Sister Mary Ann Conley



Tell us about your growing up years and family.

I lived in southern California in Wilmington, a port town in Los Angeles. I had two older brothers and a younger sister and brother. I went to public school K-2 on the east side in a poorer area about 3 blocks from the church. The neighborhood was multicultural, primarily Hispanic. When I was going into 3rd grade, a new school was established in a refurbished army base and was staffed by our Franciscan sisters. I told my mom I was going there, even though we weren’t in the parish. I resonated with and loved the sisters. At St. Anthony’s High School, I had a best friend named Joanna.

Please share a favorite story about your early community service.

I taught all grades of elementary school for 20 years. Second grade is my favorite. That’s the year when we prepared for first communion and first reconciliation. My first year was the hardest in Sacramento, adjusting to my life as a teacher but I liked all the places where I taught and enjoyed all the cultures. I recall a Parents Night at Holy Angels in Arcadia where I was teaching fourth graders. To prepare for the event, we decided to make life-sized self-portraits out of butcher paper, which we set at all our desks so that, when the parents arrived, that’s what they saw. When I was teaching in Havre, Montana, we’d go across the street to a park for recess. In the winter, we would build snow people and slide down a wonderful hill there. At Havre, we changed from the old habit to the newer, shorter one and we had to buy coats to keep out the cold. While there, we went camping and hiking, which was the first time we got to go out in that way. I loved Washington most of all and stayed there for 30 years. In addition to teaching, I supported homebound people. That was my favorite ministry. I visited people who were elderly, who had traumatic injuries, and others in rehabilitation centers. I also got involved in Kairos, an interdenominational ministry where men and women offer retreats in prisons. I did that for 20 years in Washington.

Why did you decide to become a sister?

Growing up, I knew that my mother was a secular Franciscan. I thought about being a sister when I was in high school, and it feels like I always wanted to be one. I was drawn to the sisters and enjoyed their personalities.

How do you share your Franciscan values and spirituality now?

I moved to the convent in Santa Maria in 2016. I had my 80th birthday here after a big going away party in Washington. We have wonderful people on our staff, and I love all of them. Here I help set up the chapel for mass. Before COVID, a lot of people came to join us which I enjoyed. I help Sister Kathy Ann every Thursday and Friday and make bouquets from flowers that don’t sell at Trader Joes, and we put them in all the rooms here at the convent to brighten things up.

What would you like us to know about being a Franciscan?

Francis loved God and he saw God in creation. I try to do that too, to see God reflected in all of nature and in all people. I’ve always loved creation. I even enjoy seeing pictures of creation and I think, “God you’re wonderful.”

Please share a favorite quote or verse.

I love Mother Magdalen’s “God will provide.” I didn’t know that motto when I first entered but it’s a good one! There have been so many times when I’ve realized God has provided. He’s true to his word. I also love St. Paul’s “I can do all things in God who strengthens me. When I look back, I realize it wasn’t me, it was God who did all that.”

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