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Biography of Mary Justine Sabourin, RSM

Sister Mary Justine Sabourin will be remembered as a leader, educator, researcher, writer and scholar, a mainstay, of the Sisters of Mercy Detroit and Michigan communities. She served as a Sister of Mercy for 85 years.

Sister Mary Justine was 101 years old when she reminisced, "Celebrating 85 years of religious life has been a delight for me. My life has been full with 85 years of loving God, the Sisters and those to whom I ministered. At 101 years old, I now spend my time praying for everyone and thanking God for all the graces of my life. There is a special place in my heart for my family, my Sisters, and all those whom I have known and cherished."

Sr. Sabourin was born in Alpena Township (Millersburg), Michigan on October 28, 1910 and baptized Winifred Anne Sabourin. After graduating from St. Andrew's High School in Saginaw, MI she joined the Sisters of Mercy in Grand Rapids on August 28, 1927. Her perpetual vows were made at Mt. Mercy Motherhouse on August 15, 1933. Sister Mary Justine earned her bachelor's degree at Columbia College, Dubuque, Iowa in 1938 and her master's degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1945. A doctor of philosophy from the University of Michigan was attained in 1964.

Her early years of ministry were spent teaching in high schools in Michigan and Iowa. In September of 1941 she was named Dean of Students at the newly founded Mercy College of Detroit. Sr. Mary Justine's first impressions of Mercy College of Detroit, as she arrived on August 6, 1941, are described in her book, Risk & Hope: An Early History of Mercy College of Detroit: "My first view of the College was a sea of black mud crisscrossed here and there by tracks of heavy machinery. Practically in the center was a very plain, cream-colored block building of five stories .... As we opened the door, I gazed with consternation at the marble stacked on the lobby floor. Beyond the foyer I could see the unfinished Chapel; to the left, unfinished offices. Workmen were jostling each other trying to meet the September 1 deadline. I turned to Sister Patricia and asked, 'Did you say we are opening our doors to college students on Sept. 1?' 'No,' replied Sister Patricia, apparently unalarmed, "I did not say it. Mother Carmelita said it and I believe her. The residence halls are ready for 60 young ladies; the cafeteria is set up for meals; the classrooms are ready; the faculty have been interviewed and are ready to teach; administration is complete now that we are here. We're ready to begin tomorrow." Mercy College of Detroit's first building was ready on August 26, six days ahead of schedule. She continued, "No one had told the first dean that one of her functions prior to the opening of the school would be to scrub and wax the sanctuary floor on her hands and knees and to decorate the mail altar with a profusion of red roses."1 Dr. Antoine Garibaldi related this story in his inaugural address on April 14, 2012. This story exemplifies the spirit of Sister Mary Justine Sabourin.

Appointed by the General Council of the Sisters of Mercy to serve as the Mother Provincial of the Detroit Province from 1961 to 1967, she was a consummate educator and an advocate in the field, assuring that every sister was given an opportunity to earn an advanced degree. Having earned her doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan in aesthetic response of students to architecture, she was uniquely qualified to bear the major responsibility for the design and construction of buildings on the Farmington Hills property including Mercy Center, the Provincial Administration Building and Mercy High School. During her tenure the expansion of the Detroit Province extended not only to buildings and fields but in outreach to an entire community of Argentine Sisters of Mercy.

In keeping with her lifelong interest in research and creative writing Sr. Mary Justine researched the chronology of the Sisters of Mercy in the United States of America. This research resulted in four books:

Sister Mary Justine was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Detroit Mercy on May 11, 2002. Visit the Libraries/IDS University Honors Special Collection on the ReSearch Portal. At the presentation/Commencement ceremony, Sister Maureen A. Fay O.P. stated "You have personified and advanced the charisms, ministry and legacy of the Sisters of Mercy through your service and your work. The University community is particularly grateful for your varied and distinguished contributions to our history, our present and our future vision."

Sister Mary Justine died on June 13, 2012. She is fondly remembered in her obituary "as a gracious lady, a scholar and leader. Her many gifts were generously shared with her religious community, her students and colleagues. She'll be remembered as a deeply prayerful woman who relied on God's loving wisdom as she carried out her responsibilities."

1.(Risk & Hope: An Early History of Mercy College of Detroit, Mary Justine Sabourin, RSM, 1999, pp.12-13)

Sally Young, Administrative Assistant
Office of the Dean
University Libraries/Instructional Design Studio

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