Love, reverence and respect
Being with people. Walking with people. Loving people. That's how Sister Marilyn Barry characterizes her 62 years of service to God, to the Catholic Church and to the communities that have touched her heart.
"I love people so much. They're so good and they're trying so hard. It has been such a blessing being allowed to walk with them," Sister Marilyn says.
From a young age, Sister Marilyn was infatuated with the church. She remembers listening when she was a little girl in Danbury, Iowa, to the local sisters chant the Divine Office late at night.
"It was so beautiful to hear them singing the office, and it was really a mystical experience, if you will," she says.
Sister Marilyn's family was heavily involved in their local church in Danbury. Her mother, a convert, and her father, a lifelong Catholic, were sources of great inspiration for her growing up, she says, and throughout her youth, the idea of joining the sisters at the Mother House located at Mount St. Clare College in Clinton, Iowa, kept returning to her.
In her junior year of high school, she decided to test her faith and join the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.
"I loved convent life. Loved it. I had been looking forward to it for many years," Sister Marilyn says. "I dated and had an awful lot of fun with guys, but there was just something that kept saying, 'Let's give (the sisterhood) a try,' and it was a confirmation that this was what I wanted to do and how I wanted to live the rest of my life. And I felt I could somehow be of service to people. I always wanted to help people."
Her first three years at the Mother House in Clinton were mostly spent studying secular and nonsecular subjects. She found herself drawn to teaching and education, and before long she was teaching first through eighth grades, mostly reading and writing.
"I think my greatest hits in education were teaching first- and second-graders how to read. I used this specific program that was so incredible. How to read, how to write, all under one umbrella. The art of language, it was such a highlight of my teaching career," she says.
Sister Marilyn taught for 25 years before deciding to switch things up. She left Iowa to study in Seattle and took jobs all over the country — working as a pastoral minister, teaching adult classes in the confraternity of Christian doctrine, inducting people into the Catholic faith, managing language arts teachers, coordinating Eucharistic ministers and lectures, and serving in a number of other roles — for the next 25 years.
In 2005, Sister Marilyn came to Lake Oswego to apply for a position as a pastoral associate at Our Lady of the Lake. She got the job, and quickly fell in love with the community and the work she was doing to connect people to their faith.
One of Sister Marilyn's favorite parts of working in Lake Oswego has been helping to coordinate the church's funeral lunch ministry — a luncheon the church hosts after funeral services to help families dealing with the loss of a loved. She had been told shortly after arriving in Lake Oswego that the program was going to end because its organizer was retiring.
Sister Marilyn thought back to an experience she'd had when her mother died. When she'd left Danbury to join the sisters at the Mother House in Clinton, her parents moved to Texas to pursue a new business opportunity. When her mother passed, Sister Marilyn's biological sister called the local Catholic Church in Texas to make arrangements for a funeral lunch, only to find that the congregation did not host a luncheon for out-of-towners.
"I'd given my whole adult life to the Catholic Church. I was so angry. I said, 'If I ever have anything to do with funeral lunch ministries, it will be different," Sister Marilyn says. "So when Father McMahon came to me with that news, I said, 'Not on my watch, Father. We're going to continue it.' And we have ever since."
Today, Sister Marilyn can't count the number of funeral lunches she's helped organize, but she does know that through that program, Our Lady of the Lake has made a huge impact on grieving families looking for some semblance of relief.
"We've touched a whole lot of people with a great deal of love, reverence and respect to walk with them in their grief. We've had people come back years later to thank us for what we did," she says. "During that time, when you have someone die, the more pressure that can be taken off of your shoulders, the easier it is to grieve."
After 62 years of service to God, the Church and the communities she's come to know and love, Sister Marilyn is ready to retire. She recently went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she traveled with Parochial Vicar Father Gregg Bronsema and her friend and roommate, Sister Diana.
In her retirement, Sister Marilyn has plans to continue a new project she started recently of creating small, single-decade rosaries made out of polymer clay beads in all sorts of different colors. Each rosary includes a small figurine of Jesus Christ, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary. She's hoping these small tokens help her fellow Catholics remember the teachings of Mary and her love that blesses everyone.
For the past year, Sister Marilyn has carried around a small notebook in which she writes down the names of people who have touched her heart. She gives a pair of heart-shaped stickers to everyone whose name she writes down, explaining that they are to keep one of the stickers and give the other away to someone who touches their heart. Pages upon pages of names fill the book; on the cover is a depiction of Jesus Christ.
"I go around and I catch people and put them in my little book. It's been the funnest experience of my life," she says.
A celebration of Sister Marilyn's career and retirement is planned for Wednesday, June 20 at noon in the Parish Center of Our Lady of the Lake, 650 A Ave. All who have been touched by Sister Marilyn's kindness, warmth and brightness are encouraged to attend.