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Sister Mary Hager

List of deceased Sisters

Date of death 23/05/2016

SMSM SistersSr. Mary Elizabeth Hager smsm

[Formerly Sr. Mary John Cantius]

April 7th, 1918 – May 23rd, 2016

Mary Elizabeth Hager was born on April 17th, 1918, in Folsom, Pennsylvania. She was one of four children – two boys and two girls - born to Joseph Richard Hager and Elizabeth Cecilia Young Hager. 

At the age of 90, eight years ago, Mary wrote a short autobiography in which she told something of the story of her vocation.  She spoke of the difficult Depression years (1929-39), when her father moved the family to a farm, hoping “to keep the boys busy on the farm and out of mischief.” But the boys did not like farm work, and the family left the farm as soon as possible.  Money was in short supply, so Mary had no expectation of continuing her education after high school. But she wrote, “Dad was very concerned for my future with the result that I attended a small school in Chester, Pennsylvania for about six months, learning commercial subjects.”  She went to work for an insurance company in Philadelphia, where she trained to be an insurance underwriter. “I was in love with a very fine young man at the time,” she wrote, “but while I was making a retreat, it was made known to me that I had a vocation to the religious life.  The retreat master asked me what I was going to do about it and I told him I would enter as soon as I could.  My family was shocked, and as for my dear gentleman friend, let’s say he was a bit shocked, too…The Lord won! ...I can honestly say that I have never regretted God’s call to me to serve him as a Marist Missionary Sister.”

Mary entered the Marist Missionary Sisters at the age of 30 in Bedford, Massachusetts, on July 31st, 1948 and made her first vows on February 2nd, 1951.  Immediately after profession she was asked to assist on the novitiate staff at Bedford, and later that year assisted at the Postulate in Lowell.  From 1953 to 1957 she served as the Regional Bursar at our central house in Framingham.  She made her final vows in Framingham in 1957, and, a few months later was appointed Directress of Postulants, first in Lowell and later in Waltham, where she served in this capacity until March 1964. 

For seven years she was the one to introduce young women into religious life as Marist Missionary Sisters.  On news of her death, many former, as well as present SMSM, shared stories of those days and of their fond memories of “Sr. Mary John Cantius”.  As Sr. Agnes Anne mentioned during the ‘Words of Remembrance’ at the funeral, “Most of us who were her postulants remember her as being ‘strict’.  Yet overriding that, we all recall her unfailing kindness and interest in trying to make us feel at home and in encouraging each one’s potential and special gifts”. Mary was known for her down-to-earth wisdom, her sense of humor, her deep faith in God, and in Mary, our Mother, and her great love for the congregation.

During the years that she served as the Directress of Postulants, she studied for 3 summers at Providence College in Rhode Island to obtain a certificate in Theological Studies.

After 13 years service in administration and in the formation of young Sisters in the USA, Sr. Mary finally got her wish of “going to the missions” herself in 1965 when she was sent to Samoa. There she taught in Leulumoega and in Lepua, and soon grew to love the Samoan people. However she was there only three years when she was called back to the USA to serve as the Provincial Secretary for Mother Mary Ambrose as the Sisters prepared for the first Provincial Chapter in 1970. In 1969 she was also appointed the Provincial Bursar.

In the early 1970’s Sr. Mary studied for her BA in International Studies at the American University in Washington DC.  In 1977 she had another opportunity to be missioned overseas – this time in Papua New Guinea.  Mary was sent to the Xavier Institute in Port Moresby, where she served as Secretary for the Union of Women Religious.  Two years later, Mary took on an even more challenging mission by volunteering to be part of an SMSM team missioned to Indonesia. Sr. Janice Ruff, from Australia, who was another member of that team, has written about this time:

“In 1979, Mary set out for Jakarta, Indonesia alone and ahead of the other three sisters [who were having] visa difficulties. … In North Sumatra, the group was inserted into a local congregation to learn the language. Mary was 61 at the time and the challenge of learning Indonesian proved beyond her but she persevered to the end, taking classes whenever the occasion arose… in North Sumatra, Mary and the community moved some eight times in five years. Mary gave valuable service to the Catechetical Office, but in 1983 she resigned and took up a ministry teaching English to the Capuchin pre-seminarians as well as giving two days a week as secretary to the Capuchin Provincial. Her great achievement was to prepare two young Capuchin priests to begin studies at Boston College. Mary also became a good friend and confidante of several of the American expatriate women living in Medan, even accompanying one of them to Singapore when the woman was due to give birth. Mary left North Sumatra in July 1984 and returned to give service in her homeland”.

When Sr. Mary Hager returned to the USA her missionary days were far from over.  She was a person always concerned about the future of the congregation and how she herself could continue to be of service.

She had a great love for the Marist Family, and at different times did secretarial work for the Marist Fathers in Boston. One of the highlights of her later years was to be part of a Marist Family Team in the poor and multi-cultural parish of St Francis-St Blaise in Brooklyn, New York (1986-89). Father John Bolduc SM, who celebrated her funeral Mass, spoke of Mary’s generous and warm hospitality, which was so much appreciated in Brooklyn. In fact her gracious, welcoming presence, her interest in people of all cultures and races, and her sense of humor, were qualities known to many people in different parts of the world.

Mary’s search for where she could best live out her SMSM vocation - without “retiring” - led to many changes in her living situations in the last decades of her life: from Arlington MA (’90) to Naples Florida, where she worked in a Day Care Center for the Elderly (93-96), to Newton Street in Waltham, where she served as Coordinator for one year (97), to Belmont (‘98-2002), to Rocky Creek Village in Tampa Florida (’03-’06), where she devoted herself to helping Mr. Lupo write a history of the Village.

Finally, when her health was declining, Mary returned to Waltham in 2006. She moved to Bethany Health Care Center in Framingham in 2013, and then to the Elizabeth Seton Residence in Wellesley Hills in December 2014. Her devoted nephew, George and a number of Sisters, were present when she died there peacefully on May 23rd.  Her funeral, held on May 31st, was a wonderful celebration of her life, attended by many loving family members, friends and Sisters.  We give thanks for knowing Mary and will honor her best by remembering her constant zeal for mission, her love for the congregation, her ongoing search for how the Lord was calling her at each stage of her life, and her gracious hospitality to all.

In Mary,

Sr Claire Rheaume smsm (Regional Leader)                                                                    

Sr Virginia Fornasa smsm (Communications Secretary)