The first time I saw Sister Nancy Munro was in 1992, when she was principal of St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood, speaking at a Catholic education assembly on a subject I can’t much remember. I only remember how she ended her message: with a stern upbraiding of a previous speaker who had attempted a joke about the church’s position on life.
Life, Sister Nancy told the assembly with no hint of a smile, is not something we as Catholics joke about. We treasure it, we nourish it, and we protect it, and anyone speaking to Catholic educators had best remember that.
That was the only time I ever saw Sister Nancy Munro without a smile, for a decade later she had become — to her immense delight, and to the delight of readers of The Tidings — a valued contributing writer and photographer for the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
As Sister Nancy’s friend, editor and working colleague for nearly 15 years at The Tidings, and as one of many saddened by her passing May 17 (after she’d battled various ailments for a number of years), I will always remember the unrequited joy and enthusiasm she brought to her work — a ministry that took her to parishes and schools all over three counties, reporting on events and, most of all, “The Faces of God.”
It was a ministry she’d never imagined in 40 years as a Catholic school teacher and administrator.
“I am having so much fun with this,” she told me repeatedly, with a smile that radiated love for her faith, her church, and certainly the people with whom she connected (and, often as not, photographed).
“Don’t get me wrong,” she added, still smiling. “I loved my work in education — but when you can travel all over this archdiocese and meet such wonderful people, how can you not enjoy that?”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, a graduate of St. Anselm School in South L.A., she was taught at St. Mary’s Academy by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet who, following her graduation in 1962, welcomed her into the community and embraced her gifts in assigning her to teach elementary and secondary schools in her home archdiocese.
While she was most closely associated with St. Mary’s (as principal for 14 years), Sister Nancy also taught (religion, English and fine arts) and administered at St. Joseph in Lakewood and Bishop Garcia Diego in Santa Barbara, among others. During vacations and sabbaticals, she visited and served with sisters of various communities and Catholic Relief Service workers in their ministries to the poor in Mexico, El Salvador and Peru, marveling at the work being done, and at the incredible faith and generosity of those being served.
By 2001, having (as she put it) “done the principal and administrator thing,” Sister Nancy was ready to pursue her artistic interests, for which she’d been blessed with serious talent.
“Creativity is part of contribution,” she said. “It is our potential to be one with the Creator; each of us is creative in her or his own way. We are all artists and called to make our world a better place with the touch of Divine that we each possess. It is a powerful gift, and we each have it.”
And The Tidings was ready to receive her gifts, preparing to debut a new feature that matched her talents with her passion — people.
“The Faces of God” was designed to highlight the people of the local church (and not so much the programs that most parishes administer). In the course of 14 years, 148 parishes — about half of the archdiocesan total — were featured.
Sister Nancy’s role was to select the parish (all but a handful were selected by her, and no one else), then visit at least twice, and maybe three or even four times. She loved talking with people, learning their stories and presenting (as every photo subject wishes) “the best side” of everyone.
Her parish profile article, accompanied by as many pictures as we could manage, would run alongside a parish history ably compiled by Hermine Lees. It wasn’t long before these monthly features had become an integral and anticipated part of The Tidings, with many readers fascinated to learn about parishes other than their own.
Sister Nancy also enjoyed photographing the Religious Education Congress, annual archdiocesan celebrations (the Jubilarian Mass was a favorite, understandably) and whatever else we asked of her. Rarely did she say no, and then only because of a prior commitment (which, if possible, she would rearrange).
For her ministry, as is any life-giving ministry attached to Christ, was about serving the people of God, as she noted in a July 2012 Tidings reflection on 50 years of religious life:
“The people I have taught with in schools, ministered with, and lived with in religious life — as well as my experiences in El Salvador, Mexico and Peru — have been fabulous, wonderful blessings in my life and constantly call me to recognize God’s many gifts during these past 50 years.
“These people have expanded my life, made me a better person, and have been what I call true jubilee people. For this I am extremely grateful.”
As we, Sister Nancy, are extremely grateful for your life-giving service, and especially for your presence among us — the Face of God, indeed.
Funeral Mass for Sister Nancy Munro, CSJ, will be celebrated June 8, 6:30 p.m. at the Carondelet Center in Brentwood. Interment will be June 9, 10 a.m., at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.
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