On May 31, 2020, Sister Mary Lee Englerth died at WellSpan York Hospital in York, PA after a brief hospitalization. She was born February 4, 1937 in Harrisburg, PA, the only child of Winifred C. Gillen Englerth and Charles L. Englerth. Both have predeceased her. She graduated from Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg in 1954, and received a Bachelor of Arts in Music in 1968 from Immaculata College, Immaculata, PA. Later she completed a PhD in Music from Immaculata College.
Mary Lee entered the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from St. Patrick Cathedral Parish in Harrisburg. There she taught music at a prestigious high school in Lima, Peru. On May 31, 1970 a devastating earthquake occurred in the central mountain area of Peru killing 80,000 people. Sister Mary Lee went into the mountains with rescue groups to help. This proved a life changing experience for her, causing her to reflect on her future life.
She decided to enter the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, Inc. which she did on August 3, 1973. During a two year time of reflection she received a Master of Arts in Religious Studies at the Maryknoll School of Theology in Maryknoll, NY. She professed her Vows as a Maryknoll Sister on June 8, 1975 and returned to Peru doing Rural Health Education with women.
Medical service had called her for many years and in 1979 she went to St. Louis University where in 1981 she was certified as a Physician Assistant. Sister Mary Lee then returned to Peru for three years as staff of the Medical Administration Health Work Cooperative, part of Maryknoll’s Peru-Ecuador Region. There she was known as the “bionic woman.” Her passion to serve those most in need led her to work non-stop, tirelessly venturing out on the unpaved roads to indigenous farming communities near and far, treating health needs and training health promoters. These ministries and that commitment were the driving forces for the rest of her life. However, she never lost her love of music and at one time tutored a young man whom she felt had the potential to become a concert pianist.
She returned home to care for her mother who was living in Chambersburg in 1989. While caring for her mother, Mary decided to look for a part-time job working in health care. She learned about the work of Joanne Cochran who had recently founded Keystone Health, a health program for the poor and for migrant farmworkers working in agriculture. Mary had found her calling again. She soon became Joanne Cochran’s right hand person and agreed to be Joanne’s clinical program director. For the next several years Mary took care of her mother and continued working at Keystone Health with several mission trips to the mountains of Guatemaula.
In 2007 she became a member of the Eastern U.S. Maryknoll Region. Work in the high mountains caused her eyesight to decline and she had to stop working in the altitude of both Guatemala and Peru. She then began what became the rest of her life’s work: ministry with the migrants throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the full-time Clinical Director of Keystone Health’s Farmworker Program. Her service earned her several awards, including “The Unsung Hero Award” from the Migrant Clinicans Network, “The Living The Dream Award” from the Gettysburg YWCA, and “The Steve Shore Community Catalyst Award” from the North Carolina Community Health Center Association.
Joanne often describes Mary like this: Mary was many things: she was an animal lover; a caretaker; a strong woman of God; a wonderful musician; a lover of classical music and her favorite opera Les Miserables; a scholar; a teacher; a woman who was more comfortable sitting on the dirt floors in the migrant camps playing with the migrant kids while teaching mom and dad about their health care problems or their medications than anywhere else.
The mailman had nothing over on Mary. In spite of the fact that she walked with a cane, and had many eye surgeries for her advanced glaucoma, she never missed a day of work….rain or shine. She was notorious for driving down the back roads and dirt lanes to get to the migrant camps in rain, snow, or sleet. Mary was fearless.
Mary loved the poor and those disadvantaged. Mary was the voice of the poor in so many ways. She was a strong advocate and spoke out at the National and State levels of Government any time she was afforded an opportunity. She openly discussed the plight of the farmworkers in national and local newspapers. People were drawn to her because of her genuineness and her strong sense of mission. Though she retired from her position of Clinical Director of Keystone Health’s Agricultural Worker Program last year, Mary continued to volunteer her time, regularly accompanying Keystone staff to visit the farms and camps where the workers knew and loved her.
Mary was laid to rest earlier this week after a memorial prayer service in her honor. Joanne hopes to hold a larger memorial service for Mary later this year after COVID restrictions have been lifted.
In the words of Joanne, “What a life we have to celebrate! A life filled with LOVE and GIVING and total SELFLESSNESS. Mary is in Heaven…so we now have our very own Keystone Saint to watch over all of us and all of our patients. Who Mary was…speaks so loudly, you could not hear what she said.”