Bishop to celebrate funeral Mass for Mary Jane McNamara, iconic Tyler historian

TYLER – Bishop Joseph E. Strickland will celebrate Mass of Christian Burial for Mary Jane McNamara July 24 at 10 a.m. in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Rosary and visitation will be July 23 at 6 p.m. at Burks Walker Tippit Funeral Home in Tyler.

McNamara died July 16 after a battle with cancer. She was 91.

McNamara was an institution in both the Cathedral parish, to which she had belonged since 1931, and in Tyler. She served generations as a librarian at Carnegie Public Library (1942-1970) and Tyler Junior College (1970-1992). She also was active in the Smith County Historical Society, and at times was the Smith County Historical Society. It was often said of her that what she didn’t know about Tyler and Smith County history wasn’t worth knowing.

She was a member of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas Court Mary A. Drake, #1288, for more than 70 years, and was District Deputy for more than 20 years. She also was a longtime member of the Altar Society and held several offices in the organization. She was active in the Tyler Council of Church Women, an ecumenical organization devoted to improving the lives of those in the local community, especially the poor, and was on the board of Habitat for Humanity. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

She also spent several years in the 1990s working in the diocesan resource library in the chancery.

“The passing of Mary Jane McNamara is truly an historic loss for Tyler,” said Bishop Strickland. “Certainly because of the wonderful woman she was, but also because she was a living library of Tyler history.  She was a font of information that will be sorely missed.  The fact that she not only knew Tyler but that she truly loved Tyler makes her death a very personal loss for many of us who also love this Rose City.”

“I have been blessed to know Mary Jane McNamara since I first arrived in Tyler,” the bishop said.  “I remember her care for her mother and her wonderful engagement in the Cathedral community before and after her mother’s death.

“Mary Jane was truly delightful with a wry sense of humor and an encyclopedic knowledge of Tyler and especially Catholic Tyler.  She possessed a wealth of knowledge about this community and brought a wonderful faith perspective to all the information she possessed.  I will miss her presence at the Cathedral, and we will all miss her kind and caring participation in so many facets of the life of this community.

“May she rest in the tender peace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Bishop Strickland said.

McNamara was born Feb. 1, 1924, in Corsicana to Patrick Joseph and Jane Lucille Taylor McNamara. Patrick worked in the oilfields, and it was that work that brought him, as it did so many others, to Texas, where he met and married Jane. The couple had two children – John and Mary Jane.

The McNamaras followed the oil boom to Tyler in 1931 and joined Immaculate Conception Parish, then a mostly working-class and heavily immigrant church whose parishioners were predominantly Irish and Lebanese.

In a 1997 profile in Catholic East Texas, McNamara recalled those early days of Catholicism.

“We were quite second-class citizens in those early days,” she recalled. “(Established Tyler society was) thrilled to death with our money, because we came here with the oil boom, but they despised us because we were not local people and we were Catholic, and how could anybody be a Catholic? We were suspicious, gullible fools to believe all that stuff.

“In that day and time, for example, and until after World War II, there were no Catholics hired to teach in public schools in Tyler. And the teachers were often hostile and belittling. We really had to do a lot of defending (of the faith) in those days. It just wasn’t the way to advance socially or economically.”

McNamara’s family was among those who sacrificed, scrimped, and saved to help build a new church in the middle of the Great Depression.

By the 1930s, the parish had outgrown the small wooden church on Locust Street, and Father Sebastian Samperi, then pastor, led his congregation through the construction of a beautiful new church on the corner of Front and Broadway. That church still stands today as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

“People who didn’t live at that time and don’t know what that meant to us, I think, may not understand that it is more important to us than our own houses,” McNamara said in that 1997 profile. “That church was the culmination of everything we wanted.”

For many of the people who scraped and sacrificed to see it built, the new church was an oasis of beauty in lives often marked by deprivation.

“Many of us rented and moved from place to place to find a better or more advantageous place,” she recalled. “This was a parish of people who were working-class – of course, there were professionals, people with a little money – but most of us were working class, many were immigrant, poor, desperately striving, and (the new church) was the most beautiful thing in our lives. It was truly beautiful, and it was something everyone could see and nobody could belittle.

“In the old Latin Mass, at the washing of the hands, the words were, ‘I will wash my hands among the innocent and will encompass thine altar, O God. I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of thy house and the place where thy glory dwells.’ And that was the church to us.”

McNamara graduated from Tyler Junior College in 1942 and went to work in the Tyler public library, then called Carnegie Public Library. That building now houses the Smith County Historical Society. After 28 years there, she went to work at Tyler Junior College. After her retirement from TJC, she worked part-time in the diocesan resource library.

Her library work allowed her to combine her two loves – books and people.

“I love people,” she said in the CET profile. “I enjoy them enormously, I always have. My mother always said I was like my father, and that he would talk to a post if there were any prospect of it answering him. So library work was marvelous. There were people to talk to and wait on and things to learn constantly.

“Everything in the library is so marvelous,” she said. “Other people’s questions open something to you, and you think, ‘Grand!’ And, you know, the printed word is addictive, there’s no doubt about it. You can’t even look up something in the encyclopedia or try to find something for someone in a magazine without looking at something else and saying, ‘Ooh, I’ll have to read that later.’ So you learn.”

Her work for the diocese gave her a chance to give back to the church that meant so much to her.

“This is such a wonderful place to be able to offer a gift of service,” she said of her work in the resource library. “I’m happy to do it. And I think that when the Lord lets you stay so well, it would be terribly selfish and churlish to say no when people ask for your help and talent. What an ugly thing to do!

“I never did want to go off and be a missionary,” she said. “I never did want to be a nun. But I’m glad to give to the church. I’ll never have big money to give, but I can do this. And maybe God will excuse my shortcomings if I work hard enough.”

Her devotion to history and to her faith, she said, was instilled in her by her father and Father Michael Collins, one of the many priests who served Immaculate Conception Parish in her lifetime.

“I guess I come by that through inheritance,” she said, “from my father and, after he was dead, what my mother had heard from him and his father, talking about history and the importance of history and how it shapes our lives today, how it gives you a sense of your background and your obloigations.

“What my father always said and what Father Collins would say was, ‘too many have suffered and died for you to have this faith. Don’t, don’t be a disgrace.’ So you felt that you had to know that background of what had gone before.”

McNamara never married, but is survived by members of her extended family.

In June, the Smith County Historical Society created an internship in her name.

One comment

  1. Thank you, Susan, for such a lovely article recapping Mary Jane’s life – I did not ever meet her, but this certainly makes me wish I had. Her life will remain a gift to our Cathedral Parish and the Tyler community, even for those of us who only met her in her passing to eternal life. May she rest in peace!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »