Sister Mary Teresa Cleary

Mary Cleary
1854 - 1881

On this day we commemorate the happy death of our dear Sister Mary Teresa who departed this life Oct. 12, 1881 after a very short illness, but fortified by the Sacraments and strengthened even in her dying moments by the prayers of holy Church.

Mary Cleary, in religion Sister Mary Teresa, was born in Cornwall, Ont. At the age of nineteen she entered the Novitiate wholly and unreservedly, breaking generously the ties which bind the eldest child to her family, and while still lobbing her dear ones with all the ardour of an affectionate heart, she devoted herself with great generosity to the works of the Institute. She was a very simple, earnest character, incapable of acting from any base or inferior motive.

Having made her profession, she was sent to the mission of Holyoke, where she labored with her accustomed zeal and energy, until her early and unexpected death.

During the six years of her residence there, she was called to labour at the different works of the Institute, and it was never known that Sister Mary Teresa lacked interest, no matter what duties claimed her attention. In all she did one could plainly see that she laboured directly under the Eye of god, and with the sole view to His glory, and the neighbour’s salvation. It was especially in preparing children for their first communion that one could see her zeal and self-forgetfulness. By preference she took charge of those over-grown boys, who unable to read, had little or no aptitude for learning. With unwearing patience, she would repeat again and again for them the necessary truths of religion, spending six weeks in imparting knowledge that a child with ordinary intelligence would understand in as many days. When sympathy was offered, or their carelessness or stupidity blamed, she would strive to shield or excuse them, apologizing thus: “The poor children; perhaps it is not all their fault. If they do not make their first communion this year they may never return, etc.”

She succeeded wonderfully with her protégés, and if those who instruct others unto justice shall shine as stars in the firmament, this humble and hidden apostolate must have merited for our dear sister a very great recompense.

In the vacation of 1880, she went as companion on a collecting tour to the West.  During the summer and autumn months the sisters continued their journey, meeting trials that only they themselves may know, and which may be written by no other than the Recording Angels.

They penetrated to the far West, undergoing fatigues that those who read this simple memoir would vainly strive to imagine, but on their return, so far from feeling that she had done enough, Sister Mary Teresa was willing to undertake a second time the same labours.

In September 1881, she resumed her class duties, but ere the month had passed she showed signs of indisposition. Being of a very robust constitution no one was alarmed. She refused to yield to the importunities of nature, and for two weeks bore up against the treacherous fever that was rapidly fastening itself upon her. At length she could keep up no longer, and went to bed on her return from school, never to rise again.

The physician was summoned and found her to have typhoid fever in a very malignant form.

Our dear Sister seemed to have a presentiment that death was approaching. She arranged her little affairs at once, gave a list of the children who owed her for books, and assured the sisters that she would not get better.

Knowing her great precision, but little attention was paid to this, yet as the days passed, and the fever only increased, it was deemed best to have the Sacraments administered. On Tuesday evening, one week from the day she succumbed to her illness, the priest was called to administer the Viaticum. She heard of his coming with joy, fervently exclaiming with clasped hands: “Thanks be to God”. Her mind no longer wandered; rallying all her strength she pronounced, as distinctly as her parched tongue would permit, her renewal of Vows and profession of faith, and remained perfectly conscious while receiving the Sacraments. She passed the night as usual, but the sisters began to realize that death was rapidly approaching. At six the next morning a change came over her countenance, she was unable to take her medicine, the Community were hastily summoned, and while all knelt round her, supplicating the heavenly court to aid her in the last agonizing struggle, she breathed her last. The priest waited in the sacristy, that he might offer a requiem, but faithful in life to every rule even in dying her obedient spirit took flight leaving her weeping sisters free to go at the Community hour and assist at Mass.

On the morning of her death she had the benefit of three Masses and the same on the two days following.

Nothing was more admirable, during the week of her illness than her implicit obedience to the physician and infirmarian. Though confident that she would not recover, yet she was scrupulously exact in taking her medicine precisely at the time and in the manner prescribed.

No murmur of impatience escaped her. Her childlike devotion to her parents and family was well known in the Community, she had written home the day before the doctor’s first visit, but though confidently expecting death, she suppressed all natural feelings, and made no mention of her family, except in the early stage of her illness, when she asked that her beads might be sent to her father.

Her remains were interred on the ever of the Feast of Saint Teresa, 1881, in the Cemetery at Holyoke. She died in the twenty-sixth year of her age, and the eighth of her religious life, having merited thus early to hear the consoling words of the Master of the Vineyard: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will place thee over many. Enter thou into the joy of they Lord.”