Sister Mary Magdala Thompson

Sister Mary Magdala Thompson

Sister Mary Magdala Thompson, a Sister of Mercy who was a noted educator, psychotherapist and author, died July 14 of heart failure at Providence Hospital in Mobile, Ala.

The former Baltimore resident was 89.

"There was a common thread in all of the various ministries that she took up during her lifetime, and that was a genuine interest in people and the love and value of each person as an individual," said Sister Helen Amos, former president and chief executive of Mercy Medical Center.

"She was soft-spoken, gentle and brilliant, and had a wonderful sense of humor," said Sister Helen. "She took a great interest in all of us as individuals, and kept track of our ambitions. I once mentioned about becoming an architect — which I obviously didn't — but she brought it up for decades afterward."

"She certainly lived the mission of the Sisters of Mercy," said Sister Karen McNally, a registered nurse who is chief administrator at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. "One of our sisters said that 'we have lost a giant,' and we certainly have."

Ann Pattison Thompson was born in Baltimore and raised in Gwynn Oak. She attended All Saints Elementary School and graduated from Mount St. Agnes High School and Junior College in Mount Washington, where she earned an associate's degree in 1942.

She earned a bachelor's degree in 1945 from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terra Haute, Ind., which is the nation's oldest Roman Catholic liberal arts women's college.

She entered the Sisters of Mercy novitiate at Mount St. Agnes College in 1947 and professed her vows in 1953.

From 1950 to 1953, she taught at Convent of Mercy High School in Mobile.

"She taught me when I was a girl growing up in Mobile," said Sister Augusta Reilly, a Sister of Mercy and an educator who later served as executive director of Marian House, a Northeast Baltimore facility for homeless women.

"She had wanted to be an Army pilot during World War II, but was denied that role because she was a woman," recalled Sister Augusta.

"When she was teaching, she didn't just lecture; she wanted to know what you thought about Lady Macbeth, for instance, or Sydney Carton from 'A Tale of Two Cities.' She wanted to know what we knew. She wanted our view," said Sister Augusta.

"In everything she did, she could draw the best out of people. She made us think," said Sister Augusta. "She was a real educator, and this is why she settled into counseling later in life. She liked people and wanted to help their gifts flower."

Sister Magdala returned to Mount St. Agnes in 1953 when she was named college registrar, a position she held until 1958, when she was promoted to academic dean, replacing Sister Xavier Higgins.

"Sister Magdala had a way of implementing even the most far-out ideas Sister Xavier had, and of making them seem normal," recalled Sister Helen, who was a student there at the time.

"She was part of a very visionary leadership that made sure we sisters would receive a first-class education. She instilled a love of learning, and we felt very fortunate that we were getting an excellent liberal arts education there and understood its value," she said. "Sister Magdala made sure of it."

"Sister Magdala would be quick to say that she and Sister Xavier were both inspired to get younger Sisters of Mercy enrolled in first-rate graduate programs by Sister Cleophas Costello, who was the visionary president of the college in those years," said Sister Augusta, who was also a Mount St. Agnes student in those years.

Sister Magdala "was dean of the college when I was at the novitiate, and she's the reason I became a nurse," she said. "Her commitment was ensuring the best possible education for us, and she'd do anything to help you."

In 1959, Sister Magdala earned a master's degree in counseling from what is now Loyola University Maryland. She spent a year in Pittsburgh at Chatham College as a Ford Foundation fellow and assistant to the college's president in 1967.

She earned her doctorate in 1971 from Michigan State University, where she was assistant to Paul Dressel, director of institutional research, with whom she co-authored several studies of higher education.