Mary Ellen Beck, IBVM

Entererd Life:  February 8, 1933
Entered Religious Life:  September 15, 1950
Entered Eternal Life:  January 19, 2021

“Thy will be done.”

Homily Mass of Resurrection, January 25, 2022
by Barb Nelson, IBVM

“I go to do your will” – this ‘statement of intent’ by Jesus and by Mary Ellen as engraved on her ring at final profession, ever reminded Mary Ellen what her vocation in the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary was all about.

Jesus’ vision of doing the will of the One who sent him kept sending him to bring a new way of life to our world based on love, not power.  As a young woman, Mary Ellen sought to live out that vision when she entered the Institute 70 years ago.

Just as Jesus travelled through his native country, so too, Mary Ellen travelled our country, teaching in Chicago, west to Phoenix, north to the Sault, east to Detroit and back west to California.  Many of these moves came back in the day when there wasn’t a lot of consultation and we didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. But wherever she taught, she embraced that new school, ministering to its families and teachers, as God’s will for her. She brought a guiding hand and, of course, music wherever she went.  Whatever Mary Ellen did, it was done with optimism, humor and a real joy. 

And just as Jesus knew when it was time to move on to other towns,  Mary Ellen did too. 

When she realized her sight was getting too diminished to be a principal able to do all she knew her ministry called for, she retired but stayed in California to mentor the new principal at Our Lady of the Assumption in Carmichael.  Again, God’s will…and then she knew when it was time to come to Wheaton.  As hard as each of these choices was, she embraced it as God’s will for her.  And as darkness engulfed her world, again the move to Resurrection was God’s will.  She rose to the challenge of making several new friends there as well as staying in touch with old friends and family.  

This last year the COVID pandemic hit and quarantine ensued, it was especially difficult for her, but I never heard her complain, not once, about being alone, her loss of eyesight, health and more. It was God’s will…

We here today, have we not all wondered, “How is this God’s will in all we have lived through in 2020, the pandemic, quarantines of various kinds and durations, violence in our streets, the deaths?”  How is this God’s will – especially when it seems to be thrust on us, with decisions of others, or declining health, or the deaths of those we love?  It’s clear we definitely aren’t in charge the way we would like to be. Doesn’t a good God want good things for us?

And good things do happen – God knows what each person needs- one gets a phone call, if you want to see Mary Ellen, come NOW!  They will let you in.  (Personally at that point, I was almost relieved that Mary Ellen couldn’t physically see – she might have thought we were straight out of Star Wars – garbed with face shields and masks and long gowns!)  Mary Ellen was ending her journey so peacefully and it was time to say good bye.

The Gospel writers tell us that even Jesus wondered about doing God’s will at the end – being arrested, tried and executed for bringing a message of love and decency – not power and greed – to all, especially the most downtrodden.  And Jesus found the answer – he gave himself over completely into God’s hands – doing God’s will, never straying from his message.

Mary Ellen did too, never complaining, finding joy in music, from show tunes to classical to “Cool Water”, joy in her old and new friends and family. 

For us, when we look at our world today, let us look with hope as Mary Ellen did, and as Amanda Gorman, the young Inaugural Poet in the bright yellow coat, does:

“…Let us merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy …”

“For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, If only we’re brave enough to be it”*

Mary Ellen was and is light now – she was brave enough to see it and be it.  Let us be brave enough, each in our own way, to be light and love for others with compassion and a will for justice.

*The Hill We Climb Inaugural Poem by Amanda Gorman on Jan. 20, 2021.

Video of Sr. Mary Ellen’s Celebration of Life