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The Remarkable Life of Mary Mardel, RSCJ

The Convent & Stuart Hall community is deeply saddened by the passing of Sr. Mary Mardel, and we remember her unshakable commitment to Schools of the Sacred Heart San Francisco.

Sister Mary Mardel, often referred to as “the heart and soul of Broadway,” died peacefully on October 4, 2022 at Oakwood, the retirement center in Atherton, where she had lived for many years. She was 104.

Sr. Mardel, affectionately known as Be, joined the Society of the Sacred Heart at age 19 and has been affiliated with Schools of the Sacred Heart San Francisco for over 40 years. She was born on March 2, 1918, in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in Los Altos, California, with her parents and younger brother. She spent the last two years of high school at Convent of the Sacred Heart, Menlo, where she discovered her vocation, and in 1937, after two years at the San Francisco College for Women, she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart.

Sr. Mardel spent the first two decades of her religious life at Schools of the Sacred Heart San Francisco. She taught elementary school girls, became Dean of Students at Convent High School and then served as Superior (this title later changed to Director of Schools and then President) in 1966. Sr. Mardel is credited with leading the institution through the transition from operating as a division of the Society of the Sacred Heart to operating as a sophisticated nonprofit with its own Board of Trustees, bringing lay persons onto the Board for the first time in the late 1960s. She later recalled sleeping in classrooms when the Order was still cloistered and moving furniture from the old Jackson Street campus into the Flood Mansion in 1939.

In 1961, Sr. Mardel became the superior at Convent of the Sacred Heart School in El Cajon, California, where she founded St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center, a program for preschool children with developmental disabilities. Today the Center serves 400 adults, ranging from recent high school graduates to seniors.

Sr. Mardel has often been both a beloved champion of Sacred Heart traditions and an agent of change, propelling the school toward contemporary management models. She was the driving force behind helping the school administration grow with a formal management structure and oversaw significant curricular changes, such as establishing computer programming classes. She was named Provincial of the Society’s Western Province in 1972, spent a sabbatical year abroad in England and Israel from 1978–79, and then returned to Broadway to launch the school’s first capital campaign.

She was also a dedicated activist. In 1973, Sr. Mardel was among a group of religious sisters on the picket line in Fresno with the United Farm Workers, protesting the treatment of migrant farmworkers and court injunctions prohibiting their right to protest years of poor pay and working conditions. Sr. Mardel was arrested and spent two weeks in jail.

In a 2016 interview, she recalled a conversation she had with Dorothy Day while sitting in the jail's barracks. "She was saying, 'This is exactly what sisters should be doing. Don't forget the garment workers years ago; we fought for them, and they have their rights now, and the farmworkers are going to have them, too,'" Sr. Mardel said. "It was very inspiring to see that woman."

In 2014, the school dedicated the Chapel in Sr. Mardel's name and established an endowed fund in her honor. This fund embeds the spirit of the school's founding order through education to mission activities and supports the physical integrity of the sacred space.

Two years later, she spent several days on campus, visiting classes while filming a 13-part film series that highlights her life and stories from the school’s early days on Broadway. In the bicentennial year of Sacred Heart education in America, and around the time of Sr. Mardel's 100th birthday, President Ann Marie Krejcarek commissioned local artist Caleb Duarte to create an art installation representing the past and future of Convent & Stuart Hall as well as Sacred Heart education around the world. His large sculptural painting, which now hangs behind the reception desk at the Flood Mansion, was informed by conversations Mr. Duarte had with Sr. Mardel.

"Anything that we have has to have the heart in some way," Sr. Mardel said then. "I don't necessarily mean the shape, but the sense of heart, because that's what we are — meaning love."

At her 100th birthday party on March 3, 2018, over 400 alumni, faculty and friends of the school gathered in the Flood Mansion to celebrate the occasion. Speaking from the front of the Mary Mardel, RSCJ Chapel, Richard C. Blum shared a reflection on behalf of his wife, Senator Dianne Feinstein '51, before presenting Sr. Mardel with a certificate of commendation.

After a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You," Sr. Mardel told the guests, "There is so much love in this room that it's tangible. Now it's up to us to go out and give that love to others." She continued: "I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotations from Saint John of the Cross. He said, 'In the evening of life, we will be judged on love.'"

In her retirement years at Oakwood, Sr. Mardel continued her active involvement with the Society and Convent & Stuart Hall, remaining keenly interested in school news and affairs. She often attended our annual Mass of the Holy Spirit and other special events.

“When I received the news of the passing of our beloved Mary “Be” Mardel, RSCJ, I thought how full of grace Be was to take leave of this world on the Feast of St. Francis,” President Krejcarek said. “Her love of nature and the world was evident in her beautiful watercolor paintings, and she spent so much time in the Oakwood garden. Like that garden, Be tended to generations of students and Sacred Heart school leaders, seeing and nurturing each one's strength and heart with her love, fortitude and courage.”

We join the Oakwood community — and the entire Sacred Heart family — in their grief and offer our heartfelt condolences to all who knew Sr. Mardel. Her light, love, radiant smile and tireless contributions to Convent & Stuart Hall will be greatly missed.

Oakwood held a private funeral Mass on October 13, and a Memorial Mass will take place in the Mary Mardel, RSCJ Chapel at Convent & Stuart Hall on Saturday, November 5 from 3–6 p.m. Alumni and friends of the community received an email invitation. We kindly request RSVPs by November 1.