A Sacred Moment


Mary Anne Callaghan Buerge

March 14, 1947 - October 8, 2018

Mary Buerge.jpg

Song of Solomon, 8:6

Set me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, relentless as the netherworld. The flash of it is a flash of fire, a flame of God himself.  Love no flood can quench, no torrents drown.  

Mary Anne Callaghan was born to Catherine and John Callaghan on March 14, 1947, at Cabrini Hospital in Seattle, the youngest of three siblings, the oldest Robert and the middle child Terry.  They lived at a small brick house at 350 N. 51st  Street in Seattle near the University District.  Bob was very taken with the family’s beautiful new baby girl and often said, “I knew a baby”! (that is, a baby like no other).   He also fondly remembers her asking him, “Bobby, you take me to Ursity Bursity way?” to get an ice cream cone at the Husky Creamery at 43rd and Brooklyn.  Bob and Terry contributed to her education by teaching her the wrong names for animals encountered on infrequent family drives.  Terry, more of a competitor, wanted at one point to be a boxer and used young Mary Anne as a sparring partner.  A photograph exists showing her, head a blur, as though being nailed by Terry’s right hook, although she later said she had successfully dodged the blow.  

Both her mother and father belonged to large extended families living in the area, and during her mother’s frequent hospitalizations, Mary Anne stayed in the home at the foot of Queen Anne Hill of her beloved aunt, Louise and her husband, Clyde Murphy, an engineer on the Great Northern Railroad.  Having no children of their own, Clyde and Louise affectionately called Mary Anne “Queenie”.  Another wonderful aunt, Rose, was married to George Stuntz, an attorney appointed to the King County Superior Court bench  by Governor Albert D.  Rosellini.  Uncle George built a cabin on land he purchased at Indianola, on the west shore of Puget Sound, reached then by vessels of the Black Ball Ferry Line.  Over time this became the site of many well-remembered week-long summer vacations with her many cousins.

Mary Anne was educated by the Everett (later Edmonds) Dominican nuns at Blessed Sacrament school, her family’s parish, and with the help of Uncle George, was able to enroll at Blanchet High School from which she graduated in 1965.  In September, inspired by the reforms of the Roman Catholic Church initiated in 1962 by the Second Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII, by the idealism and love of many Dominicans and by the writings of Dr. Tom Dooley, and of Everett Dominican Sister Jean Dorsey, O.P., in particular her book Shepherd’s Tartan (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954), she entered the novitiate at Rosary Heights Convent  north of Seattle.

It was in the novitiate that she met Francine Barber who later became a best friend.  They enjoyed one another’s company and developed an ebullient and sometimes raucous relationship defying a proscription against ‘particular friendships’.  One Wednesday, ‘sheet day’ (“every day is sheet day in the convent”), they were surprised in the laundry room by Sister Kathleen Logan, a much loved Mother Superior, who Mary Anne inadvertently knocked into a laundry pile.  Reflecting on her experience as a novice, Mary Anne allowed that she probably spent half her time prostrate on the floor, performing  venias as penance.  While Francine took final vows, Mary Anne, who recalled that God gave her no directions in response to her prayers, left the convent and became a junior at the University of Washington late in 1967, taking classes in English literature and chemistry.

To help pay tuition, she began working at Pemco Insurance in 1968 as a file clerk and became close friends with co-worker Mary Pat MacDonald, who lived in Broadmoor.  As part of their job, they often had to search files on several floors which meant they had to pass the desks of oafish male agents who shot rubber bands at their butts, an early “#MeToo” experience.  A year later they traveled in Mary Pat's new red jeepster Commando with a white convertible top to California. In conversation Mary Anne suggested Mary Pat contact a young man she often talked about, Rod McCauley, which she did and soon married.  The friendship between the two and their subsequent families continues

While finishing her degree in education, Mary Anne entered an intern program at Hazen High School in Renton, which led to work as an English and science teacher.  However, in 1969, the defeat of a school levy led to this beautiful and gifted young teacher along with many others being ‘riffed’ (reduction in force). In 1971, after working for her father, a mid-level manager at Seattle City Light, she began full time work at Forest Ridge, a Sacred Heart school administered by the RSCJ’s (Religieuses du Sacre-Coeur de Jesus), at its new location atop Somerset Hill in Bellevue, east of Lake Washington, teaching English literature, theology and science.  To be closer to the Ridge, she moved into the Oasis Apartments in old Bellevue.  In the summer of 1973, she traveled east with roommate Linda Fugitt to Montreal where she, Sister Francine and several other volunteers from Europe worked at the Benedict Labre House, serving the poor.

At its old location in the Interlaken district of Seattle, Forest Ridge was described in ambivalent detail by Mary McCarthy in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1957).  The new school was led by Mother Virgina McMonagle, a charismatic principal who brought about great change by hiring lay people in response to a decline in religious vocations among the RSCJ’s and other congregations.  Mary Anne continued to teach at the school, emphasizing social justice in her curricula, helped found the Asian Studies Department and served as Dean of Students until she resigned in 1994.

In the summer of 1974 she met David M. Buerge, and after a whirlwind romance, they were married by Benedictine father Cyril Kenna on March 8, 1975, at Blessed Sacrament Church, not many blocks from her childhood home.  She took the initiative to purchase a house in Seattle and the two began raising a family with son David John born in 1977, and daughter Catherine Emily Barat born in 1983.  To keep a parent home at all time, wife and husband shared a teaching contract for several years,  poor but happy.  While taking care of the children on his shift, her husband wrote for the Seattle Weekly and had published institutional histories and biographies beyond his responsibilities as a teacher.  Her probing mind and broad intellect helped him grasp the social subtleties of the groups about which he wrote, and her fluency in French enabled her to translate historical letters that enriched his biography of Chief Seattle, Seattle And The Town That Took His Name, published by Sasquatch Press in 2017.

Forest Ridge had been a marvelous place to teach with outstanding students, faculty and administrators, and was, in this writer’s opinion, the best secondary teaching situation in Washington.   Unfortunately new leadership caused increasing problems.  Unable to deal with a principal’s egregious mendacity, Mary Anne resigned in 1993.  Almost immediately she was recruited by Dr. Kristine Brynildson Smith to work at Holy Cross, a new Catholic high school founded by parents and dedicated faculty in Everett.  Holy Cross was another remarkable school where administrative duties had been shared by faculty, and a capable principal like Brynildson-Smith could provide the leadership necessary to nurture a learning environment that led to increased enrollment.  Again Mary Anne was asked to serve as Dean of Students, and was one of the organizers of the Matteo Ricci seminar, a year-long senior honors class whose students could earn 10 hours of college credit from Matteo Ricci College at Seattle University.  The College regarded the seminar at Holy Cross as the best among those organized at associated Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese.  In 1999, having outgrown its original home at Perpetual Help Parish school, Holy Cross built and moved into a new and larger facility in nearby Mill Creek named after Archbishop Thomas Murphy, the then head of the Seattle Archdiocese, whose family contributed generously to the school.

Sadly, in subsequent years the school was plagued with difficulties as it focused on developing a football team (earning it the unfortunate reputation as a ‘football academy’).  Again, the idealism and devotion of the earlier school was eroded by conflict between the school’s board, new administrators and increasingly dispirited faculty.  In 2015, confronting  administrators of astonishing ineptness who gutted the Matteo Ricci program and stymied her efforts to defend the curricula she had labored 20 years to develop, Mary Anne once again saw no option but to resign.  The young woman of marked intellect and ability, whose idealism had been inspired by the Second Vatican Council and Dominican religious, an outstanding teacher who earned the praise of public, archdiocesan and university colleagues and administrators and the love and respect of generations of students, watched her life work undercut and denigrated, as though realizing the caustic maxim ‘The worst thing one can do in a Catholic School is a good job’.

But she had nurtured friendships with many religious and lay co-workers in all the schools and in the cause of social justice for which she had fought and taught.   Suffering depression much of her adult life, she was plagued by feelings of failure and rejection.  Nevertheless, as always, she put the needs of others before her own and celebrated the lives of her children, family and friends.  Despite a tight family budget, she made it possible for her son and daughter to receive excellent Catholic elementary, secondary and university educations.   To celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, the couple renewed their wedding vows  with Father John Foster, S.J, and friends who shared a convivial dinner she organized at a local venue.

Mary Anne was a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union and faithfully supported The Southern Poverty Law Center, Father Wasson’s Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (where Sister McMonagle served in her later years), Bread For The World, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International and a host of other organizations dedicated to social justice.  She was a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders long before he ran for the presidency.  Like her family and brothers, she was blessed with a wonderful and sharply ironic sense of humor and was generous to a fault, always seeing that those who served her in restaurants, hotels and motels received substantial tips.  She put her money where her mouth was, and her husband’s, too, since he was often the only one carrying cash, directing him to give generously to those she encountered that circumstance forced to beg.

When David John married Yuko Kasai in 2000, in a service Mary Anne helped organize at St. Catherine’s Church, she also organized the reception at the Plateau Club near Issaquah, and a wonderful Argosy dinner cruise on Puget Sound for them and Yuko’s parents who had come from Japan.  When David John finished at University, he made use of degrees in Economics and Japanese to advance in companies and firms that eventually took the couple to Japan and Hong Kong where he prospered.  When her brother Terry remarried in 2003, Mary Anne helped arrange the Mass in the beautiful St. Ignatius Chapel on the Seattle University campus and a bridal luncheon at Salty’s at Alki in West Seattle.  She also helped organized the Mass and reception for the marriage of Katie and Michael Troiovsky in 2013 celebrated again at the St. Ignatius Chapel, at Katie’s Alma Mater. To express her love for her brothers, she organized a marvelous banquet to celebrate Bob’s 80th and Terry’s 75th birthday in August, 2015, inviting relatives and friends to Anthony’s Restaurant on Shilshole Bay.  In all of these her careful planning and tactful efforts resulted in gatherings during which all felt welcome, delighted and enriched

Her deep love of family and friends, and her success in bringing people of often dispirate backgrounds  together at meetings and retreats in joy and celebration, the cards and gifts she regularly sent to relatives and friends for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and childrens’ baptisms earned her the title her husband dreamed up, ‘the field marshal of festivities’.  In a return gesture of familial devotion, David John and Yuko invited his parents and Katie and Mike to a beautifully planned ten-day visit to Japan during cherry blossom time, that realized a life-long wish of Mary Anne’ to spend time in a mountain ryokan.

When Katie and Mike were expecting their first child in 2015, they lived in an apartment in Lake City where nighttime was often punctuated by gunfire.  To provide the young family a better setting Mary Anne searched out and purchased a magnificent duplex on nearly ½ acre of land with a small pond complete with resident frogs and surrounded by forest near Everett.  Her plan was that grandma and grandpa would take care of the children while the couple was away working.  The plan worked very well until the winter of 2017-8 when she grew progressively weaker.  In April she was taken to the emergency room at Providence Hospital with severe anemia.   Her personal physician, Dr. Genevieve Pagalilauan and doctors at the University of Washington hospital diagnosed her with NASH, non-alcoholic liver disease.  She was given three to six months to live, although a liver specialist said he thought she might survive a year.  But this was not to be.  

NASH is a horrible disease, and her painful, harrowing decline, gradual at first, accelerated dreadfully toward the end.  However, the outpouring of love and support from her family and the friends who cherished her at Forest Ridge and Archbishop Murphy High School surprised her.  Even more remarkable were the scores of students who remembered her and showered her with emails and letters proclaiming her as the best and most compassionate teacher they had ever had, treasuring her guidance and inspiration, her wonderful sense of fun, and testifying to their great love for her.  Her family and relatives surrounded her with love.  Colleagues and students visited her, to be with their beloved friend and teacher one more time.  Toward the end, she demonstrated her remarkable ability to be gracious and put the best face on an appalling situation.  A week before she died, when she could barely make sounds, a Hospice nurse stood in the doorway of her room and introduced herself.  Summoning all her strength in a cheery and perfectly articulated voice she said, “I am so glad to meet you!” and when the nurse asked her how she was, she responded gamely, “Oh, not too bad.”

In her last days, the disease took away her ability to eat, drink and speak.  As her husband tried to moisten her mouth with a toothette, she desperately squeezed the moisture from it with her lips.  At last, on October 8, he laid beside her and gently scolder her, asking where he would find someone who was so much fun and so wonderful to be with and talk to.  Then he noticed she was not breathing.  He had been warned by the visiting nurse to expect episodes of apnea, when the patient stops breathing then resumes with deep breaths.  Although she was still warm, there were no further breaths.  At 6:00 PM, October 8, 2018, she became those who loved and admired her.

Mary Anne is survived by her husband, David Michael, her son David John, her daughter, Katie Em, grandchildren Beatrice and, soon to appear, Cannon, and her older brothers Robert and Terry.

Her life will be celebrated in a Mass at St. Catherine's Church, 814 NE 85th Street, Seattle, WA, at 3:00 PM, December 27, followed by a reception in Victoria Hall adjacent to the church.

Though I am old with wandering, Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done

The silver apples of the moon,, The golden apples of the sun.  

             W.B. Yeats, 1891



A Mass will be held at 3:00 PM, December 27, 2018

St. Catherine's Church 814 NE 8th, Seattle, WA 98115

A reception following in Victoria Hall, adjacent to the church

See the map below.



Char BarrettB2 Comments