Sister Mary Thomas celebrates 50th Jubilee with families

CHARLESTON — Sister Mary Thomas Neal, of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, spent a blessed weekend with her relatives, the sisters of her congregation and members of her church June 21-22.

“The joy of having my families together was wonderful,” she said.

The event that brought everyone together was the celebration of her 50th Jubilee, which was held at the May Forest Motherhouse on James Island.

Bishop David B. Thompson celebrated the jubilee liturgy. Sister Mary Thomas said she became close with the retired bishop of the Diocese of Charleston over the years and invited him to preside over this milestone in her life.

Born and raised in Summerville, Sister Mary Thomas was a member of St. John the Beloved Church and attended public school, she said, because there was no Catholic school at the time.

She entered the OLM community in 1958. She received a bachelor’s in English from Seton Hall University in New Jersey, a master’s in English from Winthrop University in South Carolina, and has done some post-graduate study at The Citadel.

She spent most of her religious service as a teacher and principal at schools in South Carolina and New Jersey. Sister Mary Thomas was principal at Our Lady of Mount Virgin in New Jersey when she asked to return south in 1984. She has been here ever since.

“I got tired of the cold. I decided I’d had enough of that,” she said. “Besides, I wanted to be close to my family.”

As part of the weekend celebration, one of her nieces organized a family reunion in her honor. Sister Mary Thomas said relatives from six states came together at James Island County Park on June 21.

Sister Mary Thomas is retired now and lives at the motherhouse. She  serves as the NGO liaison representative to the Sisters of Charity Federation and volunteers at Echo House. She took a three-month sabbatical to study spirituality at Mercy Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. She also took that time to evangelize to young women about religious life.

“I want to share spirituality with the laity,” she said.

Her sabbatical was followed by three weeklong workshops that provided training so she can host Enneagram retreats. Enneagram Spirituality is a study of the nine basic personality traits that can help one attain a conversion, which Sister Mary Thomas said is more than a change in religion, it is a change of heart.

She noted that Christ exhibits the positive traits of all nine types and said the goal of each person is to follow Jesus’ example.

Sister Mary Thomas hopes to hold programs on the different types of prayer within the Catholic church, such as Franciscan, Jesuit, Carmelite and Dominican.