August 22, 2013

Mercy! Catholic sister celebrates 102nd birthday at sea

Sister Mary Louise Landry's two-hour excursion on Casco Bay is another high point in an extraordinary life spent serving others and breaking barriers.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Sister Mary Louise Landry was in familiar territory on Tuesday, celebrating her 102nd birthday with a ferry ride on Casco Bay.

click image to enlarge

Sister Mary Louise Landry, who turned 102 on Sunday, enjoys a ride on a Casco Bay Lines Ferry on Tuesday, August 20, 2013. The ride was her birthday wish. She is with her caregivers from Frances Warde Convent in Portland. To the left is Angela Champagne and to the right is Mary Rich.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Sister Mary Louise Landry in the early 1930s, about the time she took her vows for the Sisters of Mercy.

Photo courtesy Sisters of mercy

The two-hour excursion was another high point in an extraordinary life spent serving others and breaking barriers in education and health care in quiet but deliberate ways, including leadership positions at Mercy Hospital. It also was a fun trip for several of the 78 Sisters of Mercy of the Americas who live in Maine.

Landry, who joined the Sisters of Mercy 84 years ago, used to spend part of each summer on Little Diamond Island, helping to care for girls from St. Elizabeth's Home. The former orphanage and child care center in Portland had a cottage on the island.

"The day school closed, the girls would head over to Little Diamond for the whole summer," Landry recalled. "I'd go for a week or two every summer. All I wanted for my birthday this year was to be on a boat and ride down the bay."

Landry, who is known as Sister Louise and whose birthday was Sunday, was one of five Catholic sisters who took Casco Bay Lines' Diamond Pass Run to Little Diamond, Great Diamond and Long islands aboard the Aucocisco III.

The sisters boarded before other passengers and settled on the shaded rear deck of the ferry, where the scent of salt water and the roar of the boat's engines filled the air.

Landry lives at the Frances Warde Convent for elderly sisters on Capisic Street in Portland. She was accompanied by her close friend and fellow resident, Sister Ann Mary Donovan, 97, a Lewiston native who was a bookkeeper at Mercy Hospital for decades. They are among 14 sisters who live at the convent, which provides care similar to that of an assisted-living facility.

For safety's sake, both Landry and Donovan were in wheelchairs pushed by caregivers, though they're still able to walk with walkers. Occasionally, they stood by the railing to take in the scenery, though Landry is legally blind and can see little. The wind fluttered the veils of their traditional black habits.

The trip was organized and led by three retired but still active sisters: Anne Marie Kiah, 73, Maureen Wallace, 70, and Maura Murphy, 78, who live in Portland and South Portland in private residential housing owned or leased by the Sisters of Mercy. Each doted over Landry and Donovan.

CALLED AT AN EARLY AGE

Born in 1911, Landry grew up in Old Town, the fourth of 14 children of a baked-goods delivery man and a homemaker. She was called to join the Sisters of Mercy at a young age, impressed by the religious women who taught her in parochial school.

"It's all I had in my mind," Landry said. "I wanted to be one of them."

After high school, she entered the former St. Joseph's Convent in Portland, taking her first vows in 1932 and studying to become a teacher. She taught for several years at parochial schools in Benedicta and Houlton, in northern Maine, before being tapped to run the pharmacy at Mercy Hospital when it opened on State Street in Portland in 1943.

"As soon as it was being built, they chose sisters to be heads of important departments," Landry recalled. "I was chosen to run the pharmacy because I had a great love of math and science."

The sisters sent her to study pharmacology at Fordham University in New York. World War II was in full swing, so she took an accelerated course, attending classes year round and completing her degree in 28 months.

Landry ran Mercy's pharmacy for a decade then moved to other administrative positions, working at the hospital for about 30 years.

(Continued on page 2)

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