Sister Milligan was the former General Superior of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (1980-85) and the former Provincial Superior of the Western American Province. A member of the archdiocesan Theological Commission, she was part of the Synod Writing Commission that produced documents of the 2003 archdiocesan Synod.
“Sister Mary Milligan brought so many gifts to the life of our Local Church,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony, who will preside at the April 9 funeral Mass. “She served in various capacities at St. John’s Seminary. As a member of the Board and professor of Sacred Scripture, her wisdom and guidance were a great support to me personally. And she was an active member of our Archdiocesan Synod, playing a vital role in the formulation of our Synod Documents as a member of the Synod Writing Commission.”
Mary Milligan was born Jan. 23, 1935 in Los Angeles, attended St. Charles Borromeo School in North Hollywood and Corvallis High School in Studio City. She completed her first year of college at Mount St. Mary’s College before entering the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary in Tarrytown, N.Y., and completed her novitiate at the motherhouse in Beziers, France.
A scholar, lecturer and teacher, Sister Milligan held multiple degrees including a BA in French from Marymount College, Tarrytown; an MA in Sacred Scripture from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana; a PhD in English from the L’Université de Paris; and an STD from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Institute of Spirituality, Rome.
She taught in Neuilly, France, and at Marymount College in Rancho Palos Verdes, teaching French, Theology and Sacred Scripture. She served as general councillor to Sister Marguerite Marie Goncalves before she was elected general superior in 1980.
Before becoming general superior, Sister Milligan coordinated the Institute-wide process of revising the constitutions of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. After her election, she visited the provinces to give retreats on the new constitutions which were approved by the Holy See in 1983.
While General Superior, Sister Milligan wrote in 1982 of the Blessed Mother’s example for all as a child of God.
“It was in her heart,” she wrote, “that Mary discovered her own identity. She was at one and the same time daughter of the Father and daughter of her own people. From the rich symbol of the heart of Mary which has been given to us as an Institute, let us learn interiority, let us learn poverty and gentleness of heart."
At Loyola Marymount University, Sister Milligan taught Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament. She served for three years as provost at LMU and five years as dean of its College of Liberal Arts.
She also held positions on various international and national commissions and committees on Religious Life and wrote for journals on Spirituality and Religious Life. Prior to being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2006, she was professor of Theology at St. John’s Seminary, Camarillo.
The co-chairs of the archdiocesan Theological Commission, Jesuit Father Thomas Rausch and Dr. Michael Downey, expressed their admiration for Sister Milligan’s gifts and contributions, and for her personal qualities. Father Rausch, the T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology at LMU, recalled first meeting her while she was serving as General Superior of the RSHM community.
“On a pastoral visit to our campus, she impressed me enormously with her graciousness and the light that shown in her eyes,” he said. “I got to know her later as she returned to the life of the LMU community, as provost, professor and dean. Like so many of her sisters, she was devoted to the life of the church and served it well, so esteemed in Rome that she was named assistant to the 1987 International Synod of Bishops on the Laity.”
Downey, Theology professor at St. John’s whose friendship with Sister Milligan spanned nearly 30 years, called her “a woman of great learning and deep prayer, an apostolic woman religious whose heart was aflame with quiet zeal. She was imbued with the spirit of her religious congregation whose motto is Ut vitam habeant, ‘That they may have life’ (John 10:10).”
Sister Milligan, he added, was influenced “in no small measure by Ignatius Loyola, always seeking to find God in all things, doing all she did for the greater glory of God. She was a true contemplative in action, steeped in the Word of God and in the life of the Universal Church.”
Part of her suffering in her last year, said Father Rausch, “was knowing that her sharpness was fading as her illness progressed, but she accepted this with the grace that so characterized her life. I will miss this good woman greatly.”
Due to illness, Sister Milligan retired in 2006 and in 2009 she went to Regina Residence in Orange. “She will be remembered by her RSHM Sisters, throughout the world, her family, friends and colleagues as a gentle, kind, engaging woman with a keen intellect and profound spirituality,” said a statement from her community.
She is survived by her sisters Patricia Marlowe and Geraldine Gesto (Joseph), her brother Mike (Jill), four nieces and three nephews.
A Vigil Service will be held April 8, 7 p.m. at Sacred Heart Chapel. Donations may be made to the Mary Milligan, RSHM Endowed Lecture Series c/o Alma Vorst, 1 LMU Drive, University Hall Suite 2800, Los Angeles, CA 90045.