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Small in stature but big in heart and a giant in her commitment as a Franciscan Sister of the Poor, Sr. Mary Immaculate Mendoza quietly and determinedly served the poor for more than fifty-seven years. Most people who encountered “Wee Bit” or “Little Bit,” as Sr. Mary Immaculate was known affectionately, saw a woman of determination and prayer. Her faithfulness to her call to serve the poor provided an inner strength evident even during her short period of failing health before she went to God on January 9, 2016, surrounded by Sisters and Magnificat Unit staff.  

Parents Matiana Diaz and Ebidio Mendoza, migrant workers from Mexico, made their way to Pampa, Texas, where Phyllis, one of twelve children in the Mendoza family, was born on February 21, 1929. The family moved to Texico, New Mexico, where Phyllis attended elementary and high school. She studied business at the New Mexico School of Commerce and became a proficient typist, a skill she would use to help her family and share in community.

Early in her life, Phyllis felt a call to religious life but also experienced a deep sense of responsibility to assist her parents by helping financially with the large family. At age twenty-seven, she discerned that the family no longer needed her financial assistance, and so she felt free to follow her vocation under the direction of her pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Clovis, New Mexico, where she attended Mass.

After a long journey from Clovis, Phyllis Mendoza arrived at St. Clare Convent in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 8, 1958, to join other postulants preparing to become Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. The small group was invested with the habit a year later, and Phyllis received the name Sr. Mary Immaculate. She made her first profession of vows on August 25, 1961. During the period of temporary vowed, she experienced ministry at Margaret Mary Hospital in Batesville, Indiana, St. Michael Convent in Steubenville, Ohio, and in the Juniorate Program stablished in the former St. Elizabeth School of Nursing in Dayton, Ohio.

Sr. Mary Immaculate professed Perpetual Vows on August 25, 1966, and was missioned to Holy Angels Convent in Flint, Michigan, where she served seventeen years. A familiar face on the streets of Flint, Sr. Mary Immaculate became an advocate for migrant workers and the Hispanic population who arrived in Flint hoping to establish a better life for their families. She helped them receive the government assistance they were entitled to and translated legal documents for them. Sr. Mary Immaculate was often the Sister who made sandwiches for the hungry who rang the convent doorbell, and she was instrumental in creating a community garden where local residents could learn to supplement their food budget by growing and sharing homegrown vegetables. A practical woman, she stressed to the immigrants the need to learn English. She also assisted immigrants in finding appropriate family housing.

During the 1960s and 1970s she coordinated the distribution of more than 6,000 sandwiches a week through Holy Angels Convent, and also assisted people with housing, clothing, and emergency transportation needs. This ministry to Flint’s immigrant community earned her recognition in 1980 as Woman of the Year by the Beta Sigma Phi sorority.

In 1984 Sr. Mary Immaculate spent time in Brooklyn, New York, undertaking secretarial work in the Community Center. She returned to Cincinnati where she worked in the medical records department of Franciscan Terrace and where in retirement she served as the Terrace’s sacristan. She learned to use the computer by helping Sr. Arleen Bourquin retype the Letters of Mother Frances in a larger, more easily readable typeface.

A private person with a strong commitment to serving God, Sr. Mary Immaculate was willing to perform the “hidden tasks” of community living and service to the poor.  As her physical strength weakened in her last months, she participated in the daily spiritual life of the Congregation by praying the rosary and the Office and attending holy hour. Throughout her consecrated life, Sr. Mary Immaculate held a special devotion to the Blessed Mother, and various images of Our Lady adorned the walls of Sister’s room, among the images Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Mary holding the baby Jesus and a lamb.

Sister Mary Immaculate, we thank you for your great and generous service to the poor, especially to those people seeking a new life in a new culture and community. May we, like you, always welcome the stranger with a kind heart and a helpful hand.

Sr. Arleen Bourquin, SFP
January 10, 2016

The following is a testimonial from Sr. Karen J. Hartman, SFP who remembers Sister Mary Immaculate with great affection:

In loving and grateful remembrance of Sr. Mary Immaculate Mendoza, SFP  lovingly called "Wee Bit".
Sr. Mary Immaculate was a very endearing person.  She had a wit like no other and would have a "come back" for any suggestion or request you would have.
Her stature fit her slogan.  If someone offered to get something for her during the meal, especially ice cream or wine, always she would respond with "just a wee bit".  
On occasion the staff and others would have to go looking for Wee Bit.  The first stop would always be the small chapel on second floor of St. Clare Convent.  Each day she tried to join the Sisters for the recitation of the rosary after the noon time meal in the small chapel and if she was a wee bit late "I always stay to make it up" was her resolution.
Community prayer held a special blessing for Sr. Mary Immaculate.  Often she made efforts to join St. Clare Community  to pray Evening Praise in the chapel.  One could hear  Wee Bit shuffle to her place - always with a slight smile and a determined look.  
Her intention to be of service was evident many times when she would ask me if there was something that she could help me with - stuffing envelopes,  sealing letters, or whatever.  She was always delighted and responsive.  
Mary Immaculate was an example to me of a healthy wit and a strong determination to do all that she could with the energy contained in her tiny body. 

Published: March 23, 2016