Remembrance of the Life of Maureen Smith CoL
The following is Maureen Smith’s autobiography, dated Sept. 7, 2018:
I was born and lived, until moving to the Loretto Motherhouse, in my family home in Schenectady, N.Y. On my 87th birthday, my niece gave me my Dad’s diary, which was stored in a box with other family treasures since the death of my Sister Sandra . On the date of Sunday, July 19, 1931, I found these words in my Dad’s handwriting: “Maureen Ellen came this morning at home 937 State Street 6 lb 10 oz. Interrupted ‘Daddy’s” breakfast, made everyone hustle.” (I presume this meant to get to Sunday Mass.)
My childhood was wonderful with Mama, Anne Marie Kehoe Smith; Daddy, James E. Smith; Aunt Mae (Mae K Glaster); Anne Marie, Patty, Sandra, Jimmy, and much later, my wonderful adopted sister, Vyvian d’Estienne. There follows a flurry of delightful memories — crawling into the car —three adults and at least one child in the front seat; three adults and maybe two or three kids in the back seat singing the whole time with the wind (and Grandpa’s chewing tobacco), blowing in our faces and snarling our hair; dinner every night promptly at 5:30 — and then radio time in the living room while Mama and Aunt Mae darned our socks till they were all darn and no socks; running across the street to Gram and gramps house to catch my Dad’s younger sisters maybe kissing a boyfriend; wonderful summers spent at Sacandaga Park on the Great Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondacks; great friendships for 12 years at St. Columba School taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet — walking the six blocks all winter on top of gigantic hills of shoveled snow; stopping by Grandpa Smith’s liquor store every Monday morning for our 5-cent allowance — and then on to Dumigan’s corner store and spending half an hour in front of the trays of penny candy and carefully choosing until the bag of candy was full. (God bless Mr. Dumigan for his patience.)
In September of 1949, I headed off for a real adventure to the West. Mama drove me from Schenectady to Denver, Colo., and Loretto Heights College. Fun years, great friends, and magnificent, lovely women who, for the most part, were remarkable teachers — St. Marie Clyde giving me a lifelong love of Ancient Greek architecture and philosophy and the artists of the Renaissance and the Great Impressionist period; thriving on the stories and lessons of history as Mary Mangan made it come alive in all its glory and pathos, suffering and heroism; nourishing my already love of reading and poetry in the classes of Sister Jean Carmel and Sister Mary Louise; and learning about “deep thinking” as I struggled through the unbelievably enriching philosophy classes of Sister Cecile; the fun biology class of Sister John d’Arc. And listening spellbound to the words of wisdom flowing to us from Sister Mary Florence.
How could I not be attracted to the Loretto Women and their dedication, even long before Vatican II, to making this world a far better, more lively and caring place.
And so it was that on Sept. 7, 1953, I boarded the train, with family members all laughing and crying outside the window, as the train pulled away, and landed the next day in the little town of Loretto, Ky. There I joined the Community of the Sisters of Loretto, where I have embraced their mission of “Working for Peace and Acting for Justice” 65 years as of the day of this writing!
I was missioned to Arlington, Va., where I taught third grade for three years. What a perfect spot, a beautiful community, great spirited children, loving parents, a generous and caring pastor. I must mention my first mentor as a teacher — and she mentored me par excellence, Sister Angelus Caron, who taught first grade right across the hall from me and somehow, in the three years I was there, turning me from an insecure, what- do- I- do- now teacher into the beginnings of a fine teacher and mentor. Yes, I had a reputation for being a fine teacher all my life. I cherish the growth opportunities offered to me by a long line of Sisters who enriched and fostered my abilities. I also lived in Arlington with Sister Marie Dolorosa, fun and kind, and always looking for a good time. How she pleaded that, on our regular Sunday night one hour of television watching during recreation, we might turn from “Lassie Come Home” and “Little House on the Prairie,” and change the channel to “Perry Mason.” We young Sisters never won that battle but we loved watching and participating in the struggle. I thought my heart would break leaving Arlington and my little children and moving on to high school (how scary) at Loretto Academy in Kansas City, Mo.
My first graduating class at Loretto Academy was the Class of 1960. The last was the Class of 1969. came and stayed during the decade of change brought about by Vatican II, the Civil Rights movement, and later, the anti- Vietnam war movement. Loretto was dedicated to the task of teaching our girls to think, to care, to take stands, to have courage, to work for a better world. Faculty and students became involved in inner city missions, in protests, in politics, working to pass an Open Housing Law (which was passed in Kansas City before the Federal Law was passed). We held open faculty debates on the justice (or injustice) of the Vietnam War, capital punishment. We followed the editorials of Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid, Saul Alinsky, and Martin and Malcolm X. Teachers and students tutored and played on inner city playgrounds; worked in breakfast programs; chaired panels of white and black women to promote interracial justice; took to the streets (sometimes with our students) in demonstrations to bring about change. Although Loretto girls were as interested in boys, and their clothes, and having fun, as ever, they were also interested in the world they now saw and in making changes that would bring about a more just society for all. I still see these fine young (and some a bit old now) women, and they are still working and caring to make this home a little better place for all.
In 1969, I was dispensed from my vows and became a co-member of Loretto in 1975. I taught a very rewarding year at St. Mary’s College in Leavenworth, Kan., which included a month interterm course, where nine students lived in the inner city, (at a center where I lived for five years as a Loretto Sister and as a laywoman); had a food budget made up of “commodities” (before the food stamp program), studied city institutions; attended neighborhood meetings for change; and worked with inner city children and adults.
Then, in the fall of 1970, the urban renewal program having torn down our Center and indeed, the whole neighborhood, I moved on to get my juris doctor degree in law from Howard University in Washington, D.C. I returned to Kansas City, after adopting my oldest daughter, Katie, in Washington. When I moved to Kansas City, Katie was practically re-adopted by Sisters Susan Swain (Susie), Elizabeth Ann Compton (Bethie) Marlene Spero (Marbles) and Rita Bruegenhagen. Anne Vogelweid (co-member and former Sister Thomas More) became their second mother and beloved family member. My youngest daughter, Annie, arrived from India on July 3, 1976, (just in time to watch the bicentennial fireworks from the roof of Loretto in Kansas City with her new Loretto family.)
I had now passed both the D.C. and Missouri Bar and was working at the Law Center for Senior Citizens at Legal Aid. Eventually I became the managing attorney of the law center, and worked with Legal Aid for 13 years. All my legal work was with the “Frail and Elderly” Seniors — in most cases the more elderly of the elders, although often younger in age but made frailer by life’s trials. I also worked for 5 years as a staff attorney funded under the “Older Americans Act” in which legal services was a priority. I circuit rode 13 counties east, north and south of Kansas City. I was a staff attorney for 10 years at Bishop Sullivan Social Service Agency. In all my working years, I still loved teaching and was a part-time instructor at Penn Valley Community College for about 30 years, teaching sociology, American government and political science.
From 1997-2002, I changed careers and became a full-time child care worker for my two oldest granddaughters, born 10 months apart to each of my two daughters, faithfully attending a day care program in child care offered at Penn Valley Community College. The Loretto Community had a wonderful shower for my “pre- school” giving me such creative gifts as a macaroni tub and bags full of macaroni with spoons and measuring cups for measuring (“No, no, Jordan and Sammi, measure in the tub, don’t throw on the kitchen floor.” I did lots of sweeping!); big outdoor tubs for swimming pools and sand boxes, washable body paints for hot summer days where their body parts and underpants and diapers were painted in glorious colors; beautiful homemade scrap books full of flowers and animals and nature and babies of every shade and color, fish and sea shells and constellations. The children, during these five years, also became very fine young helpers — bagging groceries at Bishop Sullivan and delivering the same to senior citizens; attending our senior club (“Growing old with God”) and escorting the seniors to activities, and best of all, to the “all you can eat” buffets.
I then began another 13 years as staff attorney at Redemptorist Social Services, where I formally retired from work on a Friday evening in October of 2014, working until about 10 o’clock that evening, mostly shredding papers. I left for my final home the next Monday morning, bag and baggage, in a van and a car, with Cathy Smith SL and Buster Heitman, arriving at my beautiful “Valley House” in Nerinx, Ky., the next evening.
So here I am in perfect peace at the hallowed grounds of Loretto surrounded by beautiful, caring, good friends, great conversations, enriching programs, delicious food service, books to read and cherish, so many they will never run out, cardinals and hummingbirds, lilac trees and sunflowers, cattle and baby calves, my two cats, Tig Anniken and Jag, who are getting as old and lazy as I am, and content to just lie around, enjoy good conversation and take lots of naps. God has been so good to me. Loretto has been so good to me. I have been blessed by work I have loved, friends and family I have loved, and living the last breath of my life in a little bit of heaven we call our earthly home. May she and all her creatures learn to live simply, love tenderly, survive and be at peace.
I am so grateful that Dianne Cleaver, our student from KC, sent me a message yesterday that Maureen Smith had passed away on Sept 5. I’m so grateful that I called Maureen on July 22!!! Just three days after her 89th birthday! Such a good talk! She said “I’m just beginning to understand all the gifts in my life, like getting to go to Selma (1965). There were old ladies so tired and hot, dying on their feet, and kids bringing water to them and everyone.” She remembered C.T. Vivian and John Lewis and felt so privileged to march with them.
She talked about Brown’s, a center she renovated and organized for poor children in downtown KC when we taught at Loretto Academy together. She remembered a granny near there who tutored children in every room of her house. “Every kid got a present at Christmas.”
She was my role model for acting boldly and passionately for social justice, against war and racism. I loved her dearly and know she is guiding us all still with her positive spirit and tremendous LOVE.
Thank you, Maureen. Thank you, all Sisters of Loretto and Maureen’s children, grandchildren and family.
Thank you for your beautiful comments about Maureen and Loretto, Ms. Malone.
I have great memories beginning in the mid-’60s when she was teaching at Loretto on 39th and I was teaching at De La Salle, and all the projects students from both schools got together for exciting projects like tutoring children and visiting families in Wayne Minor Project and helping her re-hab Brown’s Center. We kept in touch through the years until later she began bringing one of her grandchildren to Holy Family Catholic Worker House to prepare and serve an evening meal to hundreds of guests, and then stay to eat and visit. We had exchanged letters recently before she died. I will certainly miss her. I pray to remember and follow her challenging example. Louis Rodemann, FSC
Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of Maureen, Brother Louis.
Fortunately, I was a Loretto student (class of ‘68) of Sister David Maureen who taught social studies. She organized a student group to tutor reading at Brown Center in the inner city (I remember her driving her black Volvo.) Social action was one lesson she taught us girls. She opened our eyes to the wider world we were entering. Showing us French films of the destruction by napalm in Vietnam, reading and discussing the “Feminine Mystique,” inviting a Black minister to discuss the Civil Rights movement was her style of teaching. She was brave and fearless in the face of some parents’ criticism, but she persisted. She taught me to be a politically active person. I am fortunate to have known and been inspired by her.
Thank you, Ms. De Soto, for sharing your beautiful memories of Maureen. She was an incredible gift to us all.