Following God’s call to Italy

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p_7_pic_By Father Donald Bourgeois
Sun Episcopal Liaison

Her family calls her “Mary” when she comes home every two years to visit them in Maine where they all attended Most Holy Rosary Church. When she returns to her apostolate in Milan, Italy, she is called “Sister Mary Timothy, OMVF” by those who minister with her and by those she serves in her work.

Mary Elizabeth Gallagher is the tenth of 13 children born to Anne-Marie and (the late) Wendell Gallagher. Her parents by choice raised their children in a home without television, but one filled with books and music.

The kids read mostly novels. “But one day,” Sister Mary Timothy said, “my mother told us we could read any two books we wanted, but then the third would have to be the life of a saint.”

Mary’s choice was a biography of St. Therese of Lisieux. “I was about 11,” Sister Mary Timothy said. “I was very moved by her story and was impressed by the intimate relationship she had with the Lord. I saw how, in the cloister, she filled the silence of her day with a loving dialogue with Him. I thought that when I grew up I would like to be just
like her.”

The decision to read that book combined with the family’s daily practices of going to Mass and praying the rosary planted a seed that continued to grow while young Mary attended Catholic grammar schools in Endicott and Endwell. She then went to Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton where she graduated in 1982.

In the midst of her education Mary received guidance and advice from people who knew her well. Two of the most influential were her brother, Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV and her seventh grade teacher at St. Joseph’s School in Endicott, Sister Janine, SSCM.

When she shared her vocation hopes with Sister Janine, Mary gained a valuable insight. “She told me that she saw me more cut out for the active life and so she opened me up to the idea of an apostolate.” Sister Mary Timothy related.

But like the plans and dreams of many young children, Mary’s were sometimes questioned.

“As a teenager,” she said, “I began to think that maybe I wouldn’t really like being a nun. The consecrated life didn’t seem too attractive to me.”

How, then, were these teenage doubts overcome?

The short answer is, through prayer.

The longer response is, through reflecting on the deeper meaning of the Mass and the rosary.

Mary once asked her mother why they had to go to Mass every day. Her mother responded by asking her if she would go if she were paid $10 each time. Knowing the difficulty of balancing homework with trying to earn money by babysitting, Mary came to appreciate more the value of the 30 minutes spent at Mass. “After my mother put it in those terms, I would have felt ashamed of myself if I skipped daily Mass. Sometimes I would go to Mass at school right after my lunch hour, but without receiving Holy Communion because I hadn’t been able to fast for an hour.”

This led to yet another spiritual realization. “I was receiving graces by going to Mass, but not all the graces that God wanted to give,” Sister Timothy admitted.

Teenaged Mary was not given to prayng the rosary on her own when she missed praying it with her family. “I had not learned to love the rosary,” Sister Timothy said. “I knew that it was the right thing to do because at Fatima Our Lady had asked us to pray the rosary daily. The Lord knew well these and my other weaknesses and, in His infinite mercy and patience, continued to call me, knowing that gradually He would draw me closer to Him.”

How, pray tell, does a seed planted in Maine, N.Y. come to full bloom in Italy?

The answer can only be by Divine Providence.

Sister Mary Timothy’s brother Brian was in college in Boston. He was coming home
for summer vacation and had to be picked up. Mary had just finished her junior year at
Seton Catholic Central.

Three American women who were Oblates of the Virgin Mary of Fatima were in Boston on their way home from Rome to visit their families.

At the suggestion of her mother, Mary accompanied her on the trip to Boston so that she could talk to the nuns. Although her brother, Father Timothy, had told her of the Oblate Sisters, Mary admitted that it “had never occurred to me to go to Italy to become a nun.”

But that changed quite quickly.

“When I met the sisters everything changed,” Sister Timothy acknowledged. “I was extremely impressed by the sisters, so cheerful and obviously good friends. I liked the apostolate they did and everything else about the order, and I thought that If I were to become a nun I would like to go where I could be so happy.”

First, however, Mary had to finish high school. Upon graduation, Mary decided to test her vocation immediately rather than attend college in the U.S. She didn’t want anyone or anything to distract her from what she believed God was calling her to be.

Two months after graduating, Mary set our for Italy in August 1982, to join a community even younger than she was.

The Oblate Sisters of the Virgin Mary of Fatima began in 1978 with a group of 16 women
searching for a way to serve Jesus. The guiding force of that group is now its mother general, Madre Maria Pia Quaglino, OMVF.

Mary Elizabeth Gallagher took her first vows in 1984 and became Sister Mary Timothy, OMVF. She professed final vows in 1990.

Her apostolate has taken her on a tour of Italy. She has worked in a parish in Morimondo, a town of 1,000 people, for seven years, followed by six years at a large parish of 14,000 people in Carpi.

Sister Timothy then spent five years studying with the Salesian Sisters in Rome. She earned he degree in Education Sciences.

This educational sabbatical was followed by an assignment in the town of Volterra, a town of 7,000 people where the sisters helped re-establish an oratory started by the Salesian fathers of St. John Bosco. After five years, Sister Timothy moved to her current assignment at San Protaso where she, another sister and a priest operate a full-time oratory. A kind of sophisticated after-school program, the oratory involves athletics, theater, after-school catechism, and Confirmation preparation. The oratory operates six days a week, Monday through Thursday from 3:45 p.m. until 7 p.m.
and on Saturday and Sunday from 2:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. The new pastor insisted that even God rested and so now the oratory is closed on Fridays.

The Oblates of the Virgin Mary of Fatima received its papal approval in 2001. Today with a membership 85 to 90 sisters, the community has houses in Sri Lanka, Brazil, Fatima and Monaco in addition to its nine in Italy.

Madre Maria Pia Quaglino has asked Sister Timothy to think about where the sisters might go when the time comes to open a house in the U. S.

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