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Maryknoll Sister still serving others after 50 years
HENDERSONVILLE — Mary Lou Herlihy went counter-cultural in the 1960s, but not in the way one might think.
During an era when many young Americans were burning their bras or their draft cards, choosing self-centered lifestyles and rejecting God, Herlihy made a lifelong commitment to religious life and missionary work. She was just 19 years old.
"I just knew I didn't want to get married and stay in one place," she recalls.
She joined the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, founded by Mother Mary Joseph Rogers in the early 20th century to work alongside the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, also known as the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, in Latin America and Asia. The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers were co-founded by Father Thomas Frederick Price of North Carolina.
Sister Mary Lou's first mission assignment after earning her bachelor's degree at a Maryknoll-run college was to South Korea, where she taught English to both adults and children from 1969 to 1981.
When her ailing parents needed her, Sister Mary Lou returned to her hometown of Rochester, N.Y., to care for them. She also worked in a day care center, helped at a shelter for homeless women and children, and earned a master's degree in social work during this time.
In 2002, after her parents passed away, Sister Mary Lou relocated to Hendersonville, joining two other Maryknoll Sisters in a community at Immaculate Conception Church, where she serves as a member of the choir.
Moving south of the Mason-Dixon Line has agreed with Sister Mary Lou, she says.
"I love it. They always talk about Southern hospitality, and it's so true. People here are very nice."
Sister Mary Lou has managed to stay busy by volunteering at Bruce Drysdale Elementary School in Hendersonville through the Senior Corps Foster Grandparent program. She was drawn to the school because students there come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.
"They are just so open to learning," she says. "Many have very hard lives. But they can learn and are happy to be here."
Sister Mary Lou volunteers at the school four days each week, helping in kindergarten classrooms, tutoring individual students, mentoring students and working with children who are learning English as their second language. She sometimes dances with the young children, to engage with them and keep them interested in learning.
Besides her work at the school, Sister Mary Lou also volunteers one night each week at the Elizabeth House, where she helps nurses and sits with terminally ill patients.
"You don't have any fear of death once you sit with people," she notes.
Sister Mary Lou believes that both her work at the school and with patients at the Elizabeth House are examples of ways all people can follow the teaching and example of Christ.
"We are here to model what He did," she says. "He worked with the poor. The spirit of the Lord is everywhere."
Sister Mary Lou celebrated 50 years as a Maryknoll Sister in September by renewing her vows at Immaculate Conception Church on Sept. 3. She also participated in the jubilee celebrations at Maryknoll in N.Y. and in the Diocese of Charlotte.
For more information about the Maryknoll Sisters, go to www.maryknollsisters.org/catholic-mission.
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer. The Times-News of Hendersonville contributed to this story.
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