September 24, 2020
By Sister Mary Reilly, as told to Catherine Walsh, Communications Specialist
I am a 90-year-old nun who has spent my life working to empower women and girls, especially those who are poor. The song for my burial will be “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy. Its’ opening line—”I am woman, hear me roar!”—inspires me. For as the song also says, “It’s wisdom born of pain.”
Over my 72 years as a Sister of Mercy, I have been transformed into a feminist. I was one of nine children raised by Irish-born parents in South Providence, Rhode Island. We didn’t have much, but nothing prepared me for the poverty I saw in Central America in the 1960s.
Serving as a teacher and principal for six years in Honduras and Belize developed in me a feminist consciousness. I saw women stand up to abusive husbands in a macho culture. I saw Indigenous girls become more confident as they learned about their bodies; they grew in appreciation for themselves right before your eyes.
When I came back to South Providence and began working at St. Michael’s Parish in 1970, I was shocked by the poverty of the teenage mothers who wanted their babies baptized. I visited them in their homes. Some of these young moms couldn’t read past grade 2. I was angry that a country as rich as ours had created an underclass of people whom no one cared about.Read More