Reflection for Sr. Mary Russo, OSU

by Pascal Conforti, OSU



There is a wonderful belief, variously expressed in different times and cultures, that each of us has a special Songline.  That song is placed deep within us by our Creator at the time of our conception, and it remains with us over a lifetime – shaping who we are and what we do.  It is truly the “Song of our Soul.”  In fact, in some cultures, a mother – contemplating her unborn child – chooses a song and begins to sing it to the child prior to its birth, and then again, immediately after the child’s birth.


So what shall we say of our dear Mary?  How will we begin to capture the riches of her life, her work, and her relationship with each of us?  What was the Song of her Soul?


I met Mother Mary fifty-seven years ago when I arrived as a freshman at CNR, assigned to a small house on campus which has long since disappeared.  The rules were clear, but what was even clearer was her interest in each of us who lived in that house.  For many of us, those early bonds and that personal love and interest lasted far longer than the house itself – so typical, really, of how Mary related to so many people whose lives touched hers.


Mary, like us, was a newcomer to the College.  She had taught previously at Blessed Sacrament parish school and at The Ursuline School in New Rochelle.  She was completing her doctorate at Fordham in preparation for a long career as a faculty member and Dean at CNR.  She was also the Day Student Advisor, regularly ensconced in a small office adjacent to the Day Student Cafeteria, intent on assuring proper decorum in the environs.  She made it clear, for example, that there were to be no brown bags on the table during meals.  But always, what was the underlying Songline?  -- personal interest in each one, availability, approachability, affection.

Mary’s circle widened over a long lifetime: students, alumnae, faculty, staff, Ursuline sisters from across the country, her Ursuline local and Province community,  She never forgot – birthday cards, congratulatory notes, words of condolence – remembering, keeping up contacts, expressing interest in everyone and everything.  She was always ready to listen, to encourage.  She seemed, in fact, to become more and more mellow and spacious in her later years.  Clearly, her continuing Song was love and affection. 


And her family:  how she loved and cherished them!  Her siblings, Stella, Vincent, and Anne Marie;  their spouses, children, and now their children’s children.  There seemed to be no limits to that widening embrace.


These last months were indeed marked by physical diminishment.  But in a remarkable way, what remained and grew even more apparent was the best part of who she was: that ongoing love and affection.   She frequently expressed how blessed she felt at this stage of her life. Of course, she missed her beloved St. Teresa’s Community, but her life was not without purpose or without that ongoing Songline.  She had friends among the staff at Cabrini;  she attended a weekly Bible Study Group; she visited with family and friends.  Along the way, she welcomed her Ursuline Sister Celestine Costello as a neighbor at Cabrini.


And in a special way, she felt that she was there at Cabrini as companion and support to her Ursuline friend of many years, Miriam Therese Peppin, recently diagnosed with a very serious cancer.  In the end, it was Miriam Therese who sat with Mary during those last few days, particularly through the morning of the day she died.  One of St. Teresa’s Community’s chefs, who was very fond of Mary, stopped by that morning and sang to her.  He sang an “Ave Maria,” and then he sang that wonderful old hymn: “He walks with me, and he talks with me….”


I believe that Mary is now walking and talking with God and that her special Song goes on – but now in an even larger and more expansive world, where we are all held in a very warm and special Embrace by a woman who indeed loved very long and very well on earth.  Thank you, Mary, and keep us always in that great heart of yours.


Pascal Conforti, OSU