Sister Mary Rebecca Elkins, a Sister of Mercy who trained as a nurse and held health care positions at hospitals in Georgia and at what is now Mercy Medical Center, died Tuesday at Stella Maris Hospice of complications from multiple sclerosis. She was 90.
The daughter of Joseph Edward Elkins and Rebecca M. Staley Elkins, Margaret Mary Elkins was born and raised in Frederick, where she graduated from St. John's Literary Institute.
She then began her nursing training at what is now Mercy Medical Center, and after working as a nurse for five years, she entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1950.
She professed her final vows in 1955 and took the religious name of Sister Mary Rebecca.
She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing in 1954 from Mount St. Agnes College and a master's degree in nursing from the University of Maryland.
From 1954 to 1959, Sister Mary Rebecca worked in the outpatient department of St. Joseph Infirmary in Atlanta, and returned to Baltimore when she was assigned to the emergency room at Mercy.
In 1963, she went to Villa Mercy in Daphne, Ala., where she was a nurse for a year, and then from 1964 to 1965, worked in the infirmary at Mount St. Agnes College in Mount Washington.
She was the associate director of the nursing service at St. Joseph's Infirmary for a year and then was a nursing instructor at St. Joseph Hospital in Savannah, Ga.
Sister Mary Rebecca worked in the infirmary at Mount St. Agnes College again from 1967 to 1968, when she rejoined the nursing staff at Mercy Medical Center, where she remained until retiring in 1991.
A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis cut short Sister Mary Rebecca's nursing career. After retiring, she moved to Mercy Villa, her order's retirement community in the Woodbrook neighborhood of Baltimore County.
Sister Mary Rebecca's illness did not prevent her from being an active member and participating in the life of her religious community.
"She had that electric chair and went everywhere, including Mass. She never let being bedridden stop her from what she wanted to do," said Sabrina Fleet, who is the Villa's charging nurse. "She paid close attention to her appearance and was always immaculately dressed."
"She was a commanding presence lying in that bed," said Sister Mary Regina Werntz, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, who is community life coordinator at the Villa.
"I was a little afraid of going into her room the first time, and when I did, her presence was not about power but peace," she said. "She was so at peace with herself and her surroundings, and when you came out, you felt blessed. Everyone says that."
She said that Sister Mary Rebecca had been active since 1972 in the Roman Catholic charismatic movement. She enjoyed gathering others for charismatic prayer sessions and also maintained an extensive telephone ministry.
Sister Mary Rebecca was a bird watcher.
"She loved birds, so we installed a bird feeder outside of her window. She couldn't go outside, so we brought the world inside for her," said Sister Mary Regina.
Sister Mary Rebecca enjoyed painting in watercolors, an activity that became increasingly more difficult as her struggle with multiple sclerosis progressed.
"She was amazing. When she could no longer use her right hand, she switched to her left hand in order to paint," said Sister Mary Regina. "She painted the most beautiful flowers."
"Some of her watercolors were reminiscent of Japanese prints," said Sister Mary Aquin O'Neill, a Sister of Mercy and Villa resident, who just retired from Mount St. Agnes Theological Center, which she had headed for more than two decades. "She taught watercolor classes to the sisters with whom she lived."
"She wrote the most beautiful haikus that reflected her mind and spirit," said Sister Mary Regina.
"Though the disease robbed her of more and more of her powers, Sister Mary Rebecca did not complain and kept a smile for all who visited or cared for her," said Sister Mary Aquin.
"We all loved her so much, and she had a certain way about her," said Ms. Fleet. "She was so special, sweet, loving and kind, and just a beautiful person. She always had that smile and never said a negative thing about anyone."
"Her smile was just captivating," said Sister Mary Regina, who said Sister Mary Rebecca had a "deep devotion to the Holy Spirit." She said she wore a ring engraved with the words "In Christo," which translates into "In Christ," her motto.
In her younger days, Sister Mary Rebecca enjoyed dancing and playing tennis.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday at Mercy Villa, 6806 Bellona Ave., Woodbrook.
Sister Mary Rebecca is survived by eight nephews; and many great-nieces and great-nephews.