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Sister Mary Rita Phillippon

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 13/03/2024

        Born: 19 July 1931

        Professed: 15 August 1953

        Deceased: 13 March 2024

     SMSM Constitutions 51 & 52


Mary’s one desire

was to do the will of the Father which she sought throughout her life, and to co-operate with her whole being in the saving work of her Son. Our lifelong task is to learn to put the interests of the Lord before all else, trying to discern His will each day and to forget ourselves in loving Him. 

From Mary, Mother and first disciple of Jesus, we learn to listen to His word and keep it, to live united with Him  in our daily work and in times of sacrifice and difficulty,to love with sincerity and respect all those to whom He sends us. 

These articles of our SMSM Constitutions (and many others) speak to me about the life of Sister Mary Rita. While each of us here has memories of Mary Rita from different epochs of her life, my suspicion is that no one of us here has memories of Mary Rita that span every epoch of her life. In a sense, this is an aspect of the poverty of a Missionary Sister of the Society of Mary. What I mean is this: Every SMSM spends a significant time of her life outside her own culture and country and is greatly changed by that experience. Those with whom she lived during those years will most likely not live with her in another mission in another country and their memory of the person remains as they knew her in that time period; they do not see her ongoing development and growth as a person. Even when SMSM live in the same country for many years, there are other years when they are separated and each one continues to grow and change through a myriad of life experiences. As a result, we know each other in different ways to a different degree. For sure, there are many deep experiences that each one of us has along the journey of life that are known to God alone. God alone knows us through and through and, as we grow in wisdom and grace, we accept as part of our poverty that we will never be known inside out by any other person.

One of seven children – four girls and three boys, Monique Philippon was born in Brunswick, Maine on July 19, 1931. As a child growing up, Monique must have manifested a certain determination and strong will, doing what she wanted in the way that she wanted to do, because she once shared with someone that her mother told her on several occasions that, after she entered the convent, the sisters would send her home because she wouldn’t listen, and to listen well is to obey. Nevertheless, with determination, Monique entered our smsm Congregation in Bedford, Massachusetts on February 11, 1951 and, when she was received as a novice the following August, she was given the religious name of Sister Mary Rita. Through the power of grace, Mary Rita proved her mother to be wrong: the sisters didn’t send her home and she faithfully lived as an SMSM for more than 70 years.

Following her First Profession on August 15, 1953, Mary Rita gave community service in Boston and Framingham for one year before beginning her studies in education at Framingham State College. After receiving her degree, she was sent out on her first overseas mission to Samoa where she served in various smsm communities and schools. Over a period of nineteen years in Samoa, Mary Rita served as a teacher and then as head mistress (principal) of several schools. In our smsm communities, she was often asked to serve as the bursar or the superior of the community. 

Mary Rita was a lifelong learner who valued opportunities for ongoing formation. Besides specific smsm ongoing formation, she took courses in education, scripture and theology – sometimes in person and sometimes by correspondence. There was no Internet in those days giving us opportunities for Online learning through Zoom as we have today. She and many other SMSM patiently did correspondence courses over many months and years. Mary Rita also did two units of CPE – Clinical Pastoral Education. All of these studies added to her skills and capacity as a missionary religious sister who served people in the spirit of Mary.

In 1977, Mary Rita was transferred to the Province of North America and returned to the United States. Where she gave service for two years as mission coordinator and local bursar in the “62”

Newton Street community. During that time, she also ministered part-time as a Nurse’s Aide at Maristhill Nursing Home.

Sister Mary Rita emulated many important Marist qualities such as humility, faithfulness, generosity, self-forgetfulness, thoughtfulness of others and availability. A few other of her smsm qualities were determination, a bit of stubbornness, and a good sense of humour accompanied by an infectious laugh. 

Mary Rita was open and available to say “yes” when asked to give service in various smsm communities and mission beyond. She served in pastoral ministry with the Samoan community in San Francisco, California from 1979 to 1981; she gave service at the SMSM Generalate Community in Rome with her cooking skills from 1982 to 1985; and she was missioned to Bangladesh from 1987 to 1989 where she served as the secretary to the Bishop of Dhaka. Mary Rita was also called upon to use her secretarial skills for the 1986 North American Provincial Chapter, for the 1987 General Chapter and for the 1998 Enlarged General Council that took place in Framingham. And she willingly said “yes” once again when, in 2010, Sister Mary Emerentiana requested her help with the translations of smsm documents.

In my eleven and a half years of working closely with Mary Rita here in Waltham, I knew her to be thorough and diligent in whatever task she was given. In 1997, while living in Arlington, Mary

Rita was asked to serve for two years as the activities director at “62” Newton Street community. At the same time, she began to work part-time in our Development Office for a few hours each week. Over time, she accepted more and more responsibilities in the Development Office and she became an integral part of the Development Committee. She continued her service in that office until 2020. 

As part of her responsibilities, Mary Rita sent hand-written Thank You notes to all of our donors. People really appreciated receiving a hand-written message from a sister. Eventually, when we caught up with modernization and computers became part and parcel of our work at the Office, it was suggested that a Thank You letter generated by a computer program would be much more efficient. While Mary Rita accepted this change, she wisely continued to include a short, handwritten message with every printed letter. She knew the donors welcomed it.

One of Mary Rita’s major contributions in the Development Office was her work with the League of Prayer. She was extremely attentive to each person who requested enrollments in the League and, as with other donations received, she would send a hand-written message along with the Mass cards. She created a mailing list for the League of Prayer, which was separate from the lengthy list of persons on our donor-base mailing list. The League of Prayer mailing list was comprised of the members of the League only. When she did not hear from someone on the list for a long time, she would write to them and ask if they needed any new enrollments. She often received a positive response. Apparently, when other donations were down, the income from the League of Prayer remained steady due to the efforts of Mary Rita. 

In 2003, Mary Rita asked me if she could go to the Marist International Summer Camp for youth in New Hampshire, an annual event sponsored by the Marist Brothers. The Marist Brothers had invited her to volunteer for a month. A firm believer in Marist family collaboration, I was more than happy to support her in this. At her suggestion, Sister Jhorna Gomes participated as well. When I visited the camp that summer, I saw how happy the Brothers and young people were with the presence of Mary Rita and Jhorna and the sisters were just as happy to be there. It was a lifegiving experience for all. Mary Rita volunteered for one month at that Camp every summer for the next ten years. While there, Mary Rita was part of the team and she contributed in a variety of ways as needs arose: she was present at morning and evening prayer each day, participated in team meetings, assisted with the discipline of the youth, with the kitchen services, as well as with preparing and participating in fun days where, on one occasion (maybe more), she dressed as a clown and acted like a fortune teller. Apparently, this was a very popular event among the young people. Her participation in the annual summer camp kept Mary Rita grounded in her missionary outreach and love for people.

For more than twenty years, much of Mary Rita’s mission and ministry could have been considered very Marist – hidden and unknown in the true sense of the words. And with all that she did, she gave one hundred percent of herself. In a sense, she was a perfectionist; she set high standards for herself and for others. And, I think we all know that she could become quite annoyed if anyone didn’t live up to those standards. It was my experience that, if Mary Rita was not pleased with something or someone, she would speak directly with the person involved. She did not gossip behind anyone’s back and diminish their reputation. At the same time, she never hesitated to congratulate someone when they did a good job; she was supportive and encouraging. Mary Rita was loyal to the Congregation, to the members of her community and to her colleagues.

Chosen to be members of a religious family which bears the name of Mary, we are invited to live our missionary vocation in the spirit which is hers: a spirit of humility, abnegation, intimate union with God and deep love for others.  (C. 3)

Mary Rita loved her vocation as a Missionary Sister of the Society of Mary. She never wavered in this. Throughout her life, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, she maintained an intimate relationship with Christ Jesus and with Mary, his mother and ours.

I feel certain that, when Mary Rita met the Lord face to face last week, Jesus looked at her with love and, with a smile on his face, said: “Well done, good and faithful servant! ... Come and share your master’s happiness!” And I imagine that, with a smile on her face (and a little giggle) and no longer in pain, Mary Rita hastened into his embrace with great joy. 

Thank you, Sister Mary Rita. Rest in peace.


Sr. Helen Muller, smsm                                                        Sr. Georgeanne M. Donovan, smsm

Regional of the Americas.