We Say Goodbye to Sr. Mary Neill, OP
Sister Mary Neill (also known as Sr. Matthias), a Dominican Sister of San Rafael for 70 years, died peacefully on March 15, 2022. Awesomely intelligent and thought-provoking, Sr. Mary led an active and colorful life bringing her mix of fun with a dose of controversy to any gathering. A keenly introspective extrovert, Sr. Mary was an accomplished and sought-after author, teacher, and spiritual director who liked to shake things up, and as such, has left us just a few months shy of her 70th Jubilee celebration.
One of two daughters, Mary Alice Neill was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1933 to Texas natives Edith and Edward Neill, into what she described as an old Texas pioneer family. Her grandfather Lt. Col. James C. Neill was a Commander at The Alamo. Her family moved around a lot, and Sr. Mary would spend her formative school-age years in Texas, Los Angeles (where she made an influential acquaintance in Sr. Francis Joseph—a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet), and ultimately Stockton, where she first encountered the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. There she attended St. Agnes for a time and continued on to St. Mary’s High School, graduating in the class of 1950.
Those years at St. Mary’s and the precious time spent with her beloved English and Theology teacher, Sr. David Barry, OP would lay a rich foundation for her life’s trajectory. Sr. Mary often noted that her degree and career in theology and writing grew from a seed Sr. David planted in her—from a love of language and of God that poured from her. Sr. Mary got to know the Dominican Sisters and visit the convent through Sr. David’s gentle guidance. Upon her high school graduation, Sr. Mary entered the order and went on to earn a BA in social science and then an MA in theology from Dominican College. She then went on to earn a doctorate in religious studies from the University of Strasbourg in France.
Upon her return to the states, Sr. Mary briefly joined the faculty at Dominican College while also teaching part-time at the University of San Francisco. She ultimately taught full-time at USF for 25 years offering classes in spirituality, religion, psychology, and comparative religion and earning a Distinguished Teaching Award in 1981. Sr. Mary has given countless workshops in journal keeping, dream work, and spirituality—workshops that took her to Canada, Hawaii, Switzerland, India, and many communities throughout the United States. She has given numerous retreats and has served the congregation by facilitating days of spiritual reflection.
In her journaling workshops, Sr. Mary taught the importance of being real and authentic and being fully present and in the moment. As busy as her calendar would keep her through her various ministries, she never let an opportunity to savor the moment pass her by. She once said, “Looking back I am astounded at the strange twists and turns my life has taken up to the plentitude that is this moment—but isn’t the unexpected and unusual the sign of the real and of God’s grace?” Sr. Mary lived fully and, in the moment, ever grateful for the blessings bestowed upon her. Upon entering the novitiate, she committed to give the best of herself to the God she would meet in religious life, and in living up to that commitment she has inspired others to live fully and with gratitude.
Sr. Mary is predeceased by her sister Peggy Powell (Bill) and nephews Pete Powell and Bobby Powell. She is survived by her niece Pam Becker, grand-niece Rhonda Salvatore (Rick), and grand-nephews Mike Elder (Nicole) and Tim Elder (Michele); and by her Dominican Sisters.
There will be a Vigil Service held in the Dominican Sisters Gathering Space (1520 Grand Avenue, San Rafael) at 7 pm on Monday, March 21, 2022. A Mass of the Resurrection will take place on Tuesday, March 22 at 10:00 am in the Dominican Sisters Gathering Space. Due to precautions for COVID-19, attendance is limited and vaccination and masks are preferred. For those who wish to attend the Funeral Mass virtually via Zoom, please register online to receive the Zoom information. Following the Funeral Mass, Sister Mary Neill will be buried in St. Dominic’s Cemetery in Benicia.
Memorial gifts in honor of Sister Mary Neill may be made to the Retirement Fund, Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, Advancement Office, 1520 Grand Avenue, San Rafael, CA 94901.
St. Angela School, Pacific Grove 1955-1956 (5th/6th Grade)
St. Mary’s High School, Stockton, CA 1956-1962 (History, Latin, English)
Bishop Manogue High School, Reno 1961-1966 (History, Latin, English)
St. Vincent Ferrer High School, Vallejo 1967-1969 (History, Latin, English)
St. Mary’s High School, Stockton 1969-1970 (vice principal)
Dominican College, San Rafael 1972-1974 (Religious Studies)
University of San Francisco 1972-2001 (Theology)
Retreat and Workshop Facilitator Ministry
Spiritual Direction Ministry