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Sister Mary Annette Leonard remembered for missionary spirit

Sister Mary Annette Leonard remembered for missionary spirit - (21-06-2016)

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Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Mary Annette Leonard, OSB, passed away June 18, 2016.

She was born Annette Dolores Olivia on Aug. 23, 1929, in Pittsburgh to Martin and Anna O’Toole Leonard. She joined six half-siblings from her father’s first marriage, and her parents later had two more girls.

Sister Mary Annette’s parents met when her father, a widower, was hired to build a home for her mother’s family. They were prosperous until the stock market collapsed in 1929, and like many families, lost almost everything.

After that, they often found themselves on the move, going wherever work could be found. The family spent a couple of years in Detroit before heading back home to Pittsburgh. 

“We lived in the country,” Sister Mary Annette once recalled. “We had a playhouse my father built. I remember it had a lot of arches. It was his way of making it special.”

 She knew at the age of 15 that she needed to do something special with her life.

“I wanted to be either an enclosed nun or a missionary,” she said.

She pursued spiritual direction from a priest who shared information about the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde.

“It was the adoration that attracted me so much,” Sister Mary Annette said. She wanted to enter then, but her parents felt she was too young and that Clyde was too far from home.

After graduating from Elizabeth Seton High School in 1947, she got a job at the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Employment in the mail room and general office work kept her busy during the day, and she took classes at the university in the evenings.

“It was a wonderful place to work, the people were so good,” she said. “St. Paul Cathedral was right across the street, so I sometimes attended Mass there.”

Next, she worked for the Toner Institute and was an active member of the young people’s club in her parish. However, the call of religious life still tugged at her heart.

“I felt strongly attracted to the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to the praying of the divine office and to the Benedictine love of liturgy,” she said.

She recalled a moment during holy hour on New Year’s Eve in 1947: “I remember looking at the sacred host and saying, ‘Dear Lord, by the end of this year please get me where you want me to be.’”  

It must have worked because she entered the Benedictine Sisters one year later on Dec. 28, 1948.

“I felt very fortunate to have entered at Clyde just when the divine office was at its fullest,” she said.

She made her first monastic profession on the anniversary of her baptism on Sept. 8, 1950, and took the name Sister Marciana. She later returned to her baptismal name. Her final profession took place exactly five years later in 1955.

Sister Mary Annette spent her early years working in the correspondence department. She later lived in Benedictine communities in Kansas City, Missouri, San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, where she enjoyed the educational programs and community groups the Sisters hosted.

Sister Mary Annette took advantage of any educational opportunity she could including summer institutes, community colleges and classes at Conception Seminary. She spent a year studying at Marillac College in St. Louis, joining 22 sisters from 12 different communities. Later, she took part in a year-long study on the history of eucharistic adoration, giving her material for many papers and talks on adoration. Attending the 41st International Eucharistic Congress in 1976 in Philadelphia was a privilege and a grace.

During her monastic life, Sister Mary Annette also worked in the kitchen, the altar bread department, as a portress, served on the board of the San Diego Ecumenical Conference and was oblate director for the Tucson monastery.

She was quite active in ecumenical efforts in the 1980s. In 1984 she was awarded the San Diego Diocesan Christian Unity Award in which it was noted that she “served as a witness to the importance of personal and communal prayer in all ecumenical activities.”

Ever the missionary at heart, Sister Mary Annette began writing a religion column for the Maryville Daily Forum in 1999 and did so monthly for six years. She enjoyed the opportunity, believing that writing should be helpful to people. She tried to connect current events to faith.

“You can’t keep crying about the darkness,” she said. “If everyone would light a candle, the world would be bright.”

Sister Mary Annette became a member of the Benedictine Sisters’ Our Lady of Rickenbach healthcare community in 2008. She continued to express her gratitude for being called to religious life.

“I’m here for the Lord. He’s given me the grace,” she said. “Keep your eyes on Christ. God can entrust gifts to you.”

Consistently throughout her life, she reached out and encouraged the laity and young men studying for the priesthood. Those efforts didn’t diminish as she aged. 

Sister Mary Annette is survived by two sisters, Judy Stone Gerben and Phillis Galisin; nieces; nephews; and her monastic family. Her funeral liturgy and burial at our Mount Calvary Cemetery will take place on Thursday, June 23, 2016.