Sister Mary Gemma

[ Age 82 ] Nursing nun established pastoral care programs at hospitals.

May 14, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,sun reporter

Sister Mary Gemma Neville, who established and led pastoral care programs, died of leukemia Wednesday at University of Maryland Hospital. She was 82.

A deeply spiritual woman, she loved keeping journals, which eventually led her to write her own psalms and poetry. She thought of writing in her journal as corresponding with God.

"If you have a favorite friend with whom you share your thoughts, you might write to them," she said in a 2005 Sisters of Bon Secours newsletter article. "With this, it's basically the same thing."

One of 15 children, Sister Gemma grew up in Baltimore's Irvington neighborhood, where her family was active at St. Joseph's Monastery Parish.

She first met Bon Secours nuns as a girl, when they came into her home to care for her mother, who was gravely ill but recovered. After graduating from Seton High School, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours in 1943.

Sister Gemma went on to receive four degrees: one in nursing from the Bon Secours School of Nursing, a certification in clinical pastoral education from Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Mass.; a master's degree in divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif.; and a doctorate of ministry from Andover Newton.

Working as a nurse at Bon Secours Hospital in Methuen, Mass., Sister Gemma started a pastoral care department.

"She realized that patients needed more than just the doctor's care and the nurse's care," said Sister Justine Cyr, a friend for more than a half-century. "The patients needed someone to talk to."

In the 1980s, she served as director of the Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville. She went on to lead clinical pastoral education programs at hospitals in Chicago and Charleston, S.C. The programs taught ministerial students how to work with the sick.

Sister Gemma kept in touch with many of her students over the years. "She was very outgoing and warm and had a great sense of humor," said Sister Alice Talone, director of Sisters of Bon Secours USA.

Services have been held.

After Sister Gemma's retirement, she returned to Maryland about three years ago to live at the Sisters of Bon Secours Provincial House in Marriottsville.

Survivors include several siblings.

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