Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor, winner of Nobel Peace Prize, 1996, with Sister Elaine.
An interview with Sister Elaine
Written by Sister Maria V. Brocato, SCN
*The interviewer, remarks/observations are in italics.
(Let me share with you the story of Sister Elaine McCarron. As I sat with this quiet, unassuming woman and learned her story I could only marvel at “What God has wrought” in her life and her generous ministry for the Church.)
Elaine was baptized Helen Elaine and had the SCN name Sister Michael Maria until January, 1968. Elaine ‘s father, James Joseph (Joe) came to Washington, D.C. from Farmersville, Illinois with his parents at age two. He was the oldest of eight children born to Elizabeth Jordan McCarron and John Francis McCarron. John came to D.C. in order to take a job in the U.S. Congress as a congressman’s secretary while also attending law school. Elaine’s father Joe followed the career path of his father and graduated from Georgetown University and Columbus Law School in Washington, D.C.
Elaine’s maternal family (McNally) had migrated from Ireland to Canada, then to Chicago and finally to Washington, D.C. Jobs in the U.S. Government lured the McNally family and many others to Washington, D.C. Elaine’s mother, Mary McNally, was one of six children. The oldest, Viola, died at age six before the family moved to Washington. Next came three boys, George, Roland, and William, a soldier who served in combat in the Pacific during World War II. Elaine’s mother was next and the youngest was Vincent. All worked for the U.S. Government.
Elaine grew up in Washington with four siblings – Mary Dolores, Jimmy, Joan and Maureen. Even the briefest of conversations with Elaine lets you know the joy and closeness of her extended family. She remembers many happy family celebrations with grandparents, aunts, uncles, numerous cousins and neighbors.
These are some of Elaine’s memories:
“In those days my father would take us every Sunday to Maryland University. The ride was a treat and we had ice cream, too. Every Thursday during the summer my father would take us to a beach on the Chesapeake Bay to swim and picnic. My father was always able to wave in for free because he had won a court case for the grateful beach owner. We lived very close to Catholic University. Every year my parents would take us to services at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (now a Basilica) during the January week of Church Unity. We went to plays and to ball games, as well, at Catholic University. My grandmother McNally took us on summer boat rides to Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home and Marshall Hall, site of the home of Thomas Marshall, Revolutionary patriot.
Every Sunday the McCarron children visited the Franciscan monastery close to their home. They toured the catacombs, the gardens with beautiful flowers, Lourdes Shrine, etc. After the tour, they would stop by some friends of my mother and grandmother for a visit. They were always graciously received.
“Some Sundays we would take the bus and visit historical sites in downtown Washington. Sometimes adults went with us but often we children went alone. Our sister, Mary Dolores, was designated the one in charge. We had to give an account of our visit when we returned home.”
When Elaine was eight years old her father was killed in a tragic car/train collision. Later a safety crossing was installed at the site but this was a terrible loss for a young mother with five children. Mary McCarron was fortunate to move in with her parents and to get a position with the General Accounting Office (GAO) through the kindness of a friend of Joe McCarron. In 1921 the GAO had been established to investigate and oversee the activities of the Government. One of its tasks was to take care of the President’s checks. Mary McCarron would tell her children sometimes “The President’s check came through today.”
Mary always kept alive the memory of their father for her children. His law degree and other plaques hung on the wall in the dining room. She would say to them when something good happened in their lives, especially some personal achievement, “Your father would be so proud of you.”
Elaine went to St. Anthony Elementary School for grades one through eight. She was taught by the Benedictine Sisters and holds them in high esteem. The school was just two blocks from her home and the McCarron children went home each day for lunch. For high school Elaine attended Notre Dame Academy in downtown Washington where eight McCarron girls – herself, her sisters, and four aunts – had been students. Looking back Elaine realizes the faculty, lay and religious, were excellent instructors .The curriculum included four years of Latin, three years of French, theater and music. Science and mathematics, although not Elaine’s favorite subjects, were also on the curriculum. The Notre Dame Sisters and the Jesuits staffed the entire complex which encompassed St. Aloysius Church and Grade School, Gonzaga High School, and Notre Dame Academy.
After high school Elaine attended for one year Dumbarton College staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Cross . Then, in September of 1950, Elaine entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
(This thought came to me, “How did this young woman come to know of the SCNs?”)
Joining the SCN Community
Elaine explains, “I learned of the SCN Community from a priest when I told him I was thinking of entering the convent. He told me to visit the SCNs who staffed Georgetown Hospital and Nursing School, saying ‘They have a simplicity about them.’ I did know that some of my classmates from Notre Dame Academy attended the Georgetown School of Nursing. This was helpful.”
She decided to enter the SCN Community after much discerning – “go, do not go, back and forth, over and over,” she told her mother. “Just tell me to stay home and help you and I will.”
Her wise mother replied, “You do what God wants you to do.”
“Sister Moira Rose Marks, so kind and good, was my postulant director. There was a challenge for her and for us in that she was sent to Bardstown to teach at St. Joseph’s plus her responsibility to guide us. She seemed to love her ministry with postulants and was probably a great teacher, as well.”
For two years Sister Helen Frances Sheeran was the novice director for Elaine’s class. Basically very kind, Sister could come across as rather strict and severe. Above all, she wanted the novices to understand the rules and regulations of religious life. After she left her ministry in the Novitiate she kept up a very admirable work of continual correspondence with many in prison.
After making first vows in March, 1953, most of Elaine’s Novitiate class stayed at Nazareth for three months’ study, having such fine teachers as Sister Margaret Gertrude Murphy in SCN history and Marietta Grimes in Philosophy. Her first mission was a three year assignment to teach one of the first grades at St. Cecilia School in Louisville. The next mission was at Cathedral Grade School in Richmond, Virginia where she taught either first or second grade or a combination.
This mission lasted eleven years and would be a highlight in Elaine’s remembrance of ministries. When asked “Why so?” her answer was this. “Cathedral School was very interesting because of its diversity. There were poor children who had migrated from Appalachia, there were African American children, there were upper middle class children who had been bussed in from the suburbs.”
(What a challenge and a joy to show children of diverse backgrounds how to live and learn together!)
She remembers, “During this time, when Sister Mary Naomi Elder was principal and both of us taught at Cathedral, we were located near Monsignor Richard Burke, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Richmond. He came to ask certain educational questions of us and to listen to our advice on various school matters. Both of us had the advantage of having been in the Louisville Archdiocese and profiting by having a school supervisor and knowing many excellent teachers.”
In 1966 Elaine was assigned as principal and teacher at St. Mary’s School also in Richmond. Elaine was grateful that this mission was hers for at least a year. At the close of this year she received a call from Sister Helen Frances, now the SCN Regional Superior in the East, saying that Elaine was to go to the Richmond Diocesan Office of Education the following year.
This mission of supervisor would be hers for the next eleven years. She had the responsibility of visiting classrooms, giving workshops for teachers, speaking at PTA meetings, etc. At the same time Elaine began study for a Masters of Science degree in Education at Fordham University in New York City. She achieved this in four summers.
Elaine would go on to St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada, part of the Toronto School of Theology, for a Master in Divinity which included three years of full-time study. Elaine’s direction in ministry would change significantly. She became a Director of Religious Education in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After that, she made the first of several trips to Belize; she was the Minister of Religious Education at St. Brigid’s in Richmond, Virginia for one year.
In 1990 she was invited to be the Representative for Catechesis and Multicultural Concerns for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington, D.C. The invitation came from Sister Lourdes Sheehan, RSM, who was the Secretary of Education for the USCCB. She and Lourdes had been in ministry together in the Diocese of Richmond. Elaine served in this position for eight years.
(I wish there were some way to include all the positions, the publications, the travel that Elaine had in her various Church/ parish ministries from 1990 onward. It would take many more pages. I shall content myself with naming just a few. The complete and impressive listing is available in the Archives.)
- At the request of the USCCB Office to Aid the Church in Eastern Europe Elaine taught catechesis to seminarians, school teachers , catechists in Riga, Latvia with Fordham University Professor Gloria Durka (1996)’
- Elaine was Adjunct Professor in Catechesis , Toronto School of Theology for Summers – 1984, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998.
- She attended a conference at the Vatican with 200 international attendees for the inaugural presentation of the General Directory for Catechesis, 1997.
- She was a speaker at National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), Convention, at National Conference of Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) Conference, at the Los Angeles Congress for Religious Education, at the Diocesan Religious Education Conference in Jackson, Mississippi, at the Diocesan Meeting of DREs in Charlotte, North Carolina as well as a number of other meetings and conferences.
- She has written and published articles / chapters for books such as Gathering God’s People: Signs of a Successful Parish, Beginning the Journey :From Infant Baptism to First Eucharist, Winner of the Catholic Press Association Award in Book Category 1994, Evangelization and numerous others. She was the writer for Becoming Disciples, a K-8 curriculum for the Office of Religious Education, Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1998 Elaine became a member of a parish ministry team of three religious Sisters for the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware (inclusive of the Eastern Shore of Maryland). The mission of the team was religious education and training for six parishes. Elaine chose ministry at two parishes -Sacred Heart Parish in Chestertown, Maryland founded in 1705 and Mother of Sorrows Parish, a farming community, in Centreville, Maryland. In these two parishes she continued to share her experience and expertise. This ministry lasted for six years.
From 2003-2006 Elaine wrote the Religious Education Curriculum (K-8), Becoming Disciples,( with committee assistance) for the Wilmington Diocese.
(As I finish Elaine’s short bio I am thinking of how proud and grateful her family, her SCN Community and the broader Church can be of this talented, generous woman.)