Sister Mary Foley, SSND, spent May 9th celebrating her Golden Jubilee as a School Sister of Notre Dame. The Academy of the Holy Angels honored S. Mary in style, with an afternoon prayer service followed by Mass and dinner.
S. Mary and several SSNDs, including AHA educators S. Carole Tabano and S. Kathleen Dunham, also renewed their vows. Among the SSNDs present was S. Mary’s mentor, S. Kay O’Connell of Wilton, Connecticut. S. Kay is currently celebrating her Diamond Jubilee as an SSND.
As a special surprise, AHA Principal Jean Mullooly announced that the State of New Jersey, County of Bergen, and Borough of Demarest had all declared May 9th Sister Mary Foley Day in honor of S. Mary’s numerous contributions to people throughout the world.
S. Mary, SSND, MDiv, MSW, LCSW, is a member of the SSND Atlantic Midwest Province. She began her ministry as a physical education teacher and coach in Rochester, New York, and later taught girls in Liberia, a West African country where very few young women graduate from high school.
When she returned to the United States, she served as an administrator and teacher in Roxbury, Massachusetts. She was also a part-time counselor with Catholic Family Services in Saint Louis, Missouri, where her full-time ministry was the spiritual formation of women.
In 2002, she joined the Holy Angels faculty. Part of her ministry at AHA involves work with Power Back, the school component of Partnership for Change that helps girls become advocates against peer dating abuse.
As a volunteer mental health worker for the American Red Cross, S. Mary has assisted people in New Jersey and Texas. In September 2017, she traveled to Houston to assist residents who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. S. Mary is also part of the Lead Response Team for the Traumatic Loss Coalition in Bergen County and is a Disaster Response Crisis Counselor for the State of New Jersey. For many years, she accompanied AHA’s therapy dog, Luke, as he comforted people after traumatic events such as the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut and the Boston Marathon bombing.
This March, S. Mary was one of Bergen County’s 2018 Women’s History Month honorees. She was honored at a reception hosted by the Commission on the Status of Women and the Junior Commission on the Status of Women. S. Mary was nominated by Angela Romanos, an AHA senior who works with the Junior CSW. Romanos said S. Mary exemplifies the 2018 Women’s History Month Theme: “Nevertheless She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”
S. Mary went to Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester, a school that was staffed by the SSNDs and Irish Christian Brothers.
“I had thought about becoming a sister for a few years, but felt I was the right thing for me between my junior and senior year of high school,” she said. “I requested to enter our formation program during my senior year.”
She said she was drawn to the SSNDs because of the group’s international connections.
“Many life events led to this decision: a strong belief in God and reflections on the fact that wealth and possessions do not make a person happy. There are more important things in life.
“The call to religious life means not marrying and having children, but I've gained relationships with many people that I would never have known if I had not become an SSND. I have formed close friendships that have nourished me throughout the years. I have been about to live in another culture and visit many other countries, not as a tourist, but being with our sisters ministering with the people.
“I've lived in community with sisters from many cultures and have enjoyed learning a great deal from each of them.
“One of my most treasured memories was being in Guam when a young woman from a very small island in Micronesia took her first vows as an SSND. She had met one of our sisters at her high school and followed her home to learn more about Mother Theresa (Gerhardinger).”
Asked if she would recommend religious life to young women, S. Mary responded in the affirmative. “There is so much need in our world for both prayer and the ministry God calls us to. Being available to be with people in their need is very rewarding.”
During the prayer service at AHA, S. Mary said, “This day is really not about me. It’s about God, and it’s about you, or maybe us. No one makes a commitment and keeps a commitment in a vacuum. You do it in relationship…It’s about how you interact with me, how you interact with each other…It’s that interaction that allows me to get up every day and say, ‘OK, God, I’m ready for the day, what do you have in store?’”
Reflecting on the gospel, she noted that it seems on the surface that Jesus was just walking by a lake and saw some men fixing their fishing nets, and they felt impelled to follow him.
“Maybe there’s a different story. Maybe they had been watching him for days or weeks,” she noted. “Maybe he was talking about things that intrigued them…He called them by name, so I think that maybe it was a sense of curiosity that these four men had that allowed them to hear God’s call when it came.”
She added, “God calls no matter what your religious tradition is. God calls you to be the best person you can be, and God calls you to do something in the future that no one else can do.”
“Don’t miss the extraordinary in the ordinary. That’s my challenge to you today.”
She noted that sometimes, daily activities can seem ordinary, but are never truly ordinary because people are extraordinary.
“Use your curiosity to find what you’re supposed to do in this world to make the world better,” she told her audience. S. Mary clearly has.