"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

A Missionary Spirit

By S. Joan Elizabeth Cook

On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1961, S. Mary Barbara Philippart was missioned to Colegio Juan XXIII in Lima, Peru.

S. Mary Barbara Philippart was born with a missionary spirit! She credits her parents, Howard and Helen, for fostering that spirit. They created a loving family in which Catholicism, family activities, service, and reading were high priorities. Howard’s father immigrated from Belgium and did not have the opportunity to finish high school. In order to finance a college education, her father became a football star on one of the first University of Detroit teams. Helen’s background was Irish, and she grew up on a farm in the general area of Springfield, Ohio. She was a private secretary. One of her friends introduced her to Howard, and they formed the loving bond that was a hallmark of S. Mary Barbara’s family life. She had three siblings: her older brother Howard, whom they nicknamed Micky, and her two younger sisters, Janet and Carol. They lived in Detroit.

S. Mary Barbara’s childhood was active with swimming, football (until her father decided it wasn’t feminine), and badminton in the summer; and ice skating and tobogganing in winter. The children loved to read, and their parents encouraged them by giving them books for Christmas. She remembers that the children finished reading all their new books by New Year’s Day. The Sisters of Charity had a profound influence on her from an early age. Her great aunt, S. Margaret Louise, was a music teacher. The children attended St. Luke’s School, where she specially remembers Sisters Miriam Thomas Busch, Ann Rita Kelly, and Mary Emma McKinley. The academic program was strong, and the children also learned to dance, sing and speak in front of a group for performances several times a year. These skills have served her well throughout her entire life.

S. Mary Barbara loved to read Lotus Leaves, the publication about the SC missionaries in China, and the people they served. Reading that magazine strengthened her desire to be a missionary, and she wanted to serve in China.

She attended St. Luke’s High School at first, and when that school closed she attended Little Flower High School for Girls (later named Shrine High School). She remembers Sisters Barbara Geoghegen, Ancilla Marie Petricone, Myra Drain, Francis Anna Bunline, Virginia Hughes, Kevin Davis and Marie Palmyre Rabaut. She continued to be involved in many activities; sewing for the soldiers – this was during World War II – was one of her ways to serve. Her parents continued to be a strong influence in her life, and they were thrilled when she decided to become an SC because she wanted to go to China.

S. Mary Barbara was in the Novitiate when the Sisters from China escaped to the United States. Their courage in coming to the States and their love for God made a profound impression on her, and her eagerness to serve in China continued to grow.

S. Mary Barbara Philippart (left) served as the administrator of Colegio Juan XXIII from 1962 until 1967.

After First Vows S. Mary Barbara studied at The Athenaeum of Ohio (Cincinnati) before being missioned to St. William’s to teach first grade. That was the first of several schools where she taught in the Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Toledo dioceses. Then, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1961, she was missioned from Lima, Ohio to Colegio Juan XXIII in Lima, Peru. For her, this was a dream come true: she had offered to serve in Peru when Mother Mary Omer first asked for volunteers. She was not among the first to be selected, but was missioned there when one of the original volunteers became ill.

In Lima, S. Mary Barbara continued her association with the Chinese people. Several Sisters from another community were Chinese, and they all served the Chinese community there. After serving as administrator in Lima, she went to Huancane for a year, and was then missioned to Seton High School (Cincinnati) where she taught Spanish.

Her ministry to Hispanic people continued in various forms: in parish ministry at the Cristo Rey Center in Fremont, Ohio; as the Ohio promoter with NETWORK; and as Ohio connector for the Catholic Commission on Urban Ministry at the same time as serving as SC coordinator of Social Services. After six years in the States, she was invited to return to the Puno Diocese in Peru. There she administered a parish, taught in the diocesan Religious Education office and directed the diocesan radio program. After a time of sabbatical, she resumed her ministry to the Hispanic population in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she continued her radio ministry with Radio Catolica.

S. Mary Barbara Philippart (center) returned to Peru in 1976 and served for the next 15 years in various capacities.

From there she went to Port Huron, where she served the Hispanic community as pastoral associate. While living in Port Huron she traveled once a month to Little Rock to teach the Spanish-speaking deacon candidates and their wives. This project included developing the curriculum, finding teachers, and organizing a weekend retreat once a year. Every month, some of her students drove four or five hours each way in order to attend seven two-hour classes, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.

The titles of her different positions don’t begin to describe the ways S. Mary Barbara served and empowered the Hispanic people, especially the Peruvian women. For instance, while teaching at Seton High School, she, in coordination with S. Mary Martin Morand, supported Artesania Pachamama (Earth Mother) by providing a market for sweaters, hats, gloves and purses knitted by the Peruvian women. As a result, people here in the States have enjoyed wearing warm, colorful sweaters while taking steps to relieve the severe poverty in Peru.

As director of Hispanic Radio in Arkansas, S. Mary Barbara Philippart created opportunities for people in rural areas to participate in Catholic life.

S. Mary Barbara’s eagerness to bring people together was very evident in her ministry in Arkansas. She empowered them by teaching
literacy for Hispanics to children and adults. This program grew to serve 35 children and 100 adults. As director of Hispanic Radio she created opportunities for people in rural areas to participate in Catholic life – a challenge because they were at a distance from urban activities. S. Mary Barbara’s gift for fostering bonds was evident in Port Huron, Michigan as well. As pastoral associate, she coordinated fundraising efforts and organized twice-weekly religious services, making it possible for members of the Hispanic community to gather in prayer and mutual support.

Then S. Mary Barbara joined S. Ruth Ann Rody in Pineville, Kentucky. S. Ruth Ann served as a home visitor nurse and S. Mary Barbara coordinated the RCIA and Confirmation programs for two parishes.

Since returning to the Motherhouse in 2011, S. Mary Barbara continues to support the people she has served throughout her lifetime. And she is a vital presence among all the Sisters at the Motherhouse, offering kindness and support to everyone she meets. This summer she celebrated her 75th Jubilee as a Sister of Charity. All of us are blessed by the example of loving dedication that she continues to live on a daily basis.

S. Mary Barbara Philippart (left), with Associate Cathy Colque, celebrated 75 years as a Sister of Charity at the Motherhouse in 2022.

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