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Remembering the graciousness of Sister Mary Grace

Remembering the graciousness of Sister Mary Grace - (20-08-2015)

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Sister Mary Grace Cunniff, OSB passed away Aug. 18, 2015, at the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration’s healthcare facility in Clyde, Missouri.

She was born Ellen Josephine Cunniff on Sept. 12, 1926, in Nashville, Tennessee. The middle child among eight children, she attended Catholic school taught by the Sisters of Mercy.

“Toward the end of my senior year in high school, through several undeniable experiences in prayer, I knew without a doubt that God was calling me to a contemplative community,” she recalled.

Young Ellen felt a call to religious life early but put it aside. After her high school graduation, she spent a year working as a stenographer and in personnel. She enjoyed writing letters to her sister, Mary Elizabeth, who had joined the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration three years earlier.

She kept her vocation strong with regular prayer and the sacraments. She later recognized that the seeds of a religious vocation were planted by the Benedictine Sisters’ magazine, “Tabernacle and Purgatory,” and by a few of the teaching Sisters of Mercy who had a good influence on her life.

“Their devotion, spirit of sacrifice and prayerfulness were an inspiration to me,” she said.

Ellen entered the Benedictine Sisters at their monastery in Clyde on July 15, 1945. She made her first vows on Feb. 15, 1947, and received the name Sister Mary Grace. During the years of her temporary profession, she experienced the life of the community at the congregation’s monasteries in Clyde and Kansas City, Missouri.

She worked in the sacristy, the kitchen and the correspondence department and had singing lessons. Besides work and prayer, the mainstays of Benedictine life, she enjoyed nature, swimming and reading. She was considered a gentle supportive presence to the newer members as they adjusted to the foibles of community life.

Soon after making her final vows in 1952, she transferred to the monastery in Tucson, Arizona. In some of her monastic life she was assigned to a monastery along with her sister, Sister Mary Stella. The longest stretch of time they lived together was 14 years in Kansas City. In 1980 she had the joy of experiencing a trip to Europe where she visited Germany, France and the congregation’s founding monastery of Maria Rickenbach in Switzerland. 

When Sister Mary Grace was a member of the Clyde community in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she worked in the altar bread department helping to train postulants in the proper ways to inspect, handle and package the communion breads.

In 2007 Sister Mary Grace transferred to Our Lady of Rickenbach, the Benedictine Sisters’ healthcare facility in Clyde. During those years, she kept her quiet gracious sense of welcoming others – perhaps because her Nashville charm fit with Benedictine hospitality. There was always a twinkle in her eyes.

Sister Mary Grace’s Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 24, in the Adoration Chapel. Her burial will follow in the congregation’s Mt. Calvary Cemetery.