Sr. Ellie McNally

“AMEN” – In 1977, I was beginning parish ministry at Sacred Heart in Ocean Beach, California. This was a parish with a pastor from Ireland and a school in which the Sisters wore traditional habits. On the first day, the pastor tells me that a Mr. Fox had just died and that his widow Helene needed some help. Now Father had brought Holy Communion every First Friday to the couple as John in his illness was at home. Although Mr. Fox had passed away, Father thought Helene would probably expect Holy Communion. Now Helene was different. Her husband had been a soldier in World War I, fallen in love with this French gal, married her, and brought her back to the States. First Friday arrives. I sought out Helene’s tiny, worn-down abode and knocked on the door, went in, and introduced myself as Sister Eleanor. Helene looked at me quizzically. She is very French, very conservative, and the only Sisters she knew wore veils and long dresses. I ignore her questioning look and tell her kindly we would begin our prayers for the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. Helene informed me that she had already said her prayers. I didn’t dare oppose her and so I go right into “Behold the Lamb of God, etc.” And I say “Helene, the Body of Christ!” With arms folded on her breast and eyes closed, Helene answers, “I hope so!” In the months that followed, we became fast friends. I will always think that her “I hope so” had more faith in it than any “Amen” I’ve ever said.


COOKIES ANYONE? – It was Good Friday in Phoenix. I offered my services that day to Sister Mark who was the cook for about 30 Sisters at St. Mary’s. I was given the job of making chocolate chip cookies. Into the big mixer I started placing all the ingredients. Sister Mark, being the good cook she was, put her finger in the mixture, tasted the dough, made an awful frown, and asked me what in the world I had put in the cookies. I was sure I had done it all correctly. What had happened was this: it being Good Friday and I, being the super conscientious little nun on refraining from touching any food on that holy day, had not tasted the ingredients. Instead of going into the sugar can, I had gone into the salt can. Four cups of salt poured into the mixture of chocolate chip cookies. It ended my cooking career, but my spirituality was saved!


COOKING WITHOUT SHOES – Sister Katie and I were visiting a small museum at Cabrillo Point in San Diego, picturing the first white man’s entry into the bay. One of the murals depicted an Indian village at the time of Cabrillo. The women (with nothing on from the waist up) were doing the cooking, the men were working at pelts, and the children were playing. When a visitor with his little three-year-old daughter arrived at the mural, the little girl cried out, “Look, Daddy, those ladies don’t have any shoes on!”


HARD ROCKING SEARS – I was buying a pair of shoes at Sears. Waiting on me was a young man, neatly dressed with an earring in one ear and his hair in a ponytail. I pulled out a check, wrote it up and handed it to him. He looked at it strangely. “Sisters of the Precious Blood?” he said questioningly. “Yes, that is the name of our community.” Still no comprehension so I said patiently, “Did you ever go to Sunday school?” “Yes,” “Do you remember hearing about Jesus?” “Yes.” “Well, he died on a cross and shed his precious blood for us.” And then he said gently, “It sounds like a hard rock group!”


HOT OR COLD? – One of the Sisters and I were riding a Dayton bus on a very muggy summer day. It was during the time we were still wearing a heavy serge black habit. Rome had decreed shortly before that we must also wear a long black cloak, shoulder to floor length, whenever we departed from the convent. Our bus stop arrived. We went to the door and as we stepped outside, the bus driver said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “Don’t step on the ice, Sisters!”


MUSIC TO MY EARS -When I first started working at Blessed Sacrament in San Diego, I was given a car which in its day was quite classy, but it had 150,000 miles on it and besides that it frequently quit on the freeway. I told the pastor it was another car or I was history. So he looked around. Rosemary, a parishioner, had won a new car so she was selling her old one. She drove up one day for the test. I got in the driver’s seat, pulled away from the curb and the car starts making a funny noise. I ask Rosemary what that noise was. She answers, “Oh, Sister, all you have to do is turn up the radio!” I got a new car.


OH, MY! – One of the Sisters taught second grade at Sts. Peter and Paul in Norwood, Ohio. One boy asked her what that red “rope” around her waist was. Sister answered, “Same reason you wear a belt”. A few days later her cincture (red rope) fell off. Says the same little boy in a loud voice, “Sister, hold em up!”


PINS AND PLIERS – Sister Katie had had foot surgery that required four long pins placed in her foot. It was now time for the pins to be removed. She invited me to come into the room with her. Dr. Greene came in with a pair of pliers. I said to Katie, “Would you like me to hold your hand?” Immediately Dr. Greene said, “I have a better idea. I’ll hold her hand and you can pull out the pins.” We all started laughing and with that the doctor had the pins removed.


PRISON DRAWING – Sister Mary Louise Ante had been teaching for some years when a little boy came up to her with the gift of a pencil drawing. “This is for you, Sister”, he said. “My uncle made it in prison.”


RUB-A-DUB-DUB! – We were vacationing in Ireland. Katie and I, one evening, got off the tour bus and entered a “Bed and Breakfast” place. Katie decided to spend the evening downstairs where the singing and merriment was going on. I was tired so I went straight up to the bedroom. I would have a nice bath and then go to sleep. I noticed when I got in the bath tub that it was shaped like a “V” instead of a “U.” After a comforting bath, I endeavored to get out of the tub. I tried several times to roll over and get up, but it was impossible. Then I noticed built-in handles on the side of the tub. Having a serious left-shoulder problem at the time, I could use only one arm to pull myself up. It wasn’t working. I had visions of Katie coming in at midnight and having to get some strong man to pull me out of the tub. That really scared me! “St. Joseph, help me!” One more struggling pull and I was out of that V-shaped tub. When all else fails, get St. Joseph to come to your aid. He won’t notice how you’re dressed or undressed. He just helps!


SAY IT LOUD, KIDS! – had just started my teaching in Linton, North Dakota, and I was determined to do everything right. So, very diligently, I taught my students to memorize the prayer from the novena. The first time we prayed it in church, the strong voices of the children blurted out the word comparable, only they pronounced it com-PAIR-able. The pastor jumped up, turned around, and shouted, “Who said that?” My students proudly raised their hands. The pastor glared at me. I wanted to slink between the pew. We did learn to say it properly.


THE DATING SERVICE – Somehow e-harmony got me on their phone list. Ring! Ring! I answer and get a little spiel on the joys of finding a mate. “Not interested, thank you.” They kept me on the list. And now a third call. I had it! Same spiel. I said, “I am 87 years old.” Response: “Doesn’t matter. Older people need friends and companions too, etc.” Then I said, “Are you sitting down?” She replied with a quizzical “Yes.” “Well, dearie, I am a nun!” Dead silence. Then we both started laughing. Romance was dead!


THE LEARNIN AIN’T EASY – About twelve of us were attending a talk at the University of Dayton. Attending also were Franciscan seminarians from St. Leonard’s. At the break one of the young men approached me and said, “Sister Mary Thomas, I want to thank you for all that diagramming you made me do!” I recognized Bernard Parker whom I had taught at St. Mary’s in Phoenix. Bernard had left the eighth grade some years before to join the Franciscans in Santa Barbara. The boys in his first-year English course were so poor in grammar that one of the Padres, recognizing Bernard’s quite adequate background, asked him to teach them the basics. As we talked further, I discovered that Bernard’s parents had moved to Ohio and so Bernard had transferred to the Franciscans in Dayton.


THE RACE IS ON – Back in the 1950’s, I had been impressed by the keynote speaker for an educational convention in Phoenix I was attending. Unfortunately, racism at that time was just beginning to be addressed here in the United States. A turning point in my education on the issue came when the speaker talked of “black” vs. “white”. Put a piece of white paper next to my face; I am not white, and the same for the person who is black. Depending on where our ancestors lived, relative to the equator, determines the degree of tan that each of us has. Race is relative; we all belong to the “human” race. It so happened that at the time I was applying for my first driver’s license. When I came to the line on which I was to write my race, I wrote “Human.” Unfortunately, my learning experience had not reached everyone, so I got a letter back. “Please be more specific.”


TRAVELING HERE AND THERE – When I was regional director of the West back in the 1960’s, I was traveling on Frontier, a puddle-jumper, between San Diego and Denver. First stop: El Centro; second stop: Yuma, Arizona. As we came to a halt, I observed a number of people standing on the tarmac getting ready to board. (These obviously were the days before 9/11, with its consequences of multiple screenings.) Noticeable were a woman and several children to whom she was saying “Good-bye.” On the plane, she sat next to me. I was in contemporary clothes so she had no idea I was a nun. It became obvious to me from the start that she was suffering a great pain. After a bit of time, I decided to identify myself as a Sister with the hope that I could do something to help her. And so we got into conversation. Her daughter had been struck by a car that morning and was fatally injured. The mother was on her way to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix where her daughter had been transported earlier. Deep into her sharing her pain, we got on the subject of her husband and at some point or other she mentioned his name: Walter Brinkman. A bell rang. Was he from Ohio? Yes. Ottawa? Yes. Walter Brtinkman! Yuma, that dusty little town on the desert, is a long way from the green fields of Ottawa, Ohio. But it was the Walter I knew so many years ago. Mrs. Brinkman got off in Phoenix, I went on to Denver. She later wrote me that she and Walter had lost their precious daughter and that Walter was so grateful that his old teacher had been there to help his wife on that sad, sad day. Divine Providence? I think so!

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY! – It was back in the ’40’s when the Sisters did not drive cars and they depended upon the laity to supply their rides. I was living in a small town and it was my turn to call. I dialed the number to get a faithful parishioner. “Could you take two of the Sisters to the dentist this afternoon?” Of course, I’ll be glad to, Sister.” End of conversation, I thought. Before the dear lady hung up, I heard her say, “it’s those damn nuns again!” I understood and under my breath forgave her.