Remembering Sister Mary Jane Wallace, O.S.B.

Remembering Sister Mary Jane Wallace, O.S.B.

Sister Mary Jane Wallace:  April 3, 1929 --  October 27, 2020

In her Power of Attorney for Health Care form Sr. Mary Jane wrote that when she was nearing death, she would like to have soft reflective music played, prayers said softly, and Ice Cream, if she could have it.  And have it she did – Sunday morning for breakfast!   

On the previous Tuesday Sister Mary Jane was up in her office and continuing to “organize” a new order of greeting cards which she had received.  She taught one lesson and said it was a very good one. On Wednesday she woke up with grave difficulty breathing.  As the days passed she alternated between feeling good, and very tired.  During that time she called her piano students and their parents and some former students, to let them know she was saying good-bye.  There were tears on both sides of the phone lines.  By Friday morning she was ready and waiting and God was calling.

Born in Creston, IA on April 3, 1929 Mary Jane Wallace was the first child of Francis Leo and Helen Jane Harvey Wallace.  Her father was a conductor and brakeman on the railroad and Mary Jane spoke very highly of him.  Her mother, Helen Jane died in childbirth with her brother Leo who was stillborn, when Mary Jane was not quite 3 years old.  From then on, as we know, Mary Jane was taken in by the Wallace and Harvey clans. They all reached out to her with love.  Until she was 6 she was raised by her paternal grandparents on the farm and often she also visited her maternal grandparents.  She said she was showered with lots of love and was a lively and creative child.  A bit mischievous too we might add!

Because her father worked on the railroad, they moved many times. Mary Jane attended school at St. Malachy’s in Creston for 1st grade, St Joseph Academy, Des Moines for 2nd grade, St. John’s, Burlington IA for 3rd, St. Patrick’s, Burlington for 4th, St. Mary’s Academy for 5th grade.  She noted that sometimes she was in three schools a year and it definitely took its toll on her education. She wrote that her 5th grade year was not a very happy one at St. Mary’s – all the moving for her, and other family problems came out in her behavior and she was frequently in trouble for some mischief.  Thus, she did not return to St. Mary’s for 6th grade, but was at St. Cecilia in Hastings, Nebraska that year. Her father remarried, and she remembers that her step-mother was a marvelous seamstress and made lovely clothes for her.

Seventh grade found her back in Ottumwa, IA.  Again with poor behavior and other family difficulties, Mary Jane’s father asked her Aunt Cecilia to take charge of Mary Jane, and as we know, Aunt Cecilia became a mother to her.  Another Aunt offered to pay for her ongoing education, and she chose St. Mary’s Academy, from the latter half of 7th grade through high school.  Mary Jane entered community after that graduation and remained in Nauvoo until she was sent out on missions.

She received a BA in Education with a minor in music from St. Ambrose College, Davenport, IA.  Mary Jane also studied at the St. Louis Institute of Music, and took courses at the University of IL, DePaul University, IL, Quincy College, IL, St. Meinrad School of Theology, IN, and Clark College, Dubuque, IA. She received a certificate of completion from the theological institute at St. Norbert’s College, DePere, WI, and years later she earned a certificate in Spiritual Gerontology from the Johnson Institute in St. Louis.  She brought her knowledge of the Spirituality of Aging not only to our own sisters, but to many other religious groups.

Mary Jane’s music lessons began in 7th grade. She attributed her talent to her mother, who played organ at their church and was a fine accompanist. 

Mary Jane entered St. Mary Priory on August 15, 1947.  She made her first profession on July 11, 1947 and her final profession on July 11, 1952.  That date was also the anniversary date for her parents wedding.  Her primary work beginning in 1949 until 1972, and again from 1980-1991, was teaching first grade, kindergarten, and always music lessons.  She spent 4 years serving at the priory as House Coordinator, secretary to the Prioress, and giving music lessons.  She was also director of liturgy during this time and served on the Diocesan Music Commission.

She contrasted the insecurity, loss of her mother, and constant moving as a child to the stability and beauty of her Benedictine life.  She believed this life was the greatest of blessings to her and that it overpowered any negativity or sadness she might have carried with her from her childhood days.

Sr. Mary Jane taught at 7 different parish grade schools:  St Mary’s, Moline; St. Columba’s Chicago, Holy Family, Peoria, Sts. Peter and Paul, Nauvoo, St. Thomas More Munster, IN, and Seton Catholic School, Moline, IL over a period of 43 years, and St. Mary’s Academy, Nauvoo for 3 years.  She also served as a Pastoral Associate at St Mary’s Parish, Moline, and at Resurrection Parish, Lasalle, IL for 7 years along with directing the Adult choirs at Resurrection and at Christ the King Parish, Moline.  She never served in any place without also teaching music in some form.

At the age of 89 Sr. Mary Jane wrote a book published this year, advocating the free spirit of children and the joy of their creativity, entitled:  Whatever Happened to the Sandbox?

When she was received as a Novice, Sr. Mary Jane received the name Sister Mary David of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  She returned to her given name in the early 1970’s, but she forever retained her tremendous love of and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In this last week she asked that the bulb lighted candle in front of her Mary statue be kept burning at all times. The candle gave her great comfort. 

Sister Mary Jane wrote that she used to tell her students that they were all the luckiest people in the world because:

“Out of all the zillions of people who ever lived – in any century, in any place, God gave us to each other to be companions on this journey.” 

That is truly the way she viewed everyone – they were special because they were there. Sister Mary Jane saw everyone as a potential friend.  She will be missed by “the thousands of people” – literally – who came into her life and crossed her gracious path at some point.

And as for parties – we all know she loved them!  She could always find a reason to celebrate and celebrate she did.  I have no doubt she is organizing the next one in heaven at this very moment!

She also wrote: “Tell my friends and family:  I love them and am grateful for their presence on my journey, and if I have offended them in any way I am sorry and ask their forgiveness.  Remember the good times we shared and say a prayer for me.  I believe the BEST IS YET TO COME!”

Mary Jane ended her recent book with a poem entitled: The Dance of Life.  She wrote it as a Retreat Reflection.  I quote a portion of the poem: 

          “What do you want me to do for you?”

          I hear YOU ask over and over.

          And I simply reply – with a heartfelt cry –

          “Lord Dance with me, NOW forever.

          Cling to me, love me no matter the pace

          Smile on me – this dancing grace.

          Though storms may come and days of strife,

          May I have this dance –

          For the rest of my life?”

The BEST has now come to our Sister Mary Jane.  We know she is dancing with God today, and for the rest of her eternal life!









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