Sister Catherine John MacDonald, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who taught hundreds of elementary school pupils during a teaching career of more than three decades, died Sunday at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium of complications from a stroke. She was 76.
In addition to working as a teacher and school administrator in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and in Pennsylvania from 1946 to 1977, Sister Catherine John worked as an assistant and associate director in the archdiocese's religious education division and in leadership for the Sisters of Notre Dame.
In 1992, while visiting a patient at St. Joseph Medical Center, Sister Catherine John suffered a stroke that paralyzed her right side, and she retired from a full-time position in pastoral care at the hospital.
Although she never regained use of her right arm and needed a leg brace and cane to walk, she learned to drive again and to write with her left hand. She used her stroke to inspire rehabilitation patients at Stella Maris, where she volunteered one day a week for about two years.
"She thought ... she could give the residents some incentive and hope that if she could do this, God would give them the strength to do the same," said Sister Marlene Biasiello, a close friend for more than 30 years. "She was so full of life. Everything that happened to her, she always found a way to live positively."
Born Elizabeth Theresa MacDonald in Washington, she was raised by an aunt until age 5 because her mother was ill. After her mother's death, 8-year-old Elizabeth and her four sisters were taken to St. Vincent's Home to be cared for by the Daughters of Charity because their father was unable to care for them.
Upon graduation from the Academy of Notre Dame in Washington in 1943, she entered the convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Ilchester. In 1946, she professed her vows.
After beginning her career as an elementary teacher at St. Ursula School in Parkville, she went on to work at area schools including Holy Trinity in Glen Burnie, St. Philip Neri in Linthicum, the former lower school at Maryvale in Brooklandville and Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Ilchester, near Ellicott City.
"She was wonderful with children, and they were really attracted to her," said Sister Edithann Kane, a friend who works as the assistant to the eastern vicar in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. "She was very warm and open and kind -- a very genuine person."
Sister Catherine John earned a bachelor's degree in education from Trinity College in Washington, and went on to earn a master's degree in theology in 1977 from the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore.
From 1977 until 1983, she trained religious education instructors for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. She excelled at the job, said retired Archbishop William D. Borders. "She loved people, and she was very happy to encourage people who had similar interests to her own," he said.
Sister Catherine John served in leadership positions for the Sisters of Notre Dame from 1983 to 1991, and then worked in pastoral care at St. Joseph Medical Center.
An avid reader, especially of mysteries by Dick Francis and Mary Higgins Clark, and a lover of sports, particularly horse racing, Sister Catherine John also enjoyed writing. After her retirement, she compiled an account of her family's history that she shared with her sisters, nieces and nephews, and wrote many letters and e-mails to family and friends.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 7:30 tonight at her order's Villa Julie retirement home in Stevenson, where she had lived since breaking her hip during the winter.
She is survived by one sister, Frances Lux of Rochester, N.Y., and many nieces and nephews.