Making a Difference at 95

Sr Mary with Bill Taylor

Most of the people I know want to make a contribution to others’ lives. They are vigilant around how they can be helpful to others, whether that’s a compassionate ear when someone is having a rough time, volunteering for hours to help others in need, or raising money for good causes.

At some point in our lives, many people’s commitment to contribution can fade, as other priorities take precedent, whether that’s time with family or job, hobbies, or failing health.

So imagine my delight to meet 95-year-old Sister Mary Hayden in 2014 when I visited her Good Shepherd Sisters home in Nong Khai, Thailand as part of our Together We Can Change the World tour. We were escorted to a meeting room where Sr Mary was awaiting us. She put aside her project — cutting out angels to be incorporated into crafts that were sold in shops and online to support the GSS homes and village programs.

Later, one of the long-time staff told me that Sr Mary helped with the crafts projects as much as she could. She didn’t like to sit idly watching TV when she could do something to help others, no matter how small. So when she wasn’t talking to others who came to her for advice or comfort, she put her hands to work. She knew her part of the craft woud mean less work for others and the finished product’s sale would benefit those she’d worked decades to help.

Sr Mary is both unique and common. The uniqueness is her long-term devotion to helping others, starting in 1939 when she decided to be a nun. She worked to shelter, feed and comfort others when she was at a convent in France during WWII. She also served in Vietnam during the war there and helped evacuate 200 girls and women after their convent was bombed. Then she was reassigned to Thailand, and had been in Nong Khai for 37 years.

While few people’s total long-term dedication to others is rare, others have less intense yet still meaningful continuous contributions.

Sr Mary died this week at the age of 98. I was inspired by her attitude of wanting to be of service to others no matter what one’s age or capabilities. I hope I am like her in that I say, “What can I do to help?” even as physical capacities diminish. I

An angel Sr Mary helped create hangs in my kitchen

hope that those around me help me find angels to cut out if that is all I can do. It will make me think of her smiling from heaven upon all those who have adopted this attitude.