delivered by Helen Coldrick, RDC
We’ve come together this morning to celebrate the beautiful life and legacy of Sr. Mary Alma.
Her name, the feminine form of the Latin word “almus”, was given to her on the occasion of
receiving the habit of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion. That was exactly 61 years ago.
“Almus” or “alma” means nurturer, one who nourishes, who helps other to grow and to flourish.
As young religious, we were encouraged to practice the virtues associated with our religious name.
Easier said than done, to be sure, especially for those whose patron saints were martyrs!
But in Sr. Mary Alma’s case, it was as if name and novice had been made for each other.
Her spontaneous generosity, her remarkable energy always at the ready, a sense of humor that could
bring joy to the grimmest task, above all her unfailing kindness : these were the gifts that, as a young
religious, she brought to us – the members of her religious Community , and later to those she would be
called to serve - among them, the children of St. Bernard’s School, and then of Our Lady of Sorrows,
where she would be appointed Principal; the Sisters with whom she experienced the joys and
challenges of convent life ; and for the past four decades, her university students and colleagues.
In recent years, Alma adapted with alacrity to the changes in teaching methods wrought by the techno-
revolution – and ushered in by the Macintosh! As something of a “luddite” myself, I often
thought that while her students gained in time and efficiency from her online classes, they lost
something of importance – direct and frequent contact with a remarkable personality.
But in her “time-is-no-object; can-do” fashion, she continued to identify students who needed an
Intervention, whether for personal or academic reasons, to help and encourage them, to awaken them
to their own gifts and talents. Last evening’s testimonials gave memorable witness to that!
To be sure, Alma was not above having favorites, notable among them her beloved nieces, grandnieces
and nephews. Many of their names ring like those in the baptismal records of a village church in County
Roscommon or County Fermanagh – her parents’ ancestral homes: Katie, Brendan, Connor, Maeve,
Shane, Olivia, Kathy Ann, John, Eileen and Luke; Ann, Patty, Jessica and James, Kathy Ann, John, Eileen –
At the vital center of Alma’s personality and character were remarkable resilience, and a saving sense of
humor with just a tincture of wryness. But I venture that at her heart’s core was the quality of
empathy – the moral foundation for compassionate action . Today, leadership courses are advancing the
case that this is also one of the most important qualities for effective leadership, and for most
beneficent forms of human interaction. Corporate leaders are being
advised to highlight this quality among their hiring requirements.
That said, Alma did not need her degree in Counseling Psychology to know the importance of empathy
In human relations, nor a bookshelf of tomes on the topic to explore its implications. She knew and
practiced it instinctively. One might say she had the virtue of empathy in her DNA, sanctified by her
vowed following of Christ. In this context, we recall the words that have inspired persons of all
religions, and none:
“Therefore, all things whatsoever you would that others should do to you, do you
even so to them. For this is the law and the prophets”.
“The Golden Rule”, of course. But also the law of compassion – divine compassion – and the law by
which Alma strove to guide all her interactions.
Calm and intrepid, she faced down her illness for endless months, all the while mindful of other Sisters
who were coping with their own challenges. She cared devotedly for Sr. Miriam Moran, her
dearest friend and mentor, and maintained close contacts with relatives and colleagues. She
continued to teach until just a short time ago.
But then came the evening of life. Time to let others tend to her. Time to say with Jesus:
“Consummatum est”. It is finished. Time to await the resurrected life that is Christ’s promise and our
Reflecting on that greatest of all mysteries. C.S. Lewis wrote: “Then the new earth and sky . . . will rise
In us as we have risen in Christ. And once again, after who knows what eons of the silence and the dark,
the birds will sing and the waters flow, and lights and shadows move across the hills, and the faces of
our friends laugh upon us with amazed recognition”. “Guesses”, he continues, “of course, only
If they are not true, something better will be. For “we know that we shall be made like Him, for we shall
see Him as He is”. Until then, dearest Alma.