Sister Mary Leonard

Maria Gargan

1843 - 1913
Sister Mary Leonard Gargan

It is with feelings of regret that we see the old "Land Marks", as we may call them, our aged Sisters, who have done so much to uprear the Community, depart one by one from our midst, leaving us to ponder and admire their noble deeds of self-sacrifice and enjoy the result of their labours. But why should we wish them to delay or tarry in this vale of tears? This is not the place to which their aspirations ever tended; this was not the goal of their ambition. True, they laboured unremittingly for the material prosperity of the Institute, but it was only with a view to God's greater honour and glory and the salvation of their own and their neighbour's soul. We have, in the person of the subject of this sketch a shining example of this simplicity and uprightness of purpose.

Maria Gargan, as she was known in the world, was born in the Township of Tyendinaga, Hastings Co., Ontario, of Irish Catholic parents on March 25, 1843. Receiving a fair education in their country school, and obtaining a certificate from the County Board of Examiners, she devoted a few years to teaching in a neighbouring district.

At the age of twenty-three, when our Community was but in its infancy, being but five years established, she entered our Novitiate. Manifesting every mark of a religious vocation, she was advanced to the Reception of the Holy Habit in August, 1867, and a year later on the Feast of the Presentation, 1868, she pronounced her Religious Vows in St. Mary's Cathedral; this being the place where the ceremonies were at first held.

We, of the present day, with our comforts and conveniences, can form no idea of the labours, the trials and sufferings our Sisters, the early foundresses, endured. Our young Sister, though heretofore not inured to hardship, was not behind her companion in generosity and self-sacrifice. She took her part in the general work of the House, cooking, washing, ironing, caring the inmates, watching by the sick be, visiting the sick in their homes and all the duties that fell to the lot of the young Community.

It soon became apparent that the Sisters must enlarge their domain, the number of inmates having greatly increased and applications for further admissions were frequently received. But how could this be done? The Treasury was already overdrawn. Extraordinary means must be employed. Collecting in another Diocese, one more favoured with this world's prosperity than our own was proposed. After obtaining the requisite permission, it was decided to send two Sisters to New York City to take up a collection. Our young Professed Novice was selected to accompany an older Sister in this perilous undertaking. They left on June 25th and returned August 12th, 1869. What these two poor wayfarers underwent during these weeks – strangers in a strange city, in the hottest season of the year, may never be written, but we trust that Angel hands have kept the record. Though the return was small, but four hundred dollars, they made friends in the great city and paved the way for a more successful visit. Two years later, Sister with another companion again went thither, but with greater success, for on their return they handed the Superior three thousand dollars to enable her to defray the expenses incurred by the new building which had lately been erected. These were the first of her errands outside of her convent, but our Sister was called upon for years to make frequent visits through our own diocese, caring the sick, or collecting in the parishes, for being gifted with a rare prudence and sagacity as well as pleasing manner and address, her Superiors had no misgivings as to her capability or to her conduct in the trying circumstances in which she might be placed.

She was advanced to positions of responsibility and trust in her Community on several occasions. She was twice appointed to the important office of Mistress of Novices, she was named Local Superior for the rising Mission of Holyoke, at the General Election in 1883, she was elected First General Assistant and during this term, the office of Superior General being rendered vacant by the death of Mother Mary John, she also acted in that capacity for the term of four months or until the next General Election. She was re-elected First Assistant in 1902 and before the close of the term in February 1907, she was again called upon to assume the reins of government, owning to the demise of our late lamented Mother Mary Scholastica.

But, whether in office or otherwise, she ever retained the same humility and docility of spirit, ready to assist here or to go there or wherever the duties of charity were made known to her. This latter may be called her characteristic virtue; so great was her manifestations at times as to be almost called a passion. Did she hear of distress or trouble, either mental or physical, she longed to go to the relief of the sufferer. When the Superior was asked to send Sisters to Tweed to take charge of patients afflicted with a malignant type of smallpox and she called for volunteers for the sacrifice, our Sister was one of the first to offer herself. She went, and, as the reverend pastor also fell a victim to the dread disease, she remained to care him.

When so circumstanced as to be unable to render direct assistance to the afflicted, she resorted to prayer, to acts of penance in their behalf. All that she thus accomplished – the reconciliations brought about, the misunderstandings cleared up, the obstinate sinners reclaimed to God's love and service will not be known until the Great Judgment Day.

During the last four years of her life, her health began to decline, still she continued to render assistance and perform acts of charity for her Sisters and others. In the beginning of the year 1913, it was noticed that her memory was fast failing. At a later period she complained much of intense pain in her head and suffered great mental anguish, nothing seemingly affording her relief. Finally she became quite childish and was confined to bed in the Infirmary the first of October. On November 9th, though there seemed no immediate sign of death, it was thought well to have her prepared. Rev. Father Hanley administered Extreme Unction, after which she gradually declined, passing away on the Feast of Saint Gertrude, surrounded by her Sisters, and Rev. Doctor Salmon repeating again and again words of absolution.

The funeral took place November 17th, His Grace, Most Rev. M.J. Spratt, officiating at Pontifical High Mass of Requiem for the repose of her soul, at which many of the clergy assisted.  Her remains were laid with those of her Sisters in St. Mary's Cemetery.

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