Sister Mary Mel L’Ecuyer, OSB

March 26, 1930 - April 20, 2015

Sister Mary Mel L’Ecuyer, OSB, 85, a Benedictine sister of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kan., died on April 20, 2015. The vigil service will be Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. in the monastery chapel, and the Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated there Friday, April 24, at 10:30 a.m.

Sister Mary Mel L'EcuyerSister Mary Mel was born in Concordia, Kan., on March 26, 1930, to Lynn and Mary Frances Raney L’Ecuyer, the oldest of four children. After graduating from Mount St. Scholastica Academy, she was a nurse’s aide for three years before entering the Mount community in 1948. With her B.A. in elementary education from Mount St. Scholastica College, she taught in elementary schools for a number of years in Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, before serving in Mineiros, Brazil, for nearly 40 years. There she was a teacher, social worker, parish minister, farmer, maintenance supervisor, and novice director. After returning to the Mount, she took art and sculpting classes at Benedictine College and observed her 60th anniversary of vows in 2010.

Sister Mary Mel was preceded in death by her parents. She is survived by her brothers, Dr. Jerry L’Ecuyer of Webster Groves, Mo., and Dr. Mel L’Ecuyer of Lamar, S.C., and a sister, Sharon L’Ecuyer of Kansas City, Mo., and by nieces, nephews, and her monastic family.  Memorials may be sent to Mount St. Scholastica or made online. 

Sister Mary Mel's Memorial Card

Arise then, my love, my beautiful one, and come.
Song of Songs 2:13

Sister Mary Mel L’Ecuyer was born in Concordia, Kan., on March 26, 1930, to Lynn and Mary Frances Raney L’Ecuyer, the oldest of four children. After graduating from Mount St. Scholastica Academy, she was a nurse’s aide for three years before entering the Mount community in 1948. She made her monastic profession in 1950. She earned her B.A. in elementary education from Mount St. Scholastica College and taught in elementary schools for a number of years in Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas before serving in Mineiros, Brazil, for nearly 40 years. There she was a teacher, social worker, parish minister, farmer, maintenance supervisor, and novice director. After returning to the Mount, she took art and sculpting classes at Benedictine College and observed her 60th anniversary of vows in 2010. She enjoyed bicycling, skating, dancing, gardening and reading. Optimistic and joyful, Sister Mary Mel loved her missionary work among the poor in Brazil, and wrote a book about the first 25 years of the Mineiros mission. Let us remember her in grateful prayer. 

Reflection for the Vigil Service for Sister Mary Mel L'Ecuyer

by Elaine Gregory, OSB
April 23, 2015

In the name of our monastic community we offer sympathy to Sister Mary Mel’s sister Sharon and to Bill, to Denise, Jean and Greg, to her brothers Jerry and Mel, and to the many nieces and nephews who were so dear to Sister Mary Mel.

Sister Mary Mel was born in Concordia, Kansas, May 26, 1930 to Dr. Lynn and Mary Frances Raney L’Ecuyer, and was baptized Marilyn Theresa.

Her home was in Greenleaf, Kansas. Marilyn attended Mount St. Scholastica Academy in Atchison. During the summer she was a nurses’ aide and worked with her father, a doctor in the Concordia, Kansas, hospital. Following graduation in 1948, she entered the Mount community where she became Sister Mary Mel. With her degree in education from Mount St. Scholastica College, she taught for several years in elementary schools in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.

In 1964, answering the Holy Father’s call, the Mount community decided to send sisters to Brazil. Sister Mary Mel was chosen along with three other sisters to found the Benedictine community in Mineiros, Goias. There she began nearly 40 years of loving and dedicated service.

Sister Mary Mel was gifted with a creative mind, a fertile imagination and a deep faith in God. With these gifts, her life was filled with surprises and a variety of projects. The spacious blue skies of Brazil, the wide open spaces, and the gentle Brazilian people were to be the setting for her new life and ministry.

The four sisters arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration. They often told with deep emotion of the experience of standing there on the ship’s deck and praying first Vespers of the feast as the sun was setting over Guanabara Bay.

Following four months in language school, the sisters went to the interior of Brazil to the mission where they were received with joy by the people.

Sister Mary Mel began her ministry of teaching music in the 30 elementary classrooms in town and in the four outlying schools. She was musical by nature, and the students loved her classes of music appreciation and the dramatic productions. Her ministry also extended to the parishes where she arranged and taught church music.

As a teacher in the local high school she thought of ways to enrich the lives of her students and to bring them to an awareness of their great country. She organized bus excursions to various parts of Brazil. The preparations for a trip were nearly insurmountable. But not so for Sister Mary Mel.

These experiences were life giving, lasting memories for the students. Sister Mary Mel was enthusiastic, optimistic and hopeful. She attempted the seemingly impossible, trusting that God would bring all to a happy ending. On one of her eight excursions, the bus caught fire and burned to the ground. Providentially the 30 students and their chaperones escaped, and their belongings were saved. Without a cell phone, Sister Mary Mel miraculously got another bus, and the group continued on their way.

An account in the book of memories of Sister Mary Mel’s most beautiful and loving experiences is the following:

The sisters went to a diocesan meeting two hours away. Because of class schedules, Sister Mary Mel was home alone. When she answered the door bell, she met a young couple with a tiny baby. She was horrified at the condition of the child, apparently very ill and in need of urgent medical care. The couple was leaving town, and the mother asked Mary Mel to take the baby since she herself was unable to care for it. Sister Mary Mel took the couple with the baby to the city hall for the legal procedure of adoption. As the secretary typed the form for the mother’s signature, he turned to Sister Mary Mel and asked, "Who will accept the responsibility for this child?" She hadn't really thought of this; in fact, that question never entered her mind. The couple was anxious to leave and there seemed no other way, so Sister Mary Mel put her own name down for this tiny sick child. And so it was.

Legally, Sister Mary Mel became the adopted mother of this beautiful baby girl, to whom she gave the name "Marilyn." When the sisters returned from the meeting and entered the house, they heard the baby crying.

For four months, baby Marilyn lived with the sisters who helped Sister Mary Mel care for her. Again there was miraculous intervention. Sister Mary Mel’s brother, Mel, knew a couple who wanted to adopt a baby girl. And so Marilyn was taken into a loving family. This wonderful child grew up. She married and became a mother and grandmother.

Tuesday I called and visited Marilyn. She and her husband Danny were saddened to hear of Sister Mary Mel’s death. Sister Mary Mel had been such a blessing to her, and she is of course mourning her loss.

The time came when Sister Mary Mel was called to return to the United States. The last few years afforded her time for leisurely activities. Her artistic talent was expressed in her study of art and in her sculpting classes. The theme of her sculptures was most often the suffering Christ. The crowning with thorns and the crucifixion, as well as her many crucifixes, were graphic images of the extreme suffering Jesus endured. Through her dedication to prayer, her daily holy hour, and especially her daily participation in the Eucharistic celebration, she was brought ever closer to Christ and found peace.

Her return to the states was probably the most challenging time in her life. Having spent nearly half of her 85 years in Brazil and having given her whole heart and energy to this ministry, she had become as it were a citizen of two countries. The heartbreak of leaving, never to return to her beloved Brazil, was very difficult. By the grace of God, she gradually came to a place of peace.

On Monday a few hours before breathing her last, Sister Mary Mel received Holy Communion which gave her the greatest joy. As St. John’s Gospel says, " The one who eats this Bread will live forever." With the presence of her sister Sharon and of Denise, Jean, and Greg, and of her Benedictine sisters, and having heard by phone her loving brothers Jerry and Mel, she went home to God during this Alleluia time of the Resurrection. Fly away, dear butterfly, fly away!