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Mary Nelle Celebrates 50 Golden Years With Gratitude

Posted on September 1, 2018, by Cathy Mueller SL

From left, Vietnam adoptee Tobi Garrett and Mary Nelle Gage are all smiles this past Easter.
Photo by Cathy Mueller

Mary Nelle Gage is celebrating 50 years as a Sister of Loretto. When asked about her life in Loretto, her response is one of gratitude for the many opportunities that have been afforded her and the inspiration Loretto members have been and continue to be for her.

Mary Nelle was teaching speech and drama and directing plays at Denver’s Machebeuf High School (along with musical director Frances Rattermann) when she accepted the unexpected opportunity to help Susan Carol McDonald with orphans at New Haven Nursery in Vietnam. Upon returning from Vietnam, she worked for Lutheran Family Services and Ecumenical Refugee Services, resettling refugees, primarily from Vietnam. She was privileged to witness how people regain their lives after incredible suffering and trauma and inspired by good Samaritans who came forth from churches and civic groups. These experiences have shaped her life of service.

Golden Jubilarian Mary Nelle Gage embraces Diamond Jubilarian Mary Denis Bruck at the July Assembly 2018 Jubilee Mass in Shepherdsville, Ky.
Photo by Ruth Routten

Parallel to this work, Mary Nelle kept her commitment to the adoptees from Vietnam. As they moved into adulthood, they had many questions about their early lives, birth parents and culture. Along with Susan Carol, adoptive parents, resettled Vietnamese refugees and adoptees, she helped organize reunions about every five years to help them touch base with
others like themselves and their history.

Working with others, Mary Nelle has led seven trips back to Vietnam with the adoptees and their families to make real their link with their biological past. They had the chance to see the areas where they were born, where they had been cared for as babies, and even meet some of the women who held, bathed and cared for them and wept when they left.

Along the way, Mary Nelle began a part-time position at American Airlines, where she meets interesting people (including Pope John Paul II and Desmond Tutu). To all she gives a gracious welcome. The travel benefit enabled her to be more present to her parents in Texas as they aged.

Another opportunity presented itself when EarthLinks needed someone to develop a marketing plan and organize volunteers for the many sales. Besides organizing, she and Ruth Routten devote many weekends to selling the items made by EarthLinks’ participants. The items tell the stories of the participants. They are homeless, economically poor and struggling with many issues in their lives, creative as seen in the products they have made and happy when someone they don’t know buys what they have made. Mary Nelle shares how she has been moved and changed through the relationship with the participants.

Life’s journey has led Mary Nelle down unexpected paths. She weaves many of the experiences together by seeing how she has been entrusted with people’s life stories, witnessing the Gospel being lived out in everyday situations. Her attitude is consistent: How can I help in any way? In all her works — service in Vietnam, numerous commitments in the United States, relationships that continue with people around the world, garage sales at Loretto Center in Denver, negotiating about the future of the sisters in the Loretto Heights College (LHC) Cemetery — her generous response is how can I help?

Having been given much, Mary Nelle is grateful to be in Loretto, to see her life influenced by the many Loretto members who have inspired her life of service. Reviewing the lives of the sisters in the LHC cemetery, many of whom she did not know, she muses that they were asked to create something new. They started with nothing and created something that lasted for 100 years. These are the shoulders we stand on. We are in good company.


Cathy Mueller SL

Cathy Mueller SL is a former president of the Loretto Community and current member of Loretto’s Executive Committee and Forum.
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