treasured relationships.
Mary Irene served in formal education for 51 years and then answered the call to provide clerical support at Mount Notre Dame Health Center. There she took charge of the ordering of medical supplies which included dealing with “mountains of paperwork for Medicaid, and a myriad of related duties...” – including helping get Sisters to and from chapel, helping staff the gift shop and keeping the Sisters supplied with postage stamps. Mary Irene’s work in the Health Center provided the opportunity for her to interact with the Sisters and staff in a caring and comforting way that was marked by her gentleness, quietness and generosity. She had a knack for anticipating needs and was willing to do whatever she could do to help her Sisters. No task was too great or too small and her willingness to be of assistance was always accompanied by a smile.
The same qualities that made Mary Irene such a gift to the Health Center also made her a great asset to the Mount Notre Dame High School Adopt-a-Sister program. She met with a group of students once a month during the school year, accompanying them through their Sophomore, Junior and Senior years and often staying in touch long after that.
Mary Irene lived community life for over seventy-five years. The ways she gifted her Sisters in community could fill a book. An excellent listener and good friend, Mary Irene took a sincere interest in the Sisters around her. She took things in stride, trusting God to provide whatever was needed in a given situation. Mary Irene’s motto was: “Do not give up! God is good!” One Sister described her presence as “quiet, peaceful joy.” Another said Mary Irene had a “…rare and special talent for making our lives brighter day by day.” Mary Irene was a good cook and loved to bake. She enjoyed knitting and kept the Gift Shop supplied with baby afghans. Mary Irene enjoyed all kinds of games, was a fierce card player and had a great sense of humor. She enjoyed taking pictures and with another Sister to keep a photo journal as the archival record of their community. Mary Irene was interested in current events and kept herself informed about what was going on in the world, wrote to elected officials to help bring about just laws and prayed for victims of trafficking and drug abuse. She served on the Finance Board and Ohio Unit Assembly, and she participated in opportunities for theological updating and Circles of Conversation. Extremely practical, Mary Irene was a great person to “buddy” with a new member of the Health Center. She gently showed them “the ropes” and helped them feel at home. Mary Irene loved the outdoors and had an adventuresome side that included going up in a hot air balloon. As a Golden Jubilarian she made a pilgrimage to France and Belgium. She treasured memories of that trip the rest of her life.
Mary Irene’s family was close in her early years, and remained so as adults. She looked forward to and enjoyed visits, traveling to see family; and staying in touch via phone, letter and email. Mary Irene looked forward to celebrating “their birthday” with her twin each year and prayed they’d both make 100! She prayed for all of her family members, especially those who were sick, those who were expecting new life, and those facing challenges of all shapes and sizes.
Her family, friends and Sisters will miss her. As we gather to celebrate the gift of her life and all the ways she has made God’s goodness known to us, we give thanks. We join Mary Irene in singing, “The good God is so very good!” We ask her continued prayers for us as we pray the words of St. Francis:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.”
- Born October 4, 1925 in Dayton, Ohio
- Parents: Clement Francis Spraley (born in Houston, OH) & Irene Viola Hochwalt (born in Dayton, OH)
- Siblings: Mary Louise Spraley Heiskell, LeRoy Spraley, Clement F. Spraley, Norma Jean Spraley Roberts, Thomas E. Spraley
- Baptized on October 11, 1925 at St. John the Baptist Church, Dayton, Ohio
- Confirmed on May 21, 1936 at St. Agnes Church, Dayton, Ohio
- Entered February 6, 1944 at Mt. Notre Dame
- First Profession: August 13, 1946
- Final Profession: August 13, 1951
- St. Agnes Parish School, Dayton, Ohio, 1939
- Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio, 1943
- Bachelor of Science in Education from Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1958
- Master of Education in Administration from Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1965
- 1946-1950 St. Peter Canisius Parish School, Chicago, Illinois
- 1950-1953 St. Mary Parish School, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 1953-1956 St. Augustine Parish School, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 1956-1957 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish School, Reading, Ohio
- 1957-1960 St. George Parish School, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 1960-1961 St. James Parish School, Dayton, Ohio
- 1961-1967 St. Paul Parish School, Westerville, Ohio
- 1967-1978 Our Lady of the Rosary Parish School, Dayton, Ohio
- 1978-1983 St. Helen Parish School, Dayton, Ohio
- 1983-1990 Immaculate Conception Parish School, Dayton, Ohio
- 1990-1997 Sts. Peter & Paul Parish School, Reading, Ohio
- 1997-2009 Unit Clerk, Medical Supplies, MNDHC, Mount Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
- 2009-2015 Clerical Assistant, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Mount Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
- 2015-present: Ministry of Prayer and Presence, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Mount Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
November 15, 2019