We hope that everyone has had the opportunity to read and enjoy at least one interview completed by the Marie Menard Committee since they were first published in January of 2016. This week we would like to share something a bit different: a biography of the committee’s namesake, Sister Marie Menard. This biography was written after Sister Marie’s death in 1914 and has been left in its original form. It can be found in a binder of several dozen brief SCN biographies in the Archival Center. Enjoy!
The Marie Menard Committee
First Secretary General of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
Anna Menard, later Sister Marie, S.C.N., was born in France in 1842. Her father, Louis Charles Menard, was a native of Nantes, and her mother, Augustine Girard, of Paris. The family came to the U.S. in 1851 and settled in Paducah, Ky. Anna and her sister Celine attended St. Vincent Academy in Union County, Ky. but after one year there Anna returned to France and continued her education until 1862. [A note in Vol. 1 – Annals of St. Mary Academy, Paducah, claims she was the first graduate of St. Mary Academy, Paducah.]
In 1863, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity at Nazareth and received the habit and her name on April 25, 1864. She made her profession one year later on this same date. She spent her entire religious life at Nazareth, with the exception of a period of illness at St. Joseph Infirmary and of recuperation at St. Catherine Academy, Lexington, Ky. in 1881-1882.
Sister Marie was a remarkable woman and a near genius. Bishop W. G. McCloskey, of Louisville once said she was “the wisest woman of the world”. And Father Deppen, for a long time the erudite and saintly editor of THE RECORD, called her his friend and mentor. In a eulogy written after her death, he said: “She had a luminous mind that would grasp and throw light upon the most abstruse subjects. In the matter of wisdom and intellect, she has had few peers among the women- or men, for that matter- of her generation.”
In physical stature and features, Sister Marie was slightly below medium height, strong in build, and inclined to flesh. Her swarthy complexion was intensified by a pair of brilliant black eyes, large and full-lidded. In fact she looked not unlike those portraits of St. Teresa of Avila made in the latter years of her life – which were supposed to be copies of the original painting her Superiors ordered to be made.
Although a woman of great personal achievement in important posts in the Community to which she belonged, Sister Marie was obviously a woman of contemplation. She and her friend, Sister Marietta Murphy, a Nazareth graduate from Louisiana, entered the Community about the same time. The latter, in time became the Director of Studies for Nazareth Academy; the former, for many years held the position of Head of the Normal School in which the young Sisters were trained. Sister Marie was a person of varied gifts, actively interested in everything that concerned the welfare of the Community; therefore, she did not keep her talents wrapped in a napkin. At the same time, one recognized that her large view of time and eternity prevented her from being affected by the plaudits or vanities of this world. She did not scorn utilitarian tasks, and she had a special affection for those Sisters whose assignments were to humble and unattractive work. She was the first Sister to operate the printing press, which was installed in the old “Minor” as the Normal Department was familiarly called. For many years she printed and posted the obituary notices for the Sisters. She was a very fine botanist. The herbarium she collected and organized became an invaluable aid to those Sisters who in later years majored in that field.
In July, 1911, she was elected Fourth Assistant General and Secretary General. While still fulfilling her term of office, she was stricken with illness and died in a few days on March 16, 1914.
Those Sisters who had the privilege of making their novitiate while Sister Marie was in charge of the “Minor” could never forget the wise counsel, the pungent observations, the constructive criticisms, and the terse monitions of Sister Marie Menard. A Sister, now grown “ancient” in religion, has left on record her early impressions of Sister Marie.
“To help care for the ‘Minor’ was the first assignment given me after I entered the Novitiate. A convert who had never attended a Sister’s school, who knew nothing, comparatively speaking, of nuns and religious houses; a stranger, as it were, in a strange land, homesick and utterly desolate except for the one lodestone that had drawn me to Nazareth and now held me there, in His House — the Blessed Sacrament – how well I remember my first impression of Sister Marie. I had been polishing the banister railing along the well of the stairs when she came up the steps that first morning. She gave me a swift, embracing and encouraging smile, although her eyes were lowered and her face had the stillness and profound brooding of (to my unenlightened mind) an oriental mystic. She spoke no word to me or ever at these morning trysts, as I began to consider them; but my poor stranger heart felt itself understood and strengthened.
Sister Marie gave us, the postulants and novices who came under her care, everything of good we had the capacity to receive. She labored to form in us true daughters of St. Vincent de Paul, of Mother Catherine and Bishop David; of Mother Frances Gardiner and Sister Teresa Carrico, as well as those great ecclesiastics and chaplains who had so solid a share in the building up and expansion of Nazareth. She was ably seconded in this by the then chaplain, Father David Russell, a man after God’s own heart, saintly, learned, and possessed of uncommon sense. Like St. Teresa, “the Great Mother”, both Sister Marie and Father Russell wanted us to be not silly women of sentiment and caprice, but women with the strength of mind and will power of conquerors. ‘You must cultivate your intellect and strengthen your will, even though your assignment by superiors be to cook or keep house or do laundry work. All assignments are of equal value before God, and a good cook or housekeeper is invaluable to the Community; but you should train yourselves to be the “valiant women” praised in the Proverbs,” women of common sense and integrity of character, based upon the supernatural’.”
A Sister of Charity of Nazareth, Sister Marie warned us more than once, “must not think herself as a fine carriage, fit only for the broad highways and paved streets of the city. She must be one of those little ‘gigs’ that can be turned in any direction; backed into corners of crooked streets and up the alleys, where dwell our masters, the poor, as St. Vincent calls them.”
And again: “When you go out to your missions, do what you are told to do to the best of your ability. Should a Superior ask you to do something you have not done hitherto, do not say you can’t, or even demur. Be sure you understand what is wanted; ask questions if necessary, then make the attempt, trusting in Obedience and your native intelligence to see you through.”
After studying at St. Vincent’s Academy, Union County, Ky., Anna Menard and her sister Celine went to France for further study. At the University of Paris, Anna was obliged to listen to the lectures behind a screen, as women were not generally allowed to study there at that time. However, she did pass her exams and received her degree from the hand of Louis Napoleon.
Sister Marie initiated a correspondence course for which she devised questions and sent them to SCN branch houses where teaching Sisters studied them and returned the answers to Sister Marie. No credit was given academically but much information was thus gained by the Sisters.
Sister Marie designed the special seal which was used for the 1912 Centennial.