sister mary john dillard csj

January 25, 1924-February 26, 2016

Gentle, diligent, smiling, kind

Helen Hayes Dillard was the daughter of John and Bellemere (Hayes) Dillard. She was born January 25, 1924, in Atlanta, Georgia.  She had two siblings, a mentally handicapped older brother, John, who spent much of his life in institutions, and a younger brother, Gardner.  Although Helen’s elementary education began in the public school, fifth grade through high school was taught by our sisters at Sacred Heart, Atlanta.  After a year at Fontbonne College in St. Louis, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in Georgia, September 15, 1943.  She received the habit and the name Sister Mary John, March 19, 1944.  Though her first year Novitiate was in Georgia, her second was in St. Louis.  (The Georgia Province was in the process of closing its Novitiate.)  Sister Teresa Maria Eagan shares: “I think…things were [simpler] in Georgia…. regulations and restrictions in St Louis were so different. But she always seemed to have a smile and made friends easily.  Those qualities seem to have followed her all her religious life.  She was a joyful person and always looking for ways to help others.”  

Fontbonne College awarded Sister Mary John a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (1954).  Her master’s in secondary education was from the College of St. Rose, Albany, New York (1963).  Beginning in 1946 she taught music at Sacred Heart, Savannah; St. Joseph, Brunswick; Mount St. Joseph (Augusta) and St. Anthony in Atlanta.  In secondary education she taught combinations of French, Latin, and English, music or religion at the following:  Mount St. Joseph (1953) and Aquinas (1958), both in Augusta; Sacred Heart Central, Indianapolis (1962); Bishop Baraga, Marquette (1967); Aquinas, Atlanta (1969); Roncalli, Indianapolis (1971) and St. Joseph, Atlanta (1974).

Sister Mary John served two years as principal/teacher at Queen of Peace Grade School, Selma, Alabama (1974 -1976).  Next was pastoral ministry at Prince of Peace Parish, Mobile; St. Joseph Hospital Center for Life, Augusta and St. Francis Xavier Parish, Brunswick.  After a year in family care she ministered as reading specialist at St. Joseph School, Marietta, Georgia (1979).   Returning to Atlanta she cared for both her mother and her brother John (1981).  A brief time at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Atlanta as religious education coordinator (1989) preceded a return to St. Louis. 

Three years in St. Louis were spent as secretary at Central Catholic Community, staff member at St. Joseph Provincial House and librarian at St. Margaret of Scotland.  (“I lived with Mary John at St. Margaret of Scotland….  She always sang the blessings of broccoli and drinking water….  She sang Irish songs and played the piano. She loved my foster kids and was very helpful.  S. Mary Jo Ritter)

Pastoral ministry at the Catholic Church of St. James, Conway, South Carolina (1993) followed.  Returning to St. Louis (1994) she served Nazareth Living Center as receptionist.  In 1996 she was Assistant Manager for Redemptorist Retirement Home, Kansas City, Missouri.  From 1988 until she retired to Nazareth Living Center in 2001, sister’s ministry varied:  receptionist for the Provincialate; driver for the Senior Ministry Office, and in-home service for CSJ Care Home Service. 

“I had her in my art class at Nazareth and she enjoyed everything we did.  She loved art and the chance to express herself.  What a darling!” -- S. Barbara Volk

I remember her ever present smile, warm southern greeting … and her very nice laugh.” -- S. Francis Rita Voivedich  

S. Pauline Oetgen, describes her good friend as “a very kind, thoughtful and happy person…. She had a smile that could light up a room….I once read, ‘A sister of St. Joseph is gentle, patient, hardworking, charitable, obedient, humble but above all, simple and Joyous.’ This in my eyes is Sister Mary John.”


Helen Oates, CSJ

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