If you are one of the lucky many to have known Sister Mary O’Leary, you’ll be glad to hear that her smile still brightens every room she enters.
Many people around the Mahoning Valley and beyond remember Sister Mary from her days in education. For 30 years, she worked in various education ministries around the Diocese of Youngstown. She began teaching in 1953, working with elementary-school children – an experience that sparks fond memories.
“Oh I loved it. I just loved taking care of the little kids!” she says, her soft voice expressing utter joy. “They were so much fun. They would be coming into the school, they’d have their lunches in one hand and their books in the other, and they’d come running up to my desk. They wouldn’t even take their coats off, they’d just tell me what they did the night before. We were so friendly, and they were friendly to each other, too. It was so, so nice.”
Over the years, Sister Mary instructed every grade from 1-8 except 5th. She ministered at Sacred Heart and Immaculate Conception in Youngstown, St. Charles, Boardman, Holy Family, Poland, and St. Nicholas, Struthers. She also ministered as a principal at St. Charles and Our Lady of Peace, Canton, and as assistant principal and registrar at Cardinal Mooney High School, Youngstown. She’s remembered fondly by many former students and colleagues for her caring and gentle ways.
But Sister Mary’s ministry wasn’t limited to schools. She also served in the department of education for the Diocese, and for the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown in various leadership roles – treasurer, director of finance, as local superior, and in community service.
Sister Mary has slowed down since retiring in 2011, but she still enjoys greeting other Sisters, employees and visitors around the Motherhouse, often sharing stories from her childhood and about her family.
“She always tells me how when she was young, her brothers used to sneak her coffee because she liked it,” laughs Renee Harrison, receptionist and healthcare aide. “And she still loves to drink coffee!”
Sister Mary had three older brothers and one younger. “We had a great time growing up. We had such good times. We were just friendly with each other,” Sister Mary says, noting her family was very happy at their farm on the Southside of Youngstown until tragedy befell them; Sister Mary’s father, who worked in the steel mills, died of a heart attack when she was but 11 years old. “It was sad, sad, sad. Then we had to move from the country into the city. My mother had to get a job.”
With five children to provide for, Sister Mary’s mother went to work in the office for the Youngstown Police. But the job required long hours beginning early in the morning, so Msgr. Maurice J. Casey, who was pastor of St. Patrick Church, Youngstown, stepped in to help his parishioners. “He found out that my mother was raising five children,” Sister Mary says. “He said, ‘No let’s change it. You take care of the children until the evening, then you can come in when everybody’s home.’ Two of the children were older so they could watch all of us.”
Msgr. Casey gave Mrs. O’Leary a job at the parish that allowed her to spend more time with her children. Sister Mary’s aunt and uncle, she remembers, also helped her family. Her two oldest brothers came of age during World War II, and even after joining the service, they did what they could to help the family by sending home their pay each month to fund tuition for Sister Mary and her youngest brother to attend Ursuline High School, Youngstown. “We were the only ones who went. The three of them went to public school,” Sister Mary remembers of her older brothers.
Hearing Sister Mary tell that story has touched the heart of Patty Hackett, director of nursing for Motherhouse Healthcare. “Imagine having nothing but doing for others. How much better the world would be if more people were like that still.”
Perhaps it’s no wonder that with such examples of selflessness and kindness throughout her childhood, Sister Mary chose to become an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown shortly after her high school graduation. The Ursuline Sisters follow the charism, the mission and ministry of St. Angela Merici, who counseled hospitality and service to others.
“Sister Mary O’Leary is a role model for all of our Sisters,” says Sister Nancy Dawson, General Superior. “Her vowed, community life and service exemplifies what the Ursulines are all about. Her devotion to family captures Saint Angela Merici’s (our Founder) love and care for families.”
If you would like to send a card or note to Sister Mary O’Leary to say hello or relate treasured memories of your time under her tutelage, you can write her at the Motherhouse, 4250 Shields Rd., Canfield, Ohio, 44406. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.