CATHERINE CHARLES HENDREN, SNDdeN
November 21, 1937 – September 22, 2020
The specificity of Catherine’s directions for her funeral Mass – written a good ten years before she died – is striking. The readings and songs – her deliberate choice – prompt us to look at her life among us through her own eyes.
Some might say her journey as an SND was serendipitous. Her funeral plan, however, along with statements she wrote for her 50th and 60th jubilees, reveal a woman able to recognize the hand of God in every seemingly coincidental turn.
Catherine was good at tracing remarkable “threads” running through her story. For instance, both her parents were born in Scotland. Her mother was educated there by SNDs, whose mantra How good God is! echoed ever after in Mrs. Hendren’s heart. It came with her to the USA. Catherine remembered it as a “familiar expression” in her childhood. Some would see the family’s proximity to St. Catherine of Genoa parochial school as “happenstance.” Catherine, however, delighted in its divine logic. Like mother, like daughter: both educated by Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. “How good God is!”
Her encounters with the SNDs were experiences of God’s goodness, too. She believed that God had used their “kindness and faith” to attract her – we would say “call” her—to Notre Dame. Small wonder that Catherine’s choice for the first reading at her funeral Mass featured Micah’s rule of life: doing justice, loving goodness, and walking with God! Or that she saw her ministry at St. Margaret of Scotland in Wilmington (DE) as a final touch of divine providence: “Here I am,” she mused with obvious pleasure in 1955 as a Golden Jubilarian, “in a parish called St. Margaret of Scotland--reminiscent of where my mother and family started in Glasgow, Scotland!”
Her readings and hymns also help us understand the twists and turns in Catherine’s life journey as “walking” with God, one step at a time, on the lookout for “road signs.” During her first two decades in Notre Dame, the roadside markers followed a traditional route. Her missions took her to one parochial school after another along the Atlantic seaboard, ending with Our Lady of Victory in Baltimore, where she taught junior-high religion, art and language arts while serving “on the side” as Parish Youth Moderator. Things “on the side” had a way of attracting Catherine’s attention. In this case, her secondary role became a segue to a new direction: teen ministry and high-school teaching. Also to a new corner of the Lord’s vineyard: the Diocese of Wilmington (DE), where she would serve almost exclusively for the rest of her active years. Looking back at this turning point, Catherine saw providence at work, shepherding her, leading her. How appropriate, then, her choice of a sung response to the Micah reading: Marty Haugen’s rendition of Psalm 23, Shepherd Me, O God.
Additional quasi “serendipitous” twists and turns were to come. While she was teaching religion at St. Mark High School, for instance, she “became involved” with the Muscular Dystrophy Association “on the side.” True to St. Julie’s desire that her Sisters share God’s goodness with “the poor in the most abandoned places,” Catherine spent six summers directing MDA’s summer activities at Camp Manito, which served a hundred children, ages 4-18, suffering from muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy. Catherine described the experience as “very enriching”— as a gift – with no mention of the courage it must have taken to step outside of her comfort zone. Words of her entrance song come to mind: “I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” (Dan Schutte, Here I Am, Lord).
Another surprising turn brought Catherine to – of all places - the diocese’s Cathedral Cemetery Office, to help computerize 125 years of interments! Boring? Not a bit! “This was a great undertaking and I found it very rewarding,” she wrote. In fact, a newspaper article in her file reports how her cemetery work became the inspiration for a Confirmation retreat guiding candidates and their sponsors to reflect on the Communion of Saints and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “On the side” during these years, Catherine also made frequent trips to New York, to help her brother shepherd their mother through her last illness.
Her final, and perhaps happiest, the ministry was her work at St. Margaret of Scotland, first as Director of Christian Formation (“with 28 teachers and 28 aides,” she wrote, “who teach 500 children weekly about the GOOD GOD”) and then, as Pastoral Associate. She loved the variety: home/hospital visits and Communion calls; Confirmation preparation; spiritual and social gatherings with the “Friends of St. Margaret” (all 50+ years young); funeral and bereavement support; volunteer social outreach; special celebrations of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The mantra she had learned from her mother and then encountered in the “kindness and faith” of her SND grade-school teachers rang through it all. In fact, it was the unifying principle for her entire Notre Dame life: “How good God is!”
Sisters responsible for closing out Catherine’s apartment following her death found abundant evidence of her varied activities – files, decorations, prizes, photo albums, knick-knacks galore! Hers was never a throw-away lifestyle!
But on a deeper level, like Jesus in the Gospel for her funeral Mass, what she most treasured were people. Like her Master, she seems to have seen every person who came her way as someone given, to be treasured, and loved:
“. . . This is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it up . . . .” (John 6:39)
When the good God came – so much sooner and faster than she had expected--to raise her up, did she remember the hymn she had chosen for the preparation of gifts at her Mass? Perhaps not. But its refrain seems made for the moment!
O Lord, with your eyes set upon me, gently smiling, you have spoken my name.
All I longed for I have found by the water; at your side, I will seek other shores.
Cesáreo Gabaráin, Pescador de Hombres, Lord, You Have Come
- Born Helen Ann Hendren in Brooklyn, New York
- Parents: Charles M. Hendren (b. Scotland) and Katherine A. Benaitis (b. Scotland)
- Sibling: James Arthur Thomas Hendren
- Entered Notre Dame: August 14, 1955
- First Profession: January 26, 1958
- Perpetual Vows: August 4, 1963
- St. Catherine of Genoa, Brooklyn, NY, 1951
- Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School, Brooklyn, NY, 1955
- B.S. - Trinity College, Washington, DC (Education) - 1963
- M.S. - City University of New York, New York, NY (Adolescent Child Development) - 1972
- Parochial-School Teaching
- Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood, NY, Grade 1 (1958-1962)
- St. Bernadette, Philadelphia, PA, Grade 1 (1962-1966)
- St. Philip Neri, Glen Burnie, MD, Grade 3 (1966- 1969; 1972-73)
- SS. Joachim & Anne, Queens, NY, Grades 4 & 6 (1969-1972)
- Our Lady of Victory, Baltimore, MD, Grades 5-8 Religion, Language Arts & Art; Parish Youth Moderator (1973-1976)
Teen Ministry and Religious Education
- Diocesan Coordinator of Youth Ministry, Diocese of Wilmington, DE (1976-1978)
- St. Mark High School, Wilmington, DE (1978-1989)
- St. Elizabeth, Little Viking (1989-1992)
Administration and Support Staff
- Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Media, PA, Principal (1992-1993)
- Support Staff & Retreat Coordinator, Catholic Cemeteries, Wilmington, DE (1993-2002)
Parish Ministry (18 years)
- Director of Christian Formation, St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church, Newark, DE (2002-2011)
- Pastoral Associate, St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church, Newark, DE (2011-2020)
- Director, Camp Manito (6 summers)
A summer camp of the Muscular Dystrophy Association for children (4-19 yrs old) suffering from muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy)