Friday, January 22, 2021
Mass of the Resurrection: 10:45 a.m.
Church of Our Lady of Loretto
Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana
Sister Mary De Nardis, CSC
(Sister M. Alice Jean)
April 29, 1930 – January 15, 2021
We share news of the death of Sister Mary De Nardis, CSC, who died at 7:02 p.m. on January 15, 2021, in Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana. Sister Mary entered the Congregation from Buhl, Idaho, on January 24, 1951. Her initial profession of vows took place on February 2, 1954.
Please join us in prayer for Sister as we renew our faith in the resurrected Jesus and strengthen our hope that all the departed will be raised to eternal life.
Sister Mary De Nardis died the evening of January 15, 2021, at 90 years old in Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana, almost 70 years to the day of the anniversary of her entrance into the Sisters of the Holy Cross. She had spent 43 years of her life as a nurse and midwife in Uganda developing community-based health care while training health workers and traditional birth attendants. In the best of times, those whom she cared for were mostly women and children needing basic health education, accompaniment throughout pregnancy, and follow-up with immunizations in rural areas dependent on clinics. In the worst of times, Sister Mary and the other sisters did the best they could ministering to the sick and displaced persons under conditions of civil upheavals, abductions and gunfire during the war of 1979, the Ugandan Bush War from 1981 to 1986, and the rebellion of 1997. She left unsaid anything about the trauma she may have experienced in those years.
East Africa is a long way from south central Idaho, where Mary Alice De Nardis was born in Buhl during the first year of the Great Depression on April 29, 1930. Her parents were farmers. Mary Alice was probably named for her mother, Alice Marie Feathers, born in England. Her father, John Baptist De Nardis, was born in Italy. They raised three boys and three girls in an isolated area of flat land called the Melon Valley under a blue sky rimmed by mountains.
After Mary’s father died, her mother gave each of the children a job to help sustain their farm. Since Mary was only around 4 or 5 years old, she was given the responsibility to care for the chickens. Later, in the places where she ministered in Uganda, Sister Mary carried the learnings from this experience to support the needs of the poor and enable them to feed their families.
Mary completed her education at public schools in Buhl in 1948, then attended Saint Alphonsus Hospital School of Nursing in Boise, Idaho, already planning to enter the convent. Once she finally reached a choice as to which religious congregation, she applied to enter the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who sponsored the nursing school. She graduated in 1954 after interrupting her studies to head to the novitiate at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana, in January 1951. Miss Mary De Nardis had been accepted because of her “urgent desire.” There was “no swerving in her intention” to save her soul and save others. Upon reception of the holy habit on February 2, 1952, she became known as Sister M. Alice Jean, probably in honor of both her parents. In 1956 Sister earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Saint Mary of the Wasatch College in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1968 Sister returned to her baptismal name when customs changed.
That urgent desire which could not be swayed rooted Sister Mary De Nardis throughout her life. She was a soft-spoken, petite woman with eyes wide open. From 1954 to 1966, she nursed in Holy Cross-sponsored hospitals in Salt Lake City, Utah, Boise, Idaho, and Fresno, California. Well established in her profession, she was assigned to a new mission in Uganda in 1966 in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of the Fort Portal District. After being trained locally in midwifery, Sister gave her all to the Bundibugyo clinic for 19 years, bringing it up to hospital status. Then she saw what she and others had helped build come to utter destruction. In 1985, guerillas crossed the border from Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They robbed the hospital of its drugs and medical supplies. Sisters Mary De Nardis and Patricia Burke, who died in 2017, eventually abandoned the place and moved their ministry to Bugombwa Parish. They salvaged the medical equipment from Bundibugyo and set up the new clinic in a large room provided by the parish. In 1987, Sister Mary expanded her response to the needs of women and children by starting the Holy Cross Maternal and Child Clinic, focusing on preventive care, reaching out to the village of Kilempe. When Sister Patricia left at the end of 1989 to another assignment in Virika-Fort Portal, Sister Mary carried on. By 1995, she was directing a clinical staff of 31 Ugandans and overseeing plant operations. In June 1997, rebels took over nearby Kirinda, and the sisters in the area evacuated and joined their larger community in Fort Portal. Sister Mary and the Holy Cross community worked with local government district medical officers to meet the immediate needs of refugees and other displaced persons throughout the ebb and flow of the rebellion in the District of Fort Portal until 2000. In 2002, the Congregation built the Holy Cross Family Centre in Kirinda, which provided primary health care and outpatient services, along with vaccination and educational programs.
From 1998 to 2012, Sister Mary was working in a parish church clinic in Kyarusozi, Fort Portal. Soon after retiring to the motherhouse in June 2012, Sister Mary wrote with a sense of satisfaction, “Children have been a great part of my life. I have held them, examined them, and treated them. I have journeyed with mothers from the time they came for prenatal care until they delivered. I examined, taught and enlightened them about the developmental stages of the baby in utero.” Sister Mary was often seen sitting alone in prayer in the Church of Our Lady of Loretto, close by the large marble statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the Saint Mary’s campus. Perhaps Sister pondered in thanksgiving, as she sat with this other Mary, that she had saved the souls of many, though not nearly enough because of past wars. She was once asked in a survey if her ministry was contributing to systemic change. She wrote simply, “maybe eventually.” Blessed is she who believed that God’s promise would be fulfilled—one day. (Luke 1:45)
We invite you to donate to the Ministry With the Poor Fund in Sister’s name.
—Written by Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC