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.
Maryknoll, NY — “Increasing inequality, pervasive violence, divisive politics…what has all of our work for social justice meant?” wonders Sister Nancy Sylvester, IHM, founder of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue, Detroit, MI.
The instructor for Maryknoll Mission Institute’s upcoming five-day program, “Upstart Spring: Imagine Justice… Exploration into God,” to be held May 10-15, at Maryknoll Sisters Center, 10 Pinesbridge Road, Ossining, NY, Sister Nancy, will help participants to explore this question by challenging them to “deepen (their) contemplative practice communally and imagine new ways of being with each other, with all beings on Earth and with the Divine.” The group will also explore what it means to exercise contemplative power and imagine doing justice in new ways.
Past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sister Nancy serves as president of the Institute and executive director of its major project, Engaging Impasse: Circlues of Contemplation and Dialogue® and its various programs, including Transformation in a Time of Uncertainty. She has served as an advisor on the United States Bishops’ International Policy Committee and a member of the board of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, where she was a founding member. Nancy holds a master’s degree in human development, with a concentration in economics and theology, from St. Mary’s University, Winona, MN, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science from St. Louis University.
The cost for the five-day program is $200, plus a one-time $50 registration fee. For more information or to register, call 914-941-7575, ext. 5671, or visit us online at www.maryknollsisters.org/mmi.
Footage and imagery from 1965’s “Bloody Sunday,” the first attempt African-Americans made to march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, in an effort to pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress to enact a new national voting rights law, are by now iconic, emblazoned on the minds of millions of Americans for the horror and heroism displayed that day.
For Sister Madeline Dorsey, it was a day in which she and another Maryknoll Sister were placed on the front lines of that march, representing the Black doctors who worked with them at Queen of the World Hospital, the nation’s first interracial hospital, located in Kansas City, MO.
Sister Maddie, now 96, still vividly remembers that regular evening meeting with doctors at that hospital, when the doctors urged them to go to Selma and represent them. She explained that Maryknoll already had plans for two of their Sisters – one from their work among Chinese people in Chicago and another from their ministry among the Japanese in San Francisco – to attend and represent them. “But Sister,” one of the doctors, a “big, burly” fellow, responded, “we are scared! We want you there to represent us!” Sister Maddie said she’d talk to Mother Superior Coleman, assuring the doctors, “I’m sure she will agree to it.” She did.
That Friday morning, March 7, 1965, Sisters Maddie and Christine Donnelly, along with two Sisters from another congregation, a Presbyterian minister and a few others flew to Selma, arriving there in the afternoon for what was expected to be a weekend event.
She recalls what happened next as if it were yesterday:
“As soon as we arrived, the Jesuit priest who had come from one of their colleges in the Northeast grabbed us three Sisters – the Charity Sister from Kansas City, KS, and Sister John Christine Donnelly and myself, Maryknollers – and put us in the front line. Well I think Father thought that having us there would be further evidence that the Church was with them.”
From their front line position, the Sisters and black men with them were face to face with law enforcement officials. “So we had to face the troopers with their ‘whack-em’ sticks – terrible looking things, almost bigger than a baseball bat – so that if you made any move at all, you got whammed. They no doubt had guns on them, but what you were facing were these blue eyes filled with hate for the supporters of the Blacks. I have never before or since seen hate like that in eyes – ever! But you could read it, and it just made me mad to see these blue eyes!
Despite the frightening circumstances, Sister Maddie said they didn’t feel afraid. “We all sang. We’re singing, “We shall overcome!” All that. And some of the really beautiful “Negro spirituals. It was very friendly. We had our arms crossed and linked right across, row after row, all like that, and singing away. And the Negro spirituals were all so beautiful. They’re easy to catch on to. But the “We Shall Overcome” was sung over and over.”
Today, considering her participation that day as just a natural outgrowth of the work they’d been doing in Kansas City for the past 10 years, bringing integration to the schools and hospitals, she is also aware that the job of bringing full equality and social justice for all people to this country is far from over. Sighing, she considers the present-day headlines of police vs. people of color, and commented, “It’s disheartening what’s happening still.”
We are all very aware of the violence and suffering being experienced in Iraq at this time. Many have had to flee but many remain in their communities experiencing anxiety and fear as violence erupts all around them. In solidarity with the Iraqi people and with the minority Christian Community, the leader of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Sienna in Mosul, Iraq has called her sisters throughout Iraq to a time of intense prayer for peace and the protection of people of all faiths in Iraq.
We, along with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), call our sisters around the world to join the Iraqi Sisters in a time of prayer on Thursday, June 19 at 6 p.m. (in your time zone) to pray for an end to the violence and for the protection of all faith groups in Iraq. We encourage you to participate in this act of contemplative solidarity in the privacy of your heart, in your local community or chapel. Let us pray that there may be peace in Iraq and peace in the hearts of all peoples.
In the spirit of solidarity and gratitude,
The Congregational Leadership Team of the Maryknoll Sisters
Click here to add your prayer.
Maryknoll Sisters were saddened to learn this week of the passing of a dear friend, US Ambassador Robert White.
Ambassador White, who died on Tuesday, January 13, 2015, at the age of 88, was serving as the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in December 1980 when Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, along with Jean Donovan and Sr. Dorothy Kazel, OSU, members of the Diocese of Cleveland’s mission team, were murdered by National Guardsmen in El Salvador.
The ambassador provided significant logistical and emotional assistance to the Maryknoll Sisters in the days and weeks following the women’s deaths, the Sisters recalled, and Sister Madeline Dorsey, MM, who was living in San Salvador during those dark days, remembers Ambassador White “as a great and courageous man, a man of truth.”
By February 1981, then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Jr. forced White’s resignation from the foreign service because White refused Haig’s demand to use official channels to cover up the Salvadoran military’s responsibility for the murders.
The Maryknoll Sisters will always remember Robert White with the deepest admiration and respect, and will always have great appreciation for the efforts he took to support fully the communities of both the Sisters and the Salvadoran people whom they served. He was an exceptional public servant and he will be missed. The Maryknoll Sisters hold his family and friends in prayer.