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Remembering Sr. Mary Ellen Dow, SND


Sr. Mary Ellen Dow, SND(Sr. Mary Ellen Dow, SND)

Sometimes a person comes into our lives who is so full of faith, joy, grace and goodness that even though we may only know them for a brief period of time, their impact lasts well beyond the brief encounter.  Sr. Mary Ellen Dow, SND, was such a gifted person.  She was Trinity’s Campus Minister from 2011 through 2014.  Sr. Mary Ellen died last evening after a long illness; she received excellent care at the SND Health Center at Mount Notre Dame in Cincinnati.  Those of us who knew her have missed her very much since we last saw her in mid-2014 before she retired, and the programs she left in place at Trinity continue to enlarge our lives.

Sr. Mary Ellen Dow, SND(Sr. Mary Ellen offers the invocation at Groundbreaking for the Payden Center, 2014)

I first met Mary Ellen at a Bertucci’s somewhere on Route 128 outside of Boston.  At that time she was about to transition out of her position as Campus Minister at Merrimac College in North Andover where she had served for more than a decade.  She was contemplating another ministry.  Another SND suggested I meet Mary Ellen as a possible candidate to join our Board of Trustees.  But by the end of lunch, I knew we had a new Campus Minister for Trinity!

Sr. Mary Ellen arrived in Fall 2011 and immediately set about revitalizing what had become a somewhat low energy program in Campus Ministry here at Trinity.  She had high energy, but not the kind that can be irritating, but rather, infectious.  She had a big heart and patient manner, and set about learning and listening in all the right places within the Trinity community.  Students quickly found a path to her office, and the door was always open.  Faculty and staff, too, soon found her to be an indispensable colleague, sounding board, spiritual leader and wise advisor.

Sr. Mary Ellen with students(Sr. Mary Ellen with students, Fall 2013)

Mary Ellen’s commitment to social justice as a deep matter of faith animated her work every day.  Among her many accomplishments that have endured, Sr. Mary Ellen started the Alternative Spring Break program in Selma, Alabama.  While that great program may now seem like a “given” each year, believe me, it wasn’t easy to start!  Sr. Mary Ellen had to convince me that the student group could fly to Birmingham — we had never flown students in groups before — and that the accommodations would be safe for everyone.  She won the day, set about organizing the parallel seminar, coordinating with the support team in Selma, and the first year was a huge success.  The program has continued ever since, thanks to the leadership of Dean Bowie who took over organizing the program after Sr. Mary Ellen retired.  All participants have agreed on the value and life-changing experience of the week in Selma.

Sr. Mary Ellen gives Selma reportSr. Mary Ellen with Selma groupSr. Mary Ellen with Selma Group(Above, Sr. Mary Ellen gives remarks at Selma debrief and with several Selma groups over the years)

Sr. Mary Ellen also started the food pantry, another brilliant idea that took a good deal of effort to launch, but that provides important support for our students every day. Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Karen Gerlach remembers Mary Ellen’s great contribution:

“I am so grateful for having known Sr. Mary Ellen!  I was reflecting this morning about the work that Sr. Mary Ellen put into creating our Food Pantry in Student Affairs.  When I came to Trinity in 2013, one of the first initiatives that I worked on with Sr. Mary Ellen was to address student food insecurity and to formalize the food pantry and supports to students in need.  We developed guidelines for donations, distribution, marketing, etc, and launched the Food Pantry in August 2013.  We started slow, and relied on donations from faculty and staff, and word of mouth to get items to students.  This resource has grown in scope and is really making such a positive impact on the lives of our students now!  I know she would be very proud of how it has developed.  What an important contribution she made towards our outreach to students.”

Sr. Mary Ellen also created the Muslim Prayer Room, revitalized the Gospel Choir with the engagement of Mr. Samuel Cromwell of St. Augustine’s, and strengthened all of Trinity’s service programs.  With Sr. Camilla Burns and Sr. Mary Johnson, she collaborated in the creation of the Billiart Center for Social Justice.  She also fostered an improved program for spiritual development, prayer and worship for community members of many different faiths.

Sr. Mary Ellen introduces Gospel ChoirSr. Mary Ellen with Gospel choirSr. Mary Ellen with Gospel Choir(Above, Sr. Mary Ellen on occasions with the Gospel Choir)

One of the more moving moments of Sr. Mary Ellen’s tenure occurred when she organized a prayer service after the killing of Trayvon Martin.  Students were very upset and concerned, and she turned that anger and outrage into a constructive moment for prayer, reflection and dialogue.

Mary Ellen speaking at Martin eventMary Ellen at Martin eventMary Ellen at Martin event(Above, Sr. Mary Ellen at Memorial Service for Trayvon Martin)

Sr. Mary Ellen gave numerous beautiful invocations at our various convocations and commencements, and was a wonderful presence at more events than we can count.  We were all so saddened when we learned of her illness and need to retire, and she did her best to keep in touch and always delighted to hear news from Trinity.

Sr. Mary Ellen CommencementSr. Mary Ellen commencementSr. Mary Ellen commencement(Above, Sr. Mary Ellen giving invocations at several commencements)

We were privileged to have Sr. Mary Ellen Dow in our lives at Trinity, and we pray that her sisters in the SND community, family and friends find some peace and comfort in knowing that her spirit lives on at Trinity.  May she now know completely the power, wisdom and love of the Trinity!

Mary Ellen with students

Student Anita Rivas-Gregory offers this reflection: “Thank you for your love and support of Trinity staff and students. We were truly blessed to have you as part of our family.”

Do you have a memory of Sr. Mary Ellen?  Please add your thoughts in the comment box below.

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9 Responses to Remembering Sr. Mary Ellen Dow, SND

  1. James P. Hester says:

    Went to 8 yrs. grade school with Mary Ellen. Proud to say I knew her, and only hope my contributions, in The Lords eyes, are a fraction of hers! She leaves much too soon, but perhaps she will be paving the way for others in heaven, too! What no one probably knows is she was a darn good athlete before it was accepted that girls could be so! RIP, Mary Ellen, and keep an eye on the rest of us down here! JPH

  2. Ann Howard, SNDdeN says:

    Sr. Mary Ellen Dow has been such a steady, strong and deeply caring presence in the Notre Dame family, and at Trinity Washington University, where she offered what turned out to be her culminating ministry. I am so grateful to have recently received her blessing. Now, let us bless her memory with our own prayer for her and to her. Mary Ellen, may you rest in peace and glory. God’s goodness abides.

  3. Judith Merkle SND deN says:

    Thank you President McGuire for your lovely tribute to our sister and friend Mary Ellen. I remember the day she entered Notre Dame, as we are close in age. To read your tribute is to be reminded in a special way of the women she became among us. Mary Ellen so enjoyed her time at Trinity and her leaving there because of her illness was a costly decision. Thank you for the care and support you offered her, and for sharing a peek into her ministry at Trinity.

  4. Sr. Mary Johnson SND says:

    Sr. Mary Ellen Dow brought such warmth, wisdom and joy to her ministries. She particularly loved serving as a campus minister and she loved serving at Trinity. She shared her deep faith in God and her rich Notre Dame spirituality with all.
    That is her magnificent legacy to us. May she now rest in the peace of Christ, whom she served as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur for over fifty joy-filled years.

  5. Morgan Carrillo says:

    I will be forever grateful to Sr. Mary Ellen for the profound impact she had on my life. She was my RCIA teacher, one of my biggest cheerleaders at Trinity, and gently and patiently accompanied me in my growth and grappling as both a feminist and a catholic. Her passionate pursuit of social justice and equality for everyone is one of the many reasons I chose to pursue my MSW after leaving Trinity. It was truly a privilege to know her-she will be missed.

  6. Najmah Ahmad says:

    One of the highlights of my career remains helping Sr. Mary Ellen to create the Alternative Spring Break program in Selma. Being with her and the students on the inaugural trip was so powerful and transformative. I still talk about her and this experience to this day. Her memory will definitely live on!

  7. Dean Meechie says:

    Sr. Mary Ellen was a gentle spirit. I have many memories that I will cherish. Our times together in Selma Alabama will be with me and the students who have had that experience forever. Thank you for your faith and commitment to social justice and our students. She lived and walked her faith each day out loud. I will forever miss her.

  8. Steven Gilmore says:

    Sr. Mary Ellen was such a great presence on this campus during her time as Campus Minister. I remember how she would consistently reach out and connect with other faculty and staff around campus. She truly cared about our students and wanted to serve to the best of her ability. My favorite memories are from various graduation and commencement ceremonies. Since Sr. Mary Ellen would give the invocation before the national anthem, we had an opportunity to converse and help calm our nerves together. She shared words of encouragement, hope, wisdom and love. She will be greatly missed.

  9. Marc Hill says:

    My heart is heavy, however my spirit is lifted to hear the news about Sr. Mary Ellen. She has to suffer no more. She was an amazing person with a heart of gold. She was so uplifting and passionate about everything she touched. She was the faculty advisor for the gospel choir when I first joined. She was always so excited to hear us sing. She gave us inspiration to sing out for God and she provided us with love and unwaivering support with 110% of her soul. I personally hope that there’s a memorial service on campus where the gospel choir, old and new, get to sing one of her favorite songs! We will miss you Sr. Mary Ellen. Rest in Paradise.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: