Sister Mary DiCroce SNDdeN
June 18, 1933 – July 18, 2023
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (JN 13:34)
Nicholas and Constance DiCroce welcomed their third child and second daughter in June, 1933. Both had emigrated from Italy as teenagers to Philadelphia, PA. They eventually met and married, settling down with other Italian immigrants in the Overbrook-Haddington neighborhood where St. Donato Parish was located. It was at St. Donato’s they had their daughter baptized Mary Theresa DiCroce. Nicolas and Constance would add another daughter and three additional sons to their family. The DiCroce children were raised with love, firmly rooted in Italian customs, a strong work ethic and deep faith. Mary would later recall attending Mass daily and having “great devotion to Our Lady always.”
It was the Cabrini Sisters at St. Donato School that educated Mary and her siblings from grades 1 through 8. Early in life the seeds of a religious vocation were planted in Mary. While she liked and respected the Cabrini Sisters, Mary never considered joining them. With that seed of a vocation was also planted the idea that she wanted to enter a congregation named after Our Lady. Mary attended West Catholic High School where Sisters from a number of different religious congregations served. Mary got along with all of them but one in particular caught her eye: the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. She had finally found an order named after Our Lady. Through her teachers at West Catholic Mary also discovered Blessed Julie Billiart, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The more she learned about Julie’s devotion to Our Lady and the mission of the community to make known the goodness of God, the more Mary’s understanding of her own experience and call deepened. Her experiences of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur during her years at West Catholic strengthened her convictions. Mary was now certain of her call to religious life and the congregation with which she was to live it. Mary’s parents encouraged her to wait a while before entering. She felt she had waited all her life. Mary applied for entrance writing: “I feel that I can best serve the Good Lord above in the salvation of my soul and the souls of others by following in the footsteps of Blessed Mère Julie as a Sister of Notre Dame.” She was quickly accepted.
August 12, 1951 was the day Mary entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Ilchester, MD. Her parents and all of her brothers and sisters accompanied her as she joined 19 other women beginning their journey with the community. That trip to Ilchester was the first of many Mary’s family members would make to visit Mary. On the occasion of her 50th anniversary of entrance Mary wrote: “I am deeply grateful to God for the constant love and support of my family.” Their loving support was one reason Mary never doubted her choice.
Another reason was the lasting friendships she quickly built with the women who were her companions on the journey as Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The 20 who entered in 1951 professed their final vows together in 1959. By that time, Mary had been given the name Sister Michael Marie and she had been teaching for five years. She would be known as Sister Michael Marie until changes in the wake of the Second Vatican Council made it possible for her to use again her baptismal name. She continued teaching as Sister Mary and retired after 55 years of service in formal education.
Those 55 years as a teacher found Mary serving rural children, suburban children and inner-city children of diverse ethnic and socio economic backgrounds in parish schools from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. One constant was she taught the very youngest students. With the exception of one year when she was asked to teach 4th grade, Mary taught 1st grade, 2nd grade or both until she was asked to teach Pre-Kindergarten in 2000. Her last nine years in the classroom were spent with 4 year olds. Mary also taught in parish CCD programs, and in summer school programs. She loved opening the world of learning to her young charges and especially loved preparing them for their First Communion. Mary tried to instill in her students the same love for Our Lady and appreciation of the Mass that had guided her life from her earliest years. She also helped her students see and appreciate God’s goodness within them, their relationships and the world in which they lived. Mary was grateful for opportunities she had to hone her teaching skills through study and workshops. She was also very grateful for more experienced Sisters who, from the beginning, shared their expertise with her and affirmed her work with the little ones. In 1989 Mary received the Teacher of the Year award from Resurrection School. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia later honored her for her 25 years of service in its elementary schools.
Community was just as important to Mary as her ministry. She faithfully took part in community activities and loved community celebrations. The insights she shared during community discussions and meetings were missed when she was not able to participate. With joy she entered into community feasts and celebrations of milestones. A highlight for her was the canonization of Julie Billiart in 1969. Just as Mary valued the relationships formed with the women who entered with her, Mary continued developing lasting friendships with Sisters she met as she was assigned to different schools. She took to heart Saint Julie’s words: “My good daughters, with a grain of the spirit of faith, we can become heroic in the practice of charity through our conviction that it is God Himself who is manifested to us in the person of our neighbor.” (Little Treatise of Perfection, pp. 65-66) Mary found and celebrated God’s goodness and love in her Sisters. She stayed in touch through letters, and later phone calls, and enjoyed opportunities to renew acquaintances in person as well as reaching out in friendship to new Sisters who came into her life. Over the years, as more and more lay teachers were added to parish school faculties, Mary also built community with her lay colleagues. She would later remark that the teachers she worked with “were the best!” Mary treasured the friendships she built with her colleagues and so appreciated their efforts to stay in touch when she was missioned to another school and even another part of the country.
Mary also looked for any ways she could be of service to her Sisters. Throughout her life she put her sewing, knitting and crocheting skills to work for the community. At Villa Julie she helped Sisters who were less skilled on the computer check email; she kept abreast of congregational communications every day and made sure the Sisters knew there was something new to check on the bulletin boards. Mary sewed labels on the Sisters’ clothes to help with laundry sorting. Items she knitted or crocheted were sent to the Gift Shop at Mt. Notre Dame. Money from their sale went to support the Clean Water Project and other ministry endeavors in the global south. Her Sisters were grateful for the myriad of small acts of kindness that were routine for Mary and meant so much to those receiving them.
Throughout her life Mary also stayed deeply connected to her family. She was grateful for the years she lived in the greater Philadelphia area and the possibilities that provided for her to be part of family gatherings. Thanksgiving celebrations with her siblings, their spouses and children were a highlight for her each year. Mary appreciated that when she was at a greater distance she could still visit periodically as well as stay in touch through phone calls, letters and email. She was proud of her 20 nieces and nephews and shared their accomplishments, as well as the accomplishments of the growing number of grandnieces and grandnephews, with her community members. Mary also shared their prayer intentions and always held all of them close in her heart.
Whenever Mary was asked to reflect back on her life and remark on her years as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, she expressed deep gratitude for the people, places and experience that filled the years. She considered herself fortunate to have experienced the presence of God’s love in so many ways and in so many people. About her life she said: “I’m happy and I love it. I can say really I’ve liked every place that I’ve been.” Mary also said, “Our Blessed Mother has always been my inspiration and I can say with St. Julie, “How good is the good God!” Forms of the word ‘love’ appear in Mary’s oral history 16 times. There is a quote about St. Julie that describes her as “a woman who knew how to believe and how to love.” The same quote applies to Mary.
Now, as her Sisters, family and friends celebrate the life of Sister Mary DiCroce, we give thanks for all the ways she loved us and made God’s goodness known to us. We rejoice with Mary as she is welcomed by Our Lady, St. Julie and our good God. We ask her continued prayers for us that we may follow her example of being people who know how to believe and how to love.
- Born June 18, 1933, at Philadelphia, PA
- Parents: Nicholas DiCroce (born in Italy) and Constance Luciani (born in Italy)
- Siblings: Michael DiCroce, Rose DiCroce Trevisan, Viola DiCroce Sassa, Albert DiCroce, Nicholas DiCroce, Joseph DiCroce
- Baptized on July 22 1934, at St. Donato Catholic Church, Philadelphia, PA
- Confirmed on April 28, 1941, at St. Donato Catholic Church, Philadelphia, PA
- Entered: August 12, 1951, at Ilchester, MD
- Professed First Vows: January 31, 1954
- Professed Final Vows: July 30, 1959
- West Catholic Girls’ High School, Philadelphia, PA, 1951
- B.S. in Education: Trinity College, Washington, D.C., 1966
- M.A. in Early Childhood Education, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, 1973
- 1954-1963: Teacher, Little Flower Parish School, Great Mills, MD
- 1963-1966: Teacher, St. Eleanor Parish School, Collegeville, PA
- 1966-1969: Teacher, St. Anthony Parish School, Southern Pines, NC
- 1969-1972: Teacher, St. Martin Parish School, Gaithersburg, MD
- 1972-1974: Student, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
- 1974-1984: Teacher, St. Albert the Great, Philadelphia, PA
- 1984-1999: Teacher, Resurrection Parish School, Philadelphia, PA
- 2000-2009: Teacher of Pre-K, Holy Spirit Parish School, Philadelphia, PA
- 2009-2018: Ministry of Prayer, Villa Julie, Stevenson, MD
- 2018-2023: Ministry of Prayer/Community Service, Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, OH
Died: July 18, 2023 at Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, OH
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
July 19, 2023