Sister Mary Ray

Sister Mary RaySister Mary Ray was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1932 to Milton and Veronica Ray, and lived there until she was nine years old.  She attended grades one to four at St. Mary Catholic School. On Dec. 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II and many changes took place in everyone’s lives. Mary’s family moved to Chicago so that her father, who was an accountant, could find work. In Chicago, Mary continued her education at a Catholic school.

“I wanted to be a missionary, so I researched communities that had missionaries in foreign countries,” Sister Mary remembers. “I wrote to several communities and received return letters. I really liked the letter I received from Mother Corona, so I chose to join the School Sisters of St. Francis. I entered as an aspirant and continued my education at St. Joseph Convent High School.”                 

Mary entered the Postulancy and was received into the community in 1949. During her formation years she attended Alverno College, graduating in 1953.  She was a student during the time the new college campus was being built at its present location on 43rd Street. “I helped clean the new buildings,” she recalled.     

Sister Mary’s first teaching assignment after graduating from Alverno College was in Racine, Wisconsin, and then she moved to the Chicago area, teaching in the suburbs of Schiller Park and Glenview. In 1965, Sister Mary‘s missionary dream became real when she was asked to go to Central America. Without knowing the Spanish language, she traveled to Costa Rica to begin teaching. Sister Mary learned to speak Spanish from conversing with the people who lived in the mountains of Costa Rica. 

One memory of those days makes her laugh even today. Sister was asked to translate for a parent-student conference of an eighth-grader attending St. Francis School, the all-boys school where she taught. She had a conference with the principal, teacher, and counselor before the parent-student conference. The boy was not telling the truth to his Spanish speaking father. “I informed his papa of the real situation,” Sister Mary recalled. “What made me laugh was the surprise on the boy’s face when he heard me speak in Spanish. He did not know I could speak Spanish because he and I had only spoken to each other in English prior to this conference!”     

Another fond memory for Sister Mary is how the 14-year-old boys would wait every day for her to kick off the first soccer ball at the beginning of recess. She couldn’t have been prouder than when this fine group of boys won the Costa Rican national soccer championship.   

Sister Mary lived in Costa Rica for three years, then she moved to Honduras, where she was the principal at Immaculata Concepcion School for a year. She was then asked to go to Panama to serve in parish ministry. She helped organize a fashion show for the women who lived in the barrio. The show was a great success and the women looked beautiful in the dresses they borrowed from stores throughout the city. Sister Mary could not have been more pleased with the outcome of this project. 

After a year in Panama, Sister Mary’s father had a heart attack, so she returned to the United States to be with her family. She was able to use her Spanish language skills while teaching in Chicago, first at Santa Maria Addolorata School and later at St. Philomena.

In 1999, Sister moved back to Janesville to live with and care for her aging mother. After her mother’s death three years later, Sister continued living and working in Janesville. She taught a special education student at St. Mary School, was a substitute teacher for Janesville Schools, and worked at the YWCA, where she used her bilingual skills to help adult immigrants learn English and become United States citizens. Sister Mary found it exciting and rewarding when her students received their United States Citizenship papers. 

Although Sister Mary was a missionary in Central America for only five years, her missionary spirit of helping others has been evident throughout her 75 years as a School Sister of St. Francis. She witnessed to the Good News of Jesus as she entered into the lives of students in classrooms, families in their homes, and immigrants learning the English language. She has tended to the sick in hospitals, visited elderly people in retirement homes, and connected with people in the parish. And today, living in her apartment in Janesville, she is still helping others.