“Mary never completely mastered the Spanish language during 26 years in Colombia, yet from the first day she was fluent in faith....Mary is a model for all of us who, despite our frequent stammering, desire to be fluent in faith."
(from Fluent in Faith: The Gift of Mary McCormick, pages 11-12, Authors: Jacqueline Hansen Maggiore and Donald Mueller, as quoted by Donald Mueller)
Mary McCormick was born Mary Joanna Mahar on April 12, 1912, on a farm in rural Wisconsin. In 1925, she moved with her family to Milwaukee. She married in 1942, but sadly lost her beloved husband, Tom, in 1956 when he died suddenly just 12 days before the birth of their 7th child. For 12 years she raised and cared for her own children and an extended family in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
In 1968, she saw a notice on a Church Bulletin Board about PAVLA (the Papal Volunteers to Latin America) and found it interesting, having read a great deal about the current situation in Latin America. Not long after she saw the notice, she, along with her three youngest daughters, then 11, 14, and 17, left to serve as a Lay Missionary in Bogota, Columbia. The plan was to stay for one year. While her daughters returned to the U.S. a few years later, Mary McCormick served in Bogota for most of the next 26 years.
Here are some of the things she accomplished while there:
- Helped start a day care program in poor neighborhoods
- Began a milk program (like W.I.C.) for mothers
- Set up a community program for the elderly
- Facilitated student loans and school materials
- Initiated sewing/knitting programs for women (micro-enterprises)
- Started a no-interest loan program for housing improvements
- Co-founded a home for destitute street women, Hope House
- Set up a house of hospitality for lay missionaries and foreign visitors to live and learn from the poor; sick Colombians also stayed there while receiving medical treatment in Bogota; Brother Venard stayed there while establishing Mother Teresa’s missionaries in Colombia
- Worked ecumenically to respond to the poor, e.g., the Program for Conscientization of North Americans to raise justice awareness
- Co-founded a Catholic religious community that works with the poor (street kids, the mentally and physically ill, the elderly, the rejected)
- Brought rich and poor together for mutual sharing and concern
Mary McCormick helped countless people in her years of service. She was a deeply faith-filled person who believed firmly in God's guiding hand and in the dignity of every person. Today, the Mary J. McCormick Foundation continues her mission and work providing services to those in need in Bogota. You can find out more by clicking here to visit the Mary J. McCormick Website.
(Sources: Photo and dates and list of accomplishments provided by Don Mueller, remaining information from Maggiore, Jacqueline Hansen and Mueller, Donald , Fluent in Faith: The Gift of Mary McCormick Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2012. Print)