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Benedictine Sister Maryellen Riley loved Christ, art

Benedictine Sister Maryellen Riley loved Christ, art - (05-03-2018)

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Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Maryellen Riley passed away March 1, 2018.

She was born Mary Ellen Riley on April 8, 1927, in Washington, D.C., to John and Veronica Wimber Riley. Her father, an attorney, was from Rhode Island; her mother from Pennsylvania; and her paternal grandparents from Ireland. She was the oldest of five children.

Mary Ellen attended Catholic schools taught by the Sisters of Providence, Holy Cross Sisters and Visitation Nuns. She felt a religious calling early in life but decided to study at the Moore Institute of Art in Philadelphia and attended business school after her high school graduation.

When she turned 20, Mary Ellen entered a Carmelite monastery in Baltimore, but it proved not to be her vocation. She returned home five months later, took typing classes, enrolled in a course at Catholic University and taught catechism classes to students who attended public school. Her pastor at the time commented, “She was interested in spreading her religion, teaching catechism in a part of the city where one finds God’s children most forsaken as far as material means are concerned.”

While Mary Ellen loved art, she felt it was second to becoming a Bride of Christ for eternity. “The Eucharist was and is the heart of my spirituality,” she once said.

She learned of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration through the congregation’s magazine, Spirit&Life, then called Tabernacle&Purgatory. An article about a new member caught her eye, so she began exploring the BSPA monastic life. She was drawn to the Sisters’ love of the Eucharist, their spirituality and their contributions to the Church through prayer and holiness of life.

Mary Ellen entered the Benedictine Sisters on February 2, 1950, made her first monastic profession February 10, 1952, with the name Sister Mary Madonna. Her final monastic profession followed on Aug. 1, 1957. She later returned to her baptismal name and took for her nameday as May 5, the anniversary of her Baptism.

During her years as a professed BSPA, Sister Maryellen lived at the monasteries in Kansas City, Missouri; Mundelein, Illinois; Tucson, Arizona; Clyde, Missouri; San Diego and St. Louis - often being sent back and forth among them. She worked in the altar bread department, kitchen, with guests, the sacristy and as portress. 

One early happy memory was of a home visit in 1968, her first visit since entering religious life 18 years before. “It was my first plane ride, and I saw nieces and nephews and other relatives whom I hadn’t met before and visited with family members I hadn’t seen in years,” she said.

Another moment she held close to her heart was when she was participated in the special rite of the Consecration of Virgins on Aug. 15, 1971, while living at the Tucson monastery.

Sister Maryellen was an artist, producing varied pieces that included a 15-ft. image of the risen Christ to a pen-and-ink drawing of Mahatma Gandhi for a 1978 cover of Spirit&Life.   

She created many versions of the Madonna and Child, which were used by the monasteries on Christmas cards over the years.

Sister Maryellen transferred to Our Lady of Rickenbach Healthcare Center in 2006 with signs of dementia. That year she wrote:  “I am looking forward to…Divine Mercy forever and always.” Over the years her dementia progressed gradually. One thing Sister Maryellen focused on were Sisters’ family names. Her powers of recall were not compromised there. She would meet a Sister whom she hadn’t seen in years and be able to remember not only her first name but her family name as well.

Sister Maryellen is survived by her monastic family; her sister, Jane Bowling; nieces and nephews. Her funeral liturgy and burial will take place March 6, 2018.