Conlon, Sr. Marie
Sister Marie was born in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, a mining area near Manchester, England in 1914. She had one brother and one sister.
Marie entered MMM at a time when choices for women were very limited. When she started her education, career options for girls were nursing or teaching. She won a scholarship to secondary school and got into Saint Charles Training College in London, obtaining a teaching certificate. She became a primary school teacher and taught in Birmingham while applying for jobs nearer home so she could help her family. She taught for eight years, from the very young to fourteen-year-olds.
Marie felt a call from God from the age of thirteen but she was not sure where this was. After finishing her training she started to write to medical orders. She did not get much encouragement from family or clergy but finally the local curate gave her a book about a new congregation, which he said would therefore ‘probably be easy to get out of’.
Marie said, ‘I thought they looked like sensible women and within a few months I had entered.’ This was in 1947, when MMM was only ten years old.
She continued, ‘There were seven in my group in the novitiate. There seemed to be little organization about things. I started off in Rosemount but two weeks later I was in a car headed for Drogheda just because there was a seat available! I didn’t realize the congregation was just beginning. It was difficult because there was little money and few personnel.’
Marie was professed in March 1950 and by May was on her way to Nigeria. For some months she helped in different houses when Sisters were away. Then her real work of teaching began.
She recalled, ‘At that time girls needed more education to prepare for the West African School Certificate. I taught English to the student nurses at our hospital in Anua and provided tutoring in preparation for exams. I used every opportunity to make English understandable, explaining how it was used in textbooks and exam papers. I taught religion, music, and dramatics. I even taught anatomy to the "prelim" nurses because I had done a first aid course during the 1939 – 45 War. While education was important for girls in general, it was also a time of great development in the country in preparation for independence. It was exciting to be part of that era.’
In 1953 Marie was appointed postulant mistress in Clonmel, Ireland. After a year and a half she went to Drogheda as assistant novice mistress. In 1958 she was appointed novice mistress and continued to guide many women in their early years in MMM until 1959. After teaching for some time in the novitiate, in 1960 she returned to Nigeria. Again she taught extra-curricular subjects in the school of nursing in Anua, as well as in Use Abat during the war years.
She returned to Ireland in 1968 and obtained a diploma in community development from the University of Manchester. At the MMM General Chapter in 1969-70, Sister Marie was elected to our Congregational Leadership Team. She also did mission awareness work in Ireland, England and the USA.
After serving as magazine editor from 1974-75, she obtained a diploma in religious education from the University of Liverpool. In 1976 Marie was assigned to Kenya. She taught in a nursery school in Aror and did pastoral work in schools in Kitale. She taught English and religion in secondary schools and helped with career guidance. During this time there was an interest in researching the charism of religious congregations and she wrote a number of papers on the charism of MMM. In Nairobi, she served as a resource person and did pastoral work.
In 1989, because of disabling arthritis, she was not able to return to Kenya and was assigned to the Motherhouse. For the first four years she gave talks on MMM spirituality and Constitutions to the community and renewal groups. In 1993, Marie began helping in adult literacy programmes, gave language classes to Indian, African and Brazilian Sisters, and helped with the orientation of our MMM Associates. Blessed with musical gifts, she conducted the choir. Sadly, she had to give up many of these activities, beginning in 2006.
She moved to the nursing facility, Aras Mhuire, in 2009 for ongoing nursing care. She died there peacefully on 5 July 2016.
Sister Marie was a remarkable woman, including the fact that at the end she looked only about seventy-five years old. A great lover of ball games, she had been a very good tennis player. She was an avid reader and kept abreast of world and Church affairs. During the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict, she papered the walls with posters and attended all the lectures in Drogheda so that she could bring the information back to the Sisters. In Aras Mhuire she remained active and was able to take care of herself until the end. Even in the last week or so her condition changed but she was up and about and attended daily Mass.
Marie had a great desire to help. Not long before she died she said to one of the Sisters, ‘I would like something to do. Perhaps I could teach the Sisters how to pronounce the English words properly’!
On the day Marie died her god-son, Seva, arrived from Dublin. His family were refugees and she had known him since he was a little boy. She taught him English and helped him through his studies. He earned a scholarship to Belvedere College and will begin first year medical studies in September 2016. When Seva expressed the wish to become a Catholic, Marie instructed him and he was baptized. When Seva came into her room that day, she wanted to know the marks he got in his exams. She was very happy to hear he got A’s in all subjects.
Marie was interviewed for our MMM e-newsletter in 2014. She was very particular that she be quoted correctly. She said, ‘I feel that it is essential that MMMs have a broad, general education so that we can develop our good points as fully as possible. We need to have good self-knowledge, in preparation for our work as Medical Missionaries of Mary.
‘It is better realized now, that the Christian is a missionary to everyone he or she meets. Therefore the missionary must try to understand herself and her neighbour and to know the Faith and the Church well, to have a sense of history and proportion. This is my dream.’
Marie’s 100th birthday on 13 August 2014 was marked at the MMM Motherhouse. She was the first MMM to reach one hundred years of age. In his eulogy Father Pat Kelly said that the remarkable thing about Marie was not the fact that she lived so long, but that she lived her life so fully.