Remembrance of the Life of Sister Susan Carol McDonald SL
(What follows is the reflection, “The Susan I Have Known,” as told to Mary Louise Denny SL “over the years.”)
For some 30 years I have been blessed knowing Susan. And the Susan I knew was a complicated and incredibly simple woman. The Susan I knew was witty, tender, artistic and terribly, terribly honest.
Susan was the oldest of nine children of Bill and Marguerite McDonald. She was born in Pueblo, Colo., in 1944. Her father was away at war when she was born. When he returned, they moved to Akron, Colo., where he was the sheriff for many years as they raised their family.
Susan met the Sisters of Loretto when they came to Akron in the summers to have “vacation Bible school.” She recalled Sister Marie Anthony especially.
Susan attended Loretto Heights College for two years before entering Loretto. She was in the first class that lived at the newly built Denver Center. Susan got her bachelor’s in nursing from the Heights and nursed at the Motherhouse Infirmary.
In 1973, Susan saw the Vietnam War on television along with the rest of us. She decided she needed to help in some way. She explored her options, she chose to work with a woman, Rosemary Taylor. As she was preparing to go, Helen Sanders, then president of the Sisters of Loretto, called Susan and said, “I hear you’re going to Vietnam”… Susan said yes she was … no “discernment process,” no long involved series of conversations about the
efficacy of going, etc. Helen then said to her, “What do you need from us?” “How can we help?” Two days later, Susan was in Saigon.
So much of her adult life was centered in the lives of the adoptees she loved from Vietnam; the lifelong friends she made in Vietnam; the families who also loved these children who could not wait. Some of these babies, now adults, came to Susan for comfort, for stories, for a link to their beginnings in a war-ravaged country. They came to share their own children with her. One young woman brought Susan her new baby and said, “You held
me when I was 3 months old, now I want you to hold her, too.” They came to her for unconditional love. And, they came for honesty straightforward, unembellished honesty. Sometimes unexpected, sometimes difficult, sometimes simple … sometimes not known … always honest. I was a witness to this magical relationship. Thank you.
The Susan I knew loved her family. She loved remembering and sharing stories with her brothers of the adventures in Akron, Colo. There were difficult times as there always are in families. Susan did not hang on to these — she “let go and let God.” The strength she learned from rural Colorado, from a family of nine children, helped her for the rest of her life. And when Susan could no longer visit her family in Colorado, many of them came to see her in St Louis. These times meant a lot to her. Thank you for coming to see your sister, your aunt … Thank you.
The Susan I knew was, well, quirky. She tells the story on herself of the time she was standing, talking with some friends outside at the Loretto Motherhouse. She was picking small leaves off a bush next to her and putting them in her mouth — after a while she began talking gibberish … disconnected sentences, etc. Her friends were alarmed. They
took her to an ER in a nearby town. The doctor examined her, listened to her, talked with her friends. He left the room and Susan looked at his notes— he had written, “thoughtlessly ate bush”… quirky …
She would say things like, “Do you think birds know they are different from each other?” Or, “When I die, I want to see everything I’ve ever eaten”…quirky …
Susan was a lover of the poor of the world. She spent time in refugee camps and in villages in Haiti, El Salvador, Bangladesh, Thailand. And yes, in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina. She was “mom” to three M’Hong children. She lived with them at Loretto in the “Wheatly House” for two years — she kept up with the Yang family for the rest of her life. Sadly, two of the three she cared for have died — each one as a consequence of agent orange in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
The Susan I knew loved you. I saw it in her actions, I heard it in her voice when she said to almost anyone she talked to, “I love you … with my whole heart”… Now it’s our turn to pay it forward. I love you, Susan, with my whole heart.