Mother Mary Magdalen, Carmelite nun

February 13, 1991|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Evening Sun Staff

Mother Mary Magdalen of Jesus Crucified Brunck, a member of the Carmelite Sisters of Baltimore for 69 years and prioress for 15, died Saturday at Mercy Villa on Bellona Avenue. She was 92.

A mass of Christian burial for Mother Mary Magdalen will be celebrated at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Carmelite Monastery Chapel, 1318 Dulaney Valley Road in Towson. A vigil service will be held at 8 o'clock tonight.

Mother Mary Magdalen led the Baltimore Carmelite community three times -- 1943 to 1949, 1955 to 1961, and 1967 to 1970. She had joined the Carmel, as the contemplative communities are called, Oct. 5, 1921, when the monastery was at Caroline and Biddle streets in East Baltimore.

Her friends in the Baltimore Carmel recalled her as "always a forward-looking woman."

As prioress, she directed the building of the current monastery in Dulaney Valley and in 1961 supervised the move from Biddle Street. Carmel members recalled that early in her career, she struggled to find a place for black women in the Carmelite community.

"She was conscious of justice her whole life," said Sister Colette Ackerman, the current prioress.

Loretto Frances Mary Brunck was born in New York City Feb. 15, 1898, the daughter of the late Ann Marie Finan and Peter W. Brunck. She grew up and went to school in Hoboken, N.J.

She studied bookkeeping and worked as an accountant for the Jersey Observer. She would later be a precise and careful financial administrator for the Baltimore Carmelite community.

As a young woman she was drawn to the contemplative life and explored several faiths, including that of the Quakers. When she was 23, she entered the Carmelite monastery in Baltimore, the oldest community of religious women in the original 13 states, a Carmel now more than 200 years old.

The Carmelite community was then rigidly cloistered; the nuns rarely spoke and virtually never left the monastery. Mother Mary Magdalen lived through a time of great change in Roman Catholic religious life, buoyed up by what other members of her community remember as "pioneering and adventurous spirit."

She had a deep love for the centuries-old Carmelite tradition, her colleagues say, but she nonetheless supported and encouraged the renewal of contemplative life called for by the Second Vatican Council. She was prioress of the Carmel during the early years of the reforms.

"The whole thing about her was being open to new things, new ideas," Sister Colette said.

For 12 years, Mother Mary Magdalen taught novices coming into the community. She was a prodigious letter writer and corresponded with Carmelite communities worldwide.

In 1947, she sent sisters from the Baltimore Carmel to the Philippines to establish a new monastery in Naga City. The Baltimore Carmel still has close ties with it.

Survivors include two sisters, Grace Moran and Elizabeth Dowling, both of Middletown, N.J.; three nieces, Mary Reidy of Middletown, N.J., Lois Baldassare of Delray Beach, Fla., and Suzanne St. Laurent of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; a nephew, Paul Moran of Clifton, N.J.; and eight grand nieces and nephews.

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