Sr. Mary Ann McCarthy’s first encounter with the Sisters of St. Francis was not particularly auspicious. Immediately after her sophomore year, Cathedral High School—staffed by the Sisters of Mercy—closed. Half of the students were assigned to Notre Dame High School, half to St. Anthony High School in Trenton which was staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis. Mary Ann was one of the latter group and, like the other “transfers” was not happy with the reassignment. “Everything was different—the grading system, the sisters, and, because of the increased numbers, the class size.” She did, however, recall the efforts of Srs. Regina McCloskey and Doris Barlow to assist the new comers. “They reached out to us, listened to our complaints, and yet always remained loyal to the sisters.”
Senior year came and with it a new Franciscan—Sr. Therese Denny— who served on the Vocation
Council. Because she didn’t drive, she asked Sr. Mary Ann to take her to meetings and eventually invited her to a retreat and a visit to Glen Riddle. The idea of a religious vocation wasn’t new to Sr. Mary Ann and she had enjoyed vocation retreats with the Mercys. This is where what Sr. Mary Ann describes as “adolescent logic” came into play. “I wasn’t sure if the attraction to religious life was simply because I liked the Mercy sisters and enjoyed doing things with them or because God was actually calling me to religious life,” she said. “I figured that if I entered the Franciscans, it would be a test. I would learn whether I just enjoyed being with the Mercys or whether I really had a vocation to religious life.” She applied to the Franciscans during her senior year and was asked to wait a year—either getting a job or going to college. “Adolescent logic” it may be—but God does indeed work in strange ways.” She chose to work, bought herself a car, and a year later entered the Sisters of St. Francis.
In 2009 Sr. Mary Ann was in transition between jobs and was considering taking a class at Neumann University. When she came to register, she met Sr. Patricia Hutchison. They chatted and Sr. Pat, who is the director of the Franciscan Institute at Neumann, offered Sr. Mary Ann the position of administrative assistant. Sr. Mary Ann accepted and today continues to be part of the Neumann University staff.
In addition to the usual tasks associated with an administrative assistant’s position, Sr. Mary Ann does most of the technological jobs needed to advance the work of the institute—designing advertising posters and PowerPoint presentations, maintaining attendance records—she also helps visitors locate needed resources, assists with faculty retreats, takes photos of various gatherings, sets up for meetings, and collaborates with staff and students on a variety of projects that assist Neumann in carrying out its mission.
Like any position, Sr. Mary Ann’s has its challenges.“The biggest challenge,” she explained, “is remembering that hospitality is our charism—especially when we are under a deadline to get something done.” More than challenges, however, Sr. Mary Ann is much more aware of the blessings of her ministry. “I love the sense of hope that I get that the Franciscan charism will live on,” she said, “especially when I see how much the faculty internalizes that charism and promotes it to the students.” She also
observes the enthusiasm with which the students respond to service and the ways in which they continue that service after graduation. One of her greatest blessings, however, is the experience of working with Sr. Patricia Hutchison. “What an honor and privilege it is to watch how she embraces the charism,” Sr. Mary Ann said, “to watch how she sees Christ in others.”
Remember that “test” that Sr. Mary Ann—in her spirit of ‘adolescent logic’—thought would determine the validity of her vocation? She learned pretty quickly that Franciscan values had long been a part of her life. Her uncle, who was a Franciscan Conventual, visited the family often along with other members of his congregation. In a letter to her at her profession, he addressed her as “my Franciscan sister.” She still cherishes that letter—and the Franciscan charism that prompted it!
Ann Marie Slavin, OSF