Remembrance of the Life of Sister Jeannette Marie Donnelly SL
Sister Jeannette Marie Donnelly
April 27, 1922 – April 9, 2014
Sister Jeannette Marie Donnelly was very proud of her origins: She told the archives that she was born on the family ranch at Running Water, near Springfield SD, on or near the ranch her mother’s grand parents settled in the 1850s. Baptized Catherine Jeannette, she was the third of four children of James Edward Donnelly and Bertha Emma Moon. Before 1928 the family moved to the southeast, where Catherine Jeannette bounced from one grade school to another in Florida and Alabama. Relatives in New Mexico invited Catherine and her two older sisters, Lavonne and Ruth, to Las Cruces in 1935, so they could attend Loretto Academy. Catherine graduated from Las Cruces in 1939.
Catherine Jeannette later wrote, “My memories of the Loretto Sisters in Las Cruces are only the best; the Sisters were understanding and good-humored. I can not remember a cross word being spoken to me as a child there.” Loving the Sisters and already loving to help others read, Jeannette requested admission to the novitiate, despite the opposition of her mother. She received the habit and the name Sister Jeannette Marie on December 8, 1939.
“I presumed when I got to the community that I would be a teacher,” Jeannette said in a recent interview. “I like to teach reading. I consider that missionary work—to teach children how to read and to love reading….When they can read, they can learn anything they want to learn, and teach others to read, and learn to help their own children, you know. That was my mission, I think. It’s what I loved the most. It means so much to me when they walk out in May or June and they can really read, when they didn’t know anything about reading when they came.”
Jeannette Marie made her first vows December 8, 1941, and began teaching in 1942 at St. Philomena’s in Denver. Following nine years at St. Phil’s, she taught for seven years in Alabama, at Daphne and Loretto in Montgomery. A single year in Los Angeles was followed by six years in Texas, at St. Michael’s Houston and Mary Star of the Sea, Freeport, where she served the first of many years as teaching principal. Three of her students from Texas visited Jeannette at the Motherhouse n 2013. One told her ‘I’m an engineer because you got me on the road to understanding math. You taught me after school and you worked with me on Saturdays.’ Jeannette’s reaction: “That thrilled me….because you never know, when you do a little extra, how good that’s going to be.”
In 1965 Jeannette’s last “assignment” was to St. Vincent’s parish school in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where she taught and was principal for thirteen years. Before the end of the 1978 school year, she left the end-of-school tasks to her fellow teachers, Sisters Mary Joyce and Charles Maureen, to hurry to Palo Alto, California to care for her dying mother. Jeannette Marie elected to remain in California, taking a teaching position at St. Elizabeth Seaton school in the parish where her younger brother, Lawrence Patrick Donnelly, lived and still lives. She taught for sixteen years at St. Elizabeth’s and did tutoring and community service in the parish for another sixteen years. She was a lively member of Loretto’s Northern California Community Group.
In 2011 Jeannette Marie came home to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary, where she was an active community member and continued to tutor in reading until just days before her death. Jeannette Marie said of her seventy two years of “missionary work,”
“My memories of myself as a Sister of Loretto is of happiness and hard work, trying to do for others while living in the presence of God. I know I could return to any of the places I have taught and be welcomed and loved.”