Sister Mary Janet O'Donnell, a retired educator and chaplain who was a member of the Sisters of Mercy for 62 years, died of congestive heart failure Nov. 10 at St. Joseph Medical Center. She was 83.
She was born Rose Eileen O'Donnell in Buffalo, N.Y., into a "staunch Irish Catholic family," said Sister Mary Pat Smith, vice president of the Sisters of Mercy.
After graduating from St. Mary's Business School in Buffalo, she went to work for then-U.S. Rep. James Michael Mead in Washington.
While living in Washington at St. Catherine's residence, a home for young working women sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, she was so impressed with the nuns' work that she entered the order in 1945.
She professed her vows in 1950 and taught in elementary schools in Mobile and Selma, Ala., from 1952 to 1956.
Sister Mary Janet earned a bachelor's degree in education from Mount St. Agnes College in Mount Washington in 1959 and held local teaching posts at St. Bernard, St. Cecilia, Shrine of the Sacred Heart, St. Francis de Sales and St. Joseph parochial schools.
In 1974, she moved into health care and was assigned as chaplain to Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium for two years, and then served as assistant to the director of religious education at the Roman Catholic Church of the Ascension in Halethorpe from 1976 to 1977.
Sister Mary Janet served as chaplain at the Marlborough Apartments from 1977 to 1983, when the historic Bolton Hill apartment building was senior citizen housing.
"Her work there at the Marlborough was a little unusual for one of our sisters. Normally, we worked in either health care or the educational field," Sister Mary Pat said.
"She drove them to doctor's appointments and the hospital. She prayed with them, no matter what their religious affiliation," she said. "She saw many needs there and tried to respond to them."
In autobiographical notes, Sister Mary Janet commented about visiting a woman who had been in an intensive care unit for six months.
"I said to her, now while you are here, just think of 'Be still and know that I am God.' The woman later told me that thought helped sustain her," Sister Mary Janet wrote.
While visiting a female prison inmate, Sister Mary Janet advised the young woman that "God forgives us for everything."
"With handcuffs on her hands and feet, the young woman rattled the handcuffs and said, 'Thank you,'" Sister Mary Janet wrote.
In 1983, she joined the pastoral care department and worked as chaplain at what is now Mercy Medical Center.
Sister Mary Janet continued her message of encouragement by reminding patients that "we are always surrounded by the presence of the Lord."
While at Mercy, she raised funds that were used to purchase and install a central monitoring system in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.
After retiring in 2003, she continued volunteering at the hospital.
For the past several years, she lived at The Villa, her order's retirement home in the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County.
"She was a very affable and joyfully energetic person. She was very interested in helping people who needed help and always found the ways and means to do it," Sister Mary Pat said.
A funeral Mass was offered Wednesday.
Surviving are two sisters, Nancy O'Donnell Kelly of Buffalo and Patricia Stouter of Rochester, N.Y.; and many nieces and nephews.