On a sad 10th anniversary, nuns find hope in good works

This Just In...

March 19, 2003|By Dan Rodricks

AS WE head into God knows what, it may seem odd to bring up the anniversary of one of Baltimore's saddest days, but with dubious war looming over the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere, I was easily persuaded to mention the good that has come in the decade since the death of Sister MaryAnn Glinka.

It was a Catholic sister's idea, not mine. I had not forgotten the death of Sister MaryAnn, having been at the crime scene on the day of her murder and having attended the funeral. But I had forgotten the season, the fact that it had occurred just two days after the Feast of St. Patrick in 1993. It was Sister Ellen Carr who reminded me, and who had this idea about noting the good that has come since then.

I'm as vulnerable as any citizen of the world right now, and a sucker for the positive in life, even that which spins off a death that pushed Baltimore to an emotional nadir.

Sister MaryAnn, 50 years old, thin and barely 5 feet tall, was bound, gagged and murdered in St. Elizabeth's Convent on Ellerslie Avenue, where she was a superior and cared for retired nuns. During her years with the Franciscans, an order that came to the United States from Europe in the 19th century to care for orphaned black children, Sister MaryAnn was principal at Rosa Parks School in Northwest Baltimore and St. Clare's School in Essex.

She called herself a "little fool," a "fool for Christ," who took risks, trusted in people and accepted challenges from which others might shrink.

So it was on a miserable March 19 we'd rather forget that a member of a religious community, which had long served the poor children of the city, had a life of good works taken in such a horrible way.

A man named Melvin Jones was found guilty of first-degree murder, attempted rape, robbery, burglary and breaking and entering. He was sentenced to life without parole. In sparing Jones the death penalty, his Circuit Court jury said: "Melvin L. Jones' long-term use of illicit narcotics and his family's denial of the wrongness of his recurring criminal behavior are mitigating factors that must be considered."

Sister MaryAnn's sister, also a nun, said: "The sentence is just. If the death penalty came, it would be of particular anguish to link my sister's life of peace and service to Melvin Jones' death penalty. May God have mercy on him."

So all these years have rolled by and those closest to Sister MaryAnn naturally were aware of the approach of the 10th anniversary of her death. It was another Franciscan sister, Ellen Carr, who thought it good to note that the work of the sisters continues.

This is the quiet work, day after day, throughout a city still struggling with poverty, violence, drug addiction, dysfunctional families and too many children who lack attention and love.

Please note:

Four years after Sister MaryAnn's death, the Franciscan Sisters celebrated the completion of a $5.1 million renovation and expansion of St. Elizabeth School, dedicated to educating students with various and sometimes multiple disabilities. Enrollment increased by 25 percent as the sisters continued the "special education ministry" the order had started in the 1950s.

In 1998, workers finished a $2.9 million expansion of the Franciscan Center, which has been providing an array of services, including hot meals, to the city's needy for decades.

In October 2001, the Franciscan Sisters merged with the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, and they entered into an ambitious and progressive partnership with two nonprofits -- Homes for America and Communities of Care.

Here's what came of it -- renovation of part of the convent, where Sister MaryAnn died, for assisted living for 12 frail, elderly sisters, and, by October 2004, 30 apartments for low-income families, including some who are adopting difficult-to-place children.

"Our sisters are energized by this new way in which God is inviting us to continue our ministry with children and our less advantaged brothers and sisters," says Sister Ellen. "Our motherhouse will once again be a place of welcome and growth for children who are in need of a loving home."

Sister Ellen thought we might like to know all this. I think she's right.

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