Sister Mary Merdian, SSMN, longtime educator who loved to laugh, dies at 80

by Marty Sabota

North Texas Catholic

January 29, 2020

Sister Mary Merdian, SSMN
Sister Mary Merdian, SSMN (courtesy photo)

FORT WORTH — As members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur prayed around Sister Mary Merdian, they thanked her for her service.

“They patted her hand and told her they loved her and that it was OK to go,” said Ms. Clarice Peninger, an oblate of the Sisters of Saint Mary, about the death of her friend on Jan. 26 from a longtime illness. “We accompanied her on her final journey.”

Peninger, who served for 24 years as principal of St. Andrew Catholic School in Fort Worth and retired at the end of the 2008-09 school year, recalled fondly her longtime friendship with Sr. Mary, SSMN, who retired as assistant principal from the school.

Her friends had been visiting Sr. Mary in shifts “praying and talking to her,” Peninger said of the senior care facility where Sr. Mary, 80, had been living the past two years. “I do think she heard us. I’m sure she must have known all of us were here.”

A visitation is scheduled from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, with a Rosary scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Thompson’s Harveson & Cole Funeral Home, 702 8th Avenue in Fort Worth.

A Mass of Christian Burial is set for 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 3, at St. Andrew Church in Fort Worth. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

In 2007, Peninger was a lector at a jubilee celebration of service in Sr. Mary’s religious life, who joined the SSMNs in 1957.

“Our jubilee Mass was wonderful,” Sr. Mary told North Texas Catholic at the event. “We had songs everyone knew and could sing, and we got to see friends and family that came from all over Texas and out of state.”

Peninger said her fondest memories of the woman she hired to be her assistant principal involved laughter.

“She had this big, booming laugh,” she said.

Her work ethic was second to none.

“She was clearly an administrator,” Peninger said. “I knew her leadership abilities. She also was a very good organizer.” 

Beverly Watkins, retired business manager at St. Andrew School, also spoke with affection about the woman she shared an office with for many years.

“She was easy to talk to about any little thing that would come up,” she said of Sr. Mary.

Watkins said Sr. Mary enjoyed working with young students and even found a compassionate way to administer her duties as a disciplinarian.

“The students knew they were in trouble, but they weren’t scared,” the former business manager said. “They left confident they could do better next time.”

Watkins said she would always remember Sr. Mary “happily walking down the halls.”

At St. Andrew, Sr. Mary explained to the NTC in 2007 that she was happy to observe students “going out into the community to help others” and the “sense of justice” that is encouraged at the school. Students worked on projects, raising money, selecting, and purchasing Christmas gifts for the poor with money they raised.

Sr. Mary taught and served as principal in schools throughout the Metroplex, and she also worked in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Scotland, Wales, England, the New York area, and Belgium, where she was a member of the SSMN general council.

Sr. Mary was provincial superior of the order’s Western Province from 1978 to 1984 and 2011 to 2014.

Sr. Mary, who was born in McAllen, used to talk about how she lived across the street from the sisters.

“I knew them and was impressed at how joyful they were. By the time I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to be a sister,” she said.

Sister Mary Merdian

FORT WORTH — As members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur prayed around Sister Mary Merdian, they thanked her for her service.

Published (until 1/29/2034)