A life of service to the city's poor deserves a eulogy

DAN RODRICKS

March 20, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

At the crest of the driveway leading to the motherhouse was the statue of Christ, whiter than the snow at its feet, stark against the nodding green branches of a large pine. A cop parked a blue-and-white, three-wheel Cushman under the open arms of the statue.

The mayor of Baltimore stepped across the driveway, which was rimmed with police vehicles. Kurt Schmoke had both hands in the pockets of a dark wool coat when he walked down the long hill to Ellerslie Avenue, the pines nodding in a breeze high above his head.

He'd just visited the large brick motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore, where Sister MaryAnn Glinka had been murdered.

He looked sad and weary, the way he looked the night he eulogized La-Tonya Wallace, the little girl whose murder in Reservoir Hill shocked a city numbed by crime and violence. That was February 1988, during Schmoke's first few weeks in office.

Now here he was, five years later, hundreds of homicides later, and the city in shock again. This time the victim was a nun.

"Well," Schmoke said into a nest of microphones on the sidewalk in front of the convent. "Obviously, this is part of the duties of this job I wish I didn't have to repeat. . . ."

He spoke in an exhausted sigh.

This crime, he said, "strikes at the heart of values we hold sacred in the community."

Every life is precious, he said. Every murder a tragedy. This one . . . This one carries "very heavy symbolism."

Sister MaryAnn had been "reaching out to those less fortunate. . . . Outstanding human being."

His words trailed off now, and you thought of all this sister must have given -- without any of us knowing about it until yesterday, the day she died.

She gave years of service to educating children, some of them handicapped. She was, by vocation, one of the selfless servants of a city that cannot afford to lose a single one.

nTC The city is soaked in human problems; it needs every available hand. Schmoke knows the limits of government to help the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the illiterate, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the addicted, those dying of AIDS. He knows that people like Sister MaryAnn provide help the city doesn't even ask for.

They fix the food in soup kitchens. They run the food pantries. They sit by the lamplight and teach men how to read. They work to integrate the disabled and mentally ill into the mainstream. They wash the bodies of the sick. They work with young women lost in the jungle of drug addiction and alcoholism. They help men getting out of prison find jobs. They find housing for the elderly poor.

They offer what a sister assigned to an East Baltimore community once called "the hard sweat of justice."

This is the patient, resilient, committed struggle that goes on, day after day, against poverty and ignorance, the seeds of crime.

All over town, you can find sisters in quiet service to the poor -- Sister Patti Ann, Sister Catherine, Sister Margaret, Sister Charmaine, Sister Josanna, Sister Marilyn, and hundreds of others. You'll find them doing, sometimes for decades, jobs that would burn out the lesser lights among us in a few months.

The Franciscan Sisters arrived in Baltimore more than a century ago with the specific mission of opening an orphanage for the city's black children. Over the years, they expanded their mission to other nations and, here in Baltimore and in other American cities, they moved into teaching.

Just a few blocks from the Franciscan Sisters motherhouse, on the other side of 33rd Street, south of Memorial Stadium, is Marian House, a transitional shelter for women. It used to be a convent. It reopened as a 14-bed shelter in 1982, a joint effort of the Sisters of Mercy and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The executive director now is Sister Augusta Reilly.

The shelter opened with the hope of helping a few homeless women find jobs and housing, and maybe get an education. The program has expanded to other sites, and now Sister Augusta and her associates can house up to 40 women for as long as 30 months, until they're ready to face the world again.

Yesterday afternoon, Sister Augusta sat in her office in Marian House. She knew about the murder of the Franciscan sister up the street. She thought of the violence of it, and all the violence that the women of Marian House have lived through. Some of the women have had homicides in their families. Just a day earlier, some of them had attended a funeral for an AIDS victim.

Surrounded by the sadness of the day, Sister Augusta pulled from her desk a small brass plate one of the residents of Marian House had given her. It said, "Expect A Miracle."

"She'll be remembered," Sister Augusta said of Sister MaryAnn, whom we did not know until the day she died.

Sister Augusta spoke as if she understood something special about the work of sisters in the city. "Others will follow her," she said.

"She left a lot behind. Believe me."

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