Block Island mourns the loss of Mary Donnelly
“I just hope they remember me as a good person,” Mary Donnelly said once in an interview broadcast on national news.
Of course, on Block Island Mary D. is being remembered as much more. She is regularly called an angel, a savior, a saint, an icon. When the news broke last week that Mary had passed away at 94 it was devastating for many who hoped the day would never come.
Mary D. is famous not only for her more than 50 years of nursing on Block Island but even more so around the nation for the charitable fund she started with others in the 1970s to help the people of Block Island.
She came to Block Island in 1958 with her husband, who came for work, and her young family that would grow to include seven children.
When she was 83, and not yet retired, she started to attract the attention of major news organizations.
In 2011 Mary D. was featured on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams in the “Making a Difference” segment with Ron Mott. About her work with the Mary D. Fund, established in the 1970s, Mary said: “I work with my heart instead of my hand.”
Through her work as a nurse or her work as the creator and administrator of the Mary D. Fund, Donnelly touched the lives of many. You only had to spend a few minutes with her to feel you had bonded. She was at once kind and at once a no-nonsense person. There was no shame in asking for help, no shame in the head lice she would make a house call to check for during a school vacation. There was always a twinkle in her blue eyes, never a
Perhaps no one knows more about the many good deeds of Mary D. than longtime elementary school teacher and now principal of the Block Island School, Kristine Monje, who writes:
“Many things have been said, and will be said about the great Mary D., but what is unsaid or kept to whispers is what I’d like to share. Yes, it’s true, Mary had secrets that she kept for the children of Block Island. She kept to herself the purchase of a winter coat for a new student who we said looked cold at recess, the glasses and eye exam for a child whose family couldn’t swing the costs, and the mental health counseling payments for families that needed more than we could provide as a school. The list goes on and on. She likely kept more secrets than we could possibly bear, a responsibility she carried with grace. Plus, her support of our students didn’t end on graduation day, with more
than a few college students having been graced by the support of the Mary D. Fund during their first few years out of our nest.”
“Even after her retirement, Mary D. carried on, delivering routine care that is foundational to our community health: flu shots, check-ups and check-ins, and let’s not forget the lice checks! But it was the calls to her home after hours and the quiet whispers in the hall that made her truly extraordinary. There are just two framed
portraits in our lobby at the Block Island School: one showcases Fred Benson, and the other Mary Donnelly. When I look at it, I see not only her Irish beauty, but that
unforgettable twinkle in her eye—a sparkling reminder of her goodness and selfless giving, both secret and outspoken. Mary D. was a model of generosity for so many, and her impact on our school children cannot be overstated. We are endlessly grateful.”
Mary told CBS, also in 2011, that she hates the title Saint Mary. “I’m an ordinary person that’s been gifted with this, and that...that’s pretty good.”
For decades, Mary took care of the people of Block Island, but in the past year or so it was the island’s turn to take care of her.
There will be a wake for Mary on Friday, May 20 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Saint Andrew Parish Center and a Funeral Mass on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew Church on Chapel Street.