Religious sister reflects on love for Mary

By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead, The Western Kentucky Catholic

When Sr. Bellarmine Ezumah, DMMM, learned that Pope Francis had established a new memorial honoring the title of Mary, Mother of the Church, “I was excited about it,” she said.

Sr. Bellarmine Ezumah, DMMM, sits beside a statue of Our Lady of Mercy outside St. Leo Parish in Murray. Photo by Elizabeth Wong Barnstead/WKC.

Sr. Ezumah is an associate professor and director of the graduate program in the journalism and mass communications department at Murray State University.

She also belongs to the religious order of Daughters of Mary, Mother of Mercy, based out of Nigeria.

Sr. Ezumah was referring to the pope’s March 3, 2018 decree that the universal Church would celebrate Mary in her role as “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church” every year on the Monday after Pentecost.

This year, the day will fall on May 21.

This memorial has been added to the General Roman Calendar, the Roman Missal, and the Liturgy of the Hours. Mass-goers that day will hear relevant prayers and readings during the liturgy.

While the memorial is new, the concept is not. The term has been used for centuries, and the “Mother of the Church” title was formally given to Mary by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council in 1964.

Sr. Ezumah has a strong devotion to Our Lady, which she credits to her congregation and to her own parents, who raised their children in the Catholic faith.

“Our life as Daughters of Mary, Mother of Mercy, is interwoven in Mary’s virtue,” Sr. Ezumah told the WKC in an April 5 interview. “And we look up to her as our model.”

First thing in the morning, her congregation sings the “Salve Mater,” which in English begins with “Hail, Mother of Mercy, Mother of God…”

“When you wake up in the morning, you don’t say a word until you have recited that,” she said. “So that’s how we, if you will, break our day.”

At the end of the day, during night prayer, the sisters sing the “Salve Regina,” or its English version, “Hail, Holy Queen.”

Her congregation’s habits are pale blue – traditionally a Marian color – and have seven buttons down the front.

“They are not just for decoration,” said Sr. Ezumah of the buttons. “They represent the Seven Sorrows of Mary.”

The sisters strive to “live out the mercy of God – and emulate Mary, mother of mercy” in their community and in their apostolates. 

“I consider my work at Murray State not just as a job; I see that as an apostolate,” said Sr. Ezumah. “Because that’s how I live out my life as a Daughter of Mary, Mother of Mercy.”

That includes for example, maybe extending her office hours for students who have legitimate reasons for not coming within her time frame, as well as having compassion for students going through personal difficulties, like illness or family problems.

“I view my students holistically, not just as a student who’s supposed to come to class, do my assignments and go,” she said.

Like her sisters who are nurses or medical doctors, “these are fields that require compassion; we go above and beyond.”

Sr. Ezumah said that in seeing Mary as her model, she sometimes asks herself, “What would Mary do?”

Citing the Wedding at Cana, “Mary saw there was a need for the people,” said Sr. Ezumah. “They had no wine. She didn’t say, well, that’s not my problem, they should have counted their RSVPs and bought enough wine! However, she saw that and felt that love of mercy for them. She moved on and requested that Jesus help them.”

She said she once heard in a homily that in many artistic depictions of Mary, she is pointing at Jesus, as if to say, “It’s not about me. It’s about him.”

“So even in the title, Mary, Mother of Christ, or Mary, Mother of the Church, it is all about Jesus, and her role in that mission of salvation,” said Sr. Ezumah.

Sr. Ezumah reflected on the significance of Mary’s motherhood being celebrated the day after Pentecost, which is considered the day the Church was born.

“A newborn needs a mother to nurture him, to provide and guide and all of that,” she said.

Sr. Ezumah pointed out that this decree “shows also the Holy Father’s devotion to Mary,” and that “it will help also in the spreading of the Gospel.”

“And it will definitely increase devotion to Mary,” she said.

(This story originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.)