Sister Maura Brannick, CSC
(Mary Louise Brannick)
February 8, 1923-October 18, 2019
Word has been received of the death of Sister Maura Brannick, CSC, who died at 8:40 a.m. on October 18, 2019, in Rosary Convent at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana. Sister Maura entered the Congregation from Minooka, Illinois, on February 6, 1943. Her initial profession of vows took place on August 15, 1945.
“I am on my way to God,” said Sister Maura to one of the sisters visiting her at Rosary Convent in recent months. Nearing death, she felt at peace, describing her prayer as wordless “sitting in the lap of God.” Sister Maura did a lot of contemplative sitting in her 74 years of vowed life as a Sister of the Holy Cross.
Mary Louise Brannick was born in Joliet, Illinois, but grew up on a small farm in Minooka, Illinois, 56 miles southwest of Chicago. Her parents, Ellen “Nell” Conroy and Charles “Charley” Brannick, worked hard and never sat idly by when they saw others in need during the hardships of the Great Depression. “There were lots of people worse off than we were. I was just blessed with a family that cared for other people, even strangers, as much as we cared for each other.” Louise saw this same care and compassion in the Sisters of the Holy Cross at Saint Angela’s Academy in Morris, Illinois, where she graduated in 1942.
At 19 years old, Louise Brannick applied to enter the convent. Her pastor at St. Mary’s Church wrote to the Sisters of the Holy Cross, “You are getting a very splendid subject.” Louise delayed her arrival at the motherhouse, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana, until February 1943, after her brother Joseph had been drafted for military service during World War II. Upon reception of the holy habit six months later, she received her name in religion, Maura, Irish for Mary. Soon after initial profession of vows in 1945, Sister Maura spent time either seated for her nursing studies or standing at bedsides, graduating as a registered nurse from Saint Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing, Cairo, Illinois, in 1948.
Sister Maura’s stature exceeded her modest height of five feet, four inches during the next 26 years of nursing services at hospitals sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross: Saint Mary’s Hospital, Cairo, Illinois; Saint Joseph Hospital, South Bend, Indiana; Holy Cross Hospital, Jacksonville, Illinois; and Saint Alphonsus Hospital, Boise, Idaho. She considered the two years (1974-1976) she spent caring for her mother back in Minooka a privileged moment. Sister Maura selected a daily prayer for farmers to be read at Nell Brannick’s funeral. The daughter knew that her mother thanked God every day for the family’s noble vocation as farmers. During her next span of years in ministry, Sister Maura exemplified her mother’s aspiration, “Grant that I may grow in love and concern for my fellow man; let me realize my obligation as a social being to work for the improvement of the way of life for all people.”
In 1976 Sister Maura transitioned to her new ministry in pastoral care at Saint John’s Hospital, Anderson, Indiana, for a year, followed by eight years at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, South Bend, Indiana. While still involved in pastoral care at Saint Joseph, she received full support as Outreach coordinator to visit the sick and elderly in their homes in South Bend. “They needed basic healthcare assistance. My dream was a neighborhood clinic.”
Eventually Sister Maura had the blessing for a clinic to provide basic, preventive services for those without access to Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance. Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center sponsored the initial West Washington Street Health Center in October 1986. Before long, the clinic was too small. Sister Maura said, “I found myself sitting on the steps of the staircase to conduct an interview with a volunteer.” In February 1988 the clinic relocated to a new site known as South Chapin Street Health Center with the support of the medical center, medical volunteers, sisters and other local volunteers, and major donors. The current center was dedicated in December 1998 and in October 2006 was renamed the Sister Maura Brannick, CSC, Health Center, still in the same location.
Advocates for social justice often say, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Sister Maura sat at eye-level with the sick and the poor all her life. She thought of herself as a “people person” who loved working with people, especially the poor. In her 60s she had written, “I want to be life giving until my last moments. I want to grow old gracefully.” The older woman was known to invite many a discouraged young sister or new nurse to take a walk with her or to sit and talk. Her calm counsel instilled confidence in them that all would be well.
Three local educational institutions in Notre Dame, Indiana, awarded Sister Maura honorary degrees: the University of Notre Dame in 1995; Holy Cross College in 2004; and Saint Mary’s College in 2017. Sister Maura received at least 14 other awards for her inspiration, leadership and service in the community, the last from the Michiana Women Leaders. Sister was unable to attend the ceremony on August 26, 2019, Women’s Equality Day, due to illness. She was 85 when she retired in 2008 at a ceremony in her honor in the lobby of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, Mishawaka, Indiana. Someone provided her a comfortable chair near the podium so that Sister Maura could conserve her energy. One of the attendees noted, “With her sweet disarming smile she looked as if she were holding court.”
Her cousins, Holy Cross Sisters Jeanne Clennon and Mary Clennon, remember her with affection. Members of the Congregation, extended family, countless friends and colleagues visited Sister Maura in her last months. She sat and listened and sent everyone away with a thank you. “I owe so many people so much,” she said on her way to God. “But the only thing I have that I can give back is gratitude.”
Sister died at Rosary Convent, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana, on the morning of the feast of St. Luke, patron saint of those who minister in health care. Sister Maura has now received the fullness of God’s healing embrace.
We invite you to donate to the Ministry With the Poor Fund in Sister’s name.
Written by Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC