Sister M. James Florence Blanchard, MM, died Tuesday, April 14, 2015, at the Maryknoll Sisters Center. She was 86 years old and had spent 22 years with the people of Tanzania, teaching various classes and learning and embracing their culture. “If you have been to someone’s village you are a friend for life,” she commented.
As an educator, Sister James affected and improved the lives of many, teaching them life skills, such as sewing, infant care, socio-economic values and the benefits of a good diet.
Born on September 22, 1928, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, to James Edward and Florence M. Gallant Blanchard, Sister James, or “Jamesy” as she was known by the other Sisters at Maryknoll, was christened Mary Florence Blanchard, attended the Notre Dame Academy in Charlottetown from 1943-1945, and graduated from Mount St. Vincent Academy, Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1947.
On September 6, 1947, she entered Maryknoll at their motherhouse in Ossining, NY, from St. Dunstan Parish, Charlottetown. She made her first profession on March 7, 1950 at the Motherhouse and was employed in the kitchen for a year.
In 1952, Sister James received her first overseas assignment, in which she was sent to Africa. Following completion of Kiswahili language studies in Kowak, Tanzania, she worked in a dispensary for over two years, making her final vows on March 7, 1953. In 1955, she was assigned to Nyengina, Tanzania, where she taught second grade, did daily office tasks, and taught women how to sew, while also serving as superior of the Maryknoll Sisters in that region, until 1956. She then taught sewing and did office work in other Tanzanian communities, including Rosana from 1956-1962 and 1965-1971, Kinesi from 1962-1963, and Isango from 1963-1965.
Sister James was then sent to Tarime, Tanzania, where she served until 1974 in rural community development. Noting that the local women had no dresses or slips, she taught them how to make inexpensive clothing. She also educated the people on their diets, taught them to use their cattle as food rather than dowry, taught them reading and writing, health, socioeconomics and homecare. “Twenty years ago, men were kings. Women didn’t have anything like their own money,” she noted in an interview during that time period. “Now they have their own gardens, bananas and cabbage. When they sell the produce, I try to make sure they keep what they earn.” Under her guidance, the men also became more willing to cooperate regarding health care, some of them even encouraging pregnant women to come in for an examination.
In mid-summer 1974, Sister James suffered a severe stroke and, once her condition stabilized, she returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in Ossining. There, she worked part-time in the Stamp and Mail Department until her death.
A vespers service will be held for Sister James, who donated her body to science, on Monday, April 20, 2015, at 4:15 p.m. in the Chapel of the Annunciation at the Maryknoll Sisters Center at Maryknoll, NY. A memorial Mass will follow on Tuesday, April 21, 2015, at 11 a.m. in the same location.