Sister Mary Ann is a Maryknoll Missioner with an almost permanent smile on her face which has captivated the hearts of the people she has served and worked with on the missions in Latin America for more than 50 years.
She entered Maryknoll in 1948 from the parish of St. Francis de Sales/Holy Innocents in Philadelphia. She knew Maryknoll from the Magazine and from cousin, Fr. Joseph English and from the influence of the Holy Child Sisters she knew in school. After entering Maryknoll she earned her B.Ed. from Maryknoll Teachers College in 1956. That year she received her first overseas assignment. It was to Yucatan, Mexico. Ever since that experience she has had a deep love and appreciation for the Mayan people of Central America.
Sister Mary Ann enjoyed teaching junior high in the beautiful colonial city of Merida, but when Vatican Council brought change and growth to the mission work of the Church, she also was changed. She had the good fortune to go to Chiapas and work under Bishop Samuel Ruiz whose diocese was predominately Indigenous. Bishop Samuel encouraged diocesan teams to study indigenous languages and culture. She spent 15 years working with the Tseltal group of the Mayan peoples of Chiapas, Mexico.
In answer to a call for help from Guatemala in 1970 Sister Mary Ann went with Maryknoll Sister Judy Noone to do pastoral work in the state of El Quiche, as almost all the pastoral agents had withdrawn from the diocese in protest for the increased violence against the rural population. The Sisters went to the parish of San Andres Sajcabaja and helped revive the Catholic community with development projects and women’s education. The Quiche Indigenous women entered a dairy goat project that was the basis for nutrition, literacy, reproduction, math, sports and song for all. Only later did they realize the therapeutic value of working with the lovely creatures.
Sister Mary Ann was later to know urban work in Guatemala City, and in Nicaragua, but recognizes that for the Mayan people and for herself, the land is a first love. In 2012, Sister Mary Ann was assigned to Panama and worked with indigenous peoples in Darien.
In 2016, Sister Mary Ann returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center. There she volunteers at the nongovernmental organization Neighbors’ Link that helps immigrants to this country come into a neighborhood and become a member of the community, helping them learn a new language and culture and integrate into their new communities without fear. Sister Mary Ann shared: “I am first generation from Europe I am moved by the gospel values of hospitality, and solidarity with the poor.” The Center helps recent arrivals to understand the local culture and contribute to the neighborhood and community. Both immigrants and the local communities work against fear and isolation and come to appreciate the contributions each brings to the whole.
Speaking from her personal experience in working with these people, Sister Mary Ann said: “The people of Central America ask entrance into the United States for their own good and that of their families. Situations of violence and poverty demand it of them. I know many Mayan people who even loving their communities, their land, and culture have chosen to leave their homes and come to the States because they do not see an alternative. I want to help them through the difficult process of entrance.”