Birth: December 5, 1934
Profession: July 21, 1962
Death: December 19, 2023
Religious of the Sacred Heart Mary Louise (Mary Lou) Gavan, died December 19, 2023, at Oakwood in Atherton, California. She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Wednesday, December 5, 1934, the first child of John Patrick Gavan and Louise Ann Murphy. Her brother, John Christopher, was born the following year. Her father joined the U.S. Army Air Force Medical Corps in 1942 with the rank of Captain, only to die six months later of pneumonia at Mitchell Field in New York. After the burial of her husband in Cleveland, Mary Lou’s mother made the decision to move the family to St. Louis. They settled with her mother’s parents in their large, three-story home.
During the retreat of her senior year, Mary Lou began to think of religious life. Her mother asked her to wait and go to college for a year. At the end of her first year at Maryville College in South St. Louis, where she was a boarding student, her mother asked that she attend college for a second year. Mary Lou agreed and because she acquiesced without protest, her mother believed that she might actually have a calling to religious life in the Society of the Sacred Heart. Mary Lou’s mother and her godfather and uncle, Jerry Murphy, a Jesuit, saw her off to Kenwood on a Central Pullman car on September 6, 1954. Mary Lou panicked a bit at that moment and asked her mother, “What do I do when I get there?” Her mother, a very practical person, said, “Ring the doorbell.”
Welcomed by Mother Marie Louise Schroen, Mary Lou received the habit on March 12, 1955, and pronounced her first vows on March 12, 1957. During her second year in the novitiate, Mary Lou became ill with pneumonia and was hospitalized. Her recovery was slow, and it was only by the grace of God and the encouragement of Reverend Mother Fitzgerald, superior of the Kenwood community, that she was not sent home.
After Mary Lou recovered her health, she was sent to St. Louis in 1958, to teach the eighth grade at Villa Duchesne. She completed her undergraduate degree in English from Maryville College in 1960. In the fall of 1961, she left for Rome to begin preparation for her final vows, under the direction of Reverend Mother Elisabeth Zurstrassen. Mary Lou pronounced her final vows on July 21, 1962, after which she returned to St. Louis, where she was surveillante general (dean of students) of the upper school at the Academy of the Sacred Heart (the City House) until it was closed in 1968. Sister Gavan went then to serve as head of the boarding school and dean of students at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles until 1971; she served in the same capacity at the Rosary in New Orleans until 1982, meanwhile earning an M.Ed. in Counseling and Guidance from Saint Louis University in 1972. She continued her postgraduate studies in administration at Washington University in St. Louis.
In 1981, Sister Gavan was named by the IPB (Inter-Provincial Board) as one of the seven reflectors on the January 1981 draft of the government plan for the new United States Province-to-be.
In 1983, she served as an administrative intern at Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, New Jersey. The following year, she was named principal at Villa Duchesne for grades 7 to 12, where she served for the next four years.
In 1988, Sister Gavan was asked to serve as executive assistant of the Network of Sacred Heart Schools with residence in Boston. Her work was to help to assure the efficient operation of the Network Office and various Network activities. She brought to this service her gifts of organization, attention to detail, meeting planning, hospitality, and word processing. Sister Gavan worked in the Network office for eleven years.
Sister Gavan returned to St. Louis, where she spent her first year settling in, taking courses in computer and doing some service work. In 2001, she received on-the-job training for work in the province archives. This became “my favorite ministry” as assistant archivist until 2020. Three times, Sister Gavan was invited to go to Rome to help in the general archives of the Society. She listed Rome as her favorite place in the world.
While she worked in the Network office and in the archives, Sister Gavan grew close to her colleagues and indulged her love of children. Like St. Madeleine Sophie, Sister Gavan had two passions, the Heart of Jesus and children. The Wimmer boys in both Boston and St. Louis and the Pera children in St. Louis all treasured their relationship with her almost as much as she cherished them! She was a loving friend, mentor, and occasional strong disciplinarian, and the children’s bright smiles whenever they saw her revealed the delight they took in her. She was also much loved by the provincial office staff.
In 2020, aware that her body was showing signs of no longer being able to deal with stairs and just plain walking, she asked to go to Oakwood. Unfortunately, two weeks after her arrival there, Covid required a total lockdown of Oakwood, which left the RSCJ sequestered in their rooms. Although Sister Gavan struggled with the loneliness and isolation, she gradually found solace in following her beloved St. Louis Cardinals on TV, and she began enjoying California teams as well.
Once Covid lockdown lifted, Sister Gavan participated in Oakwood activities with gusto. She came to community reunion almost every week and never missed a community party. The week before her death she went to the Friends of Oakwood Christmas party, enjoying the sweet treats and the lovely scene. She also treasured outings when she could enjoy her favorite “egg foo young!”
On the morning of December 19, Sister Gavan awoke with considerable abdominal pain, which was relieved with medication. She was weak but responsive. Her dear friend, Louise Lears, SC, gave her a loving message by phone and Mary Lou opened her eyes. Not long after, it became apparent that her body was in transition. She would say at times how afraid she was, but death came quickly and peacefully; accompanied by her sisters, Sister Gavan went to God on December 19, 2023. A funeral liturgy will be celebrated for Sister Gavan on February 8, 2024, at 10:00 am in the Oakwood Chapel.
Memorial Contributions can be made to the Society of the Sacred Heart, United States-Canada, 4120 Forest Park Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63108.