Sister Marie Shields, SNDdeN
February 7, 1938 – December 31, 2019
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” (John 15:12)
Mary Lou Shields grew up in Chicago with her two older brothers and a large extended family, including an uncle who was a diocesan priest. She described herself as “three quarters Irish and one quarter French Canadian” who lived in hope the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series in her lifetime. Mary Lou came to know the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur when she started high school. It was a retreat during her junior year that opened her heart to a call to religious life. The retreat master said, “No one could ever love you like God loves you.” Those words would stay with Mary Lou the rest of her life, and she decided to dedicate her life to helping others know God’s love.
She, with a number of other young women from her high school class, were part of a larger group that gathered at Mt. Notre Dame in Reading, Ohio in September of 1955 to enter the Postulancy of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Mary Lou lived the phrase “make new friends, but keep the old” as her she forged life-long friendships with members of her “band.” As a novice, Mary Lou received the name Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, and she was known as Sister Marie for the rest of her life.
With the rest of the novices, Sister Marie prepared to teach. In 1958, she began 12 years of teaching in parish schools in Ohio. Almost all of those schools served inner-city children. Marie’s first assignment was with 1st graders. She said, “The children didn’t keep quiet for me, but when the principal clapped her hands, they all lined up and stopped talking.” Marie gratefully learned discipline and teaching techniques from the Sisters she worked with. Soon she was the one helping others. A 1967 evaluation described her as, “… a quiet sort of person who achieves general acceptance by all of her students. Her intense interest in each boy and girl is remarkable. These same observations apply to her relations with staff members.” A former student wrote testifying to the individual interest Marie showed to each of her students: “As a little boy with a mother who was hospitalized several times, you were a big comfort. Many times you gave me hugs and while I outwardly cringed with embarrassment, inside I felt like a million bucks! You have been a guiding light for me during my early years and beyond. You have been a part of the backbone of my faith in God and the Catholic Church.”
As renewal documents flowed from the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, Marie began working on a Masters in Religious Studies during the summers. How could the ways of bringing children and adults to God’s love be updated and renewed? Her thesis was written on Eucharistic Celebrations for Children, and when she was missioned to Columbus in 1968 it was to teach at one parish school while overseeing a K-12 religious education program at another parish. Thus began Marie’s 51 years of service to the church in Columbus.
In 1972, Marie was invited to discern a shift in the focus of her ministry. Father Jim Smith, the pastor at St. Christopher Parish where Marie taught wanted to try something new. He wanted to form a pastoral team to administer the parish. Father Smith invited Marie and Father Richard Huelsman S.J. to form the team with him. As Marie explained at the time, Father Smith believed “women should be represented on a pastoral level, because they can add a different tone to ministry. He’s willing to see someone else do the things he feels he can’t do.” Marie accepted the invitation. Her part of the team work, she explained, was “to be available in the rectory for those who call with a problem, to thank those who do so much for the parish and attend different church organization meetings.” She visited the sick, took Communion to those shut-ins, helped with adult education, served as a resource to the religious education teachers and prepared the special children’s liturgy each week. Marie saw her work as simply helping and loving the people of the parish. She joked about being the practical one on the team: “I remember personal things about families. I’m better at details.” The team approach was so effective that when Father Smith was transferred to Immaculate Conception Parish, and later St. Matthias Parish, Marie and Father Huelsman went with him.
Marie loved her work, and the parishioners loved her. She believed that religious women were to be signs to the Church that everyone is part of God’s family, that all people are brothers and sisters in Christ. Her work in the parish allowed her to meet each person as her brother or sister in Christ, and Marie poured out her sisterly love on each and every one. In 2015, Marie said, “I am grateful for Julie’s vision and hope that her Sisters would go throughout the world, proclaiming God’s loving care for all people.” Not only did she live Julie’s vision, she shared it with the people with whom she worked as she facilitated the parishioners reaching out in love to parts of the Body of Christ near and far. Marie sparked parish support for a local food pantry and homeless shelter, for farm projects in Ghana and Ecuador, and for national social justice groups like Network, Pax Christi and Bread for the World. She started an initiative to collect new clothes for parishioners in an economically deprived part of the diocese, and connected the parishioners to the work of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur around the world.
In the early 1990’s, Marie was asked to reflect on her ministry. She wrote that her “professional goal” was to simply be authentic, and that her “ministerial plan” was to listen more to the Spirit working among us and to be open to the signs of the times. That same goal and plan marked her approach to community life. Her Sisters experienced the same gentleness, kindness, attentive listening and encouragement that her parishioners experienced. Friendships Marie forged in the novitiate sustained her throughout her life, and her heart continually expanded to make room for new Sisters who came into her life. She participated in community and committee meetings, study days and celebrations. Marie took the time to write notes of encouragement and affirmation. She loved being out of doors walking, playing tennis or simply enjoying fresh air with a friend. Marie’s quiet nature and soft voice were often accompanied by a twinkle in her eye and wry remark that illuminated the humor in a situation. She saw her life as a dance with God and her prayer was rooted in the love of God. Saint Julie’s words, “I place each of you in the sweet and adorable Heart of my good Jesus, my strength and my support…” (Letter 83) resonated deeply with Marie, who from an early age was drawn to devotion to the Sacred Heart.
It was in that loving heart of her good God that Marie held the people who were a part of her life: Sisters, coworkers, friends, parishioners and her beloved family. Her brothers Martin and Bernard, her sister-in-law Phyllis, her nieces and nephews, their spouses and children – all held special places in Marie’s heart. She delighted in the love and joy each new generation added. News of Marie’s illness was not easy for anyone to hear. Her message to the St. Matthias parishioners in August of 2019 was echoed in other messages delivered on the phone, in letter, by messenger: “I will forever remember you. My heart will be full of overflowing thanksgiving every day, all day long forever.” As her Sisters, family and friends gather to celebrate the life of this wonderful woman, we take comfort in knowing we are in her heart, being loved forever, as she is now held lovingly in our good God’s embrace. Grateful for all the ways she made God’s love and goodness known to us, we reflect on a poem Marie asked to be kept in her file:
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed are standing about you and watching.
Work is love made visible. – Kahlil Gibran
- Born February 7, 1938 at Chicago, Illinois
- Parents: Joseph L. Shields (born in Chicago, Illinois) and Bernice Laramie (born in Chicago, Illinois)
- Siblings: Brother Martin Shields C.S.S.R, Bernard Shields
- Baptized on February 20, 1938 at Saint Genevieve Church, Chicago, Illinois
- Confirmed on May 18, 1949 at St. Ferdinand Church, Chicago, Illinois
- Entered September 8, 1955 at Mt. Notre Dame
- First Profession: March 12, 1958
- Final Profession: August 13, 1963
- St. Ferdinand Parish School, Chicago, Illinois, 1951
- Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois, 1955
- Bachelor of Science in Education from Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1966
- Master of Arts in Religious Studies from Mundelein College, Chicago, Illinois, 1965
- 1958-1959 St. Paul Parish School, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 1959-1960 St. Agnes Parish School, Columbus, Ohio
- 1960-1963 St. Mary Parish School, Hamilton, Ohio
- 1963-1968 St. James of the Valley School, Wyoming, Ohio
- 1968-1972 Teacher, St. Christopher Parish School and Religious Education Director for K-12, St. Joseph Cathedral Parish, Columbus, Ohio
- 1972-1983 Pastoral Ministry/Religious Education, St. Christopher Parish, Columbus, Ohio
- 1983-1991 Pastoral Assistant, Immaculate Conception Parish, Columbus, Ohio
- 1991-2019 Pastoral Assistant, St. Matthias Parish, Columbus, Ohio
- 2019 Ministry of Prayer Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Died on December 31, 2019 at Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
January 1, 2020