Mary Catherine Bunting might be retired from her four-decade nursing career, but she still works at least 40 hours a week.
On a typical day, she’s up at sunrise. Weather permitting, she’ll take an early morning swim or work in the 17 gardens she cultivates at her Ruxton home. She grows flowers, but also fresh vegetables she donates to the dinner service for homeless people at St. Vincent de Paul Church, where she serves food every Friday night.
A former nun with the Sisters of Mercy, Bunting attends 8:30 a.m. Mass daily.
Then, she might be off for one of her twice-weekly shifts volunteering at Gilchrist Hospice Care. Or she’ll attend a choir rehearsal or a meeting of the church’s Women in Ministry group.
“I don’t think we’re in this world to just receive,” Bunting says. “Mahatma Gandhi said that wealth without work was one of the seven deadly sins. We’re here to give our talents, our knowledge, whatever else we have.”
Later in the day, she might meet with elected officials, as she has in the past to urge them to pass an inclusionary housing bill. Or, she could work on an environmental project involving solar panels or electric cars. Rain or shine, you could see her standing on a street corner with other volunteers holding signs expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Have we mentioned that Bunting is 86? Or that she has a bad back?
“Living saints are never recognized among us, except perhaps in an offhanded way,” says her longtime friend, Geri Sicola, 71, of Baltimore. “But, she truly is one. She doesn’t stop. There is this tenacity and strength and rigor about her that never fails. When I’m exhausted and don’t want to attend some activity, I’ll think: ‘I have to show up because Cathy will be there.’”
Bunting is the granddaughter of Dr. George Avery Bunting, who founded the Noxzema Chemical Co. and passed along his fortune to his children and grandchildren. She grew up on 36 acres in Green Spring Valley with horses and dogs. “I was always up in some tree,” she says.
Bunting’s mother was fiercely devout and raised her three children in the Roman Catholic faith.
“I never had doubts,” Bunting says. “Even as a teenager, I couldn’t imagine not believing in God.”
When Bunting was 16, she was in a serious car accident while a passenger in her boyfriend’s car.
“My head hit the dashboard,” she says. She broke bones in her face and spent 10 days in the hospital, her jaw wired together. The nurses worked hard to make their patient comfortable, and just like that, Bunting found her calling.
“I loved nursing from day one,” she says. “You got paid for trying to help people. I don’t know how you can learn about the human body and not believe in God.”
She began studying nursing while she was still in high school, earning her R.N. in 1958. The following year, she joined the Sisters of Mercy as a novice. But while she left the convent after 13 years — she realized her truest vocation was as a nurse — she never stopped trying to do God’s work.
Sicola, 71, says that as a child, her friend was deeply influenced by the biblical Scripture about the difficulty of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
“She feared being one of the rich people who wouldn’t be able to enter the kingdom of heaven,” Sicola says.
Now, Bunting estimates that she donates to between 800 and 900 charities every year. In 2007, she contributed an undisclosed sum to the Mercy Medical Center to build the 20-story Mary Catherine Bunting Center ― then the largest donation in the institution’s history.
She also donated the funds establishing the Office of Peace and Justice at Loyola University Maryland. She contributes to an Israeli organization that aids Palestinians and to a Nicaraguan nonprofit that buys medicines and hires teachers and provides microloans to budding entrepreneurs.
But whenever possible, Bunting prefers getting her hands dirty to writing a check. Literally.
“I live in a condo so I can’t compost in my backyard,” says another friend, Peggy Meyer, 73, of Baltimore. “So, every Friday night I bring Mary Catherine my compost and she adds it to her bin, and every Sunday morning she rinses out my bag and brings it back to me.
“That is just such a kind thing to do. And it is so Mary Catherine.”
Name: Mary Catherine Bunting
Hometown: Greenspring Valley
Current residence: Ruxton
Education: Maryvale High School; R.N. from Mercy Medical Center; B.A. from Mount St. Agnes College; M.Ed. from the University of Maryland, an N.P. (nurse practitioner) degree from the University of Maryland
Career highlights: A nun in the Sisters of Mercy from 1959 to 1974; a nurse for Mercy Medical Center from 1958 to 1996
Civic and charitable activities: Built the Mary Catherine Bunting Center at Mercy Hospital and established Loyola University Maryland’s Office of Peace and Justice; devotes her time to numerous charitable activities