The Circles of Mary Sullivan, r.c.

I’ve been knitting another child’s hat for the Carol’s Coats project for next Christmas. As I dug around in my metal tin of knitting supplies—needles, markers, crochet hooks, small scissors, cable stitch holders, a tangerine-sized magnifier, pom-pom makers—looking for something, my eyes fastened on a small red plastic item, the size of a silver dollar, that I’d completely forgotten about. My heart paused a beat as a floodgate of memories spilled open.IMG_20160307_134555303_HDR

I stared at the knitting row-counter that Sister Mary Sullivan gave me years ago. Attached to the  circular gadget was a memory that rose powerfully into my mind. I slid back in time to sit in a circle of ten women at The Cenacle, Mary’s religious home on Long Island, NY. Other Cenacle sisters as well as parish women sat in our group as Mary gave instructions about knitting a pretty lacy pattern. I had traveled from VA to visit my nearby family and attend Mary’s workshop.

Mary gave us knitting needles, a ball of yarn, typed instructions, and a row counter. When she finished her lesson, we began to silently knit. Then someone asked a question. Another woman quietly answered. More silence followed. Then a woman shared a knitting tip that I do not recall, yet today clearly hear her kind sharing.

We knit for about an hour in this silence which had transformed into sacrosanct for me, interspersed with periodic comments, questions, and wise women sharing their knitting wisdom. I soon felt embraced in a timeless activity: creating something useful with my hands amid peers in a sacred circle.

As I write about this treasured time with Mary, I’m reminded of Lisa Shirah-Hiers’ Opening Remarks at the Story Circle Network National Conference in 2010:

The circle is feminine. Women understand it on a very deep level. We gather, we encircle the one who is crying, the one who is ill, or giving birth, or dying. We understand the power of the circle, of coming together, the wisdom of sharing, the necessity of connection, the strength in softness, in curves, in arches, in roundness. That deep, unconscious archetype is part of our feminine heritage, our collective memory. It is the source of our unique strength.

By the end of the afternoon, I left feeling rich connections with the women I’d met for the first time. I also felt deep gratitude to Mary for her gift to us: the creation of a mystical circle where we could experience the ancient custom of women gathering.

Mary completed her circle of life in 2011. A long time member of my Story Circle Network online writing circle, as well as facilitator of her own writing circle, Mary generously shared personal stories that let us know the real, the delightful, the complex, and the very human woman who resided for five decades in simple religious garb.

Mary always signed her emails this way: love you, dear one – me, r.c.

Today I’m feeling so grateful to the little stitch-counter that re-opened such a sweet memory. Love you, too, Mary Sullivan, r.c.

2008-11-26 11.34.31 (2)


About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me to a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I found so many opportunities to grow: 10 year facilitator for an online writing circle of women writers across the country; thirteen year editor of the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal; a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site; program chair for two Stories from the Heart national conferences in Austin, T. Presently I'm teaching Women's Life-Writing and Older Women's Legacy workshops in my part of the world in Central Virginia and facilitating the ongoing Circle of Memories Writing Circle (formerly an OWL workshop that continued on) at the Crozet Public Library. I am blessed with three wonderful children, a son and two daughters; a small, huge-hearted family; dear friends; my beagle Addie and cat Button. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. All these years later, I'm scheduled to publish my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life, in 2018.
This entry was posted in Aging, Community, Compassion, Friendship, Gifts, Gratitude, Knitting, Mystery, Peacefulness, Simplicity. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Circles of Mary Sullivan, r.c.

  1. Mary Jo, THANK YOU! Your memory jogger is rippling outward – bringing my own memories of Sister Mary Sullivan to the surface. My gratitude to Sister Mary is immense. She was part of the SCN poetry circle when I joined it (I soon began leading it). Her participation through the years was an integrative thread that held the circle together, and she is sorely missed still. She could shed loving light on what had seemed unloveable moments before. She helped me become an effective circle facilitator. Such joy to see her smiling at me from your blog! I never got to meet her in person, but you’ve taken me right into that circle of knitters and I feel closer to Sister Mary. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      I thought it was Circle 4 that Mary had led until she began to fail, but wasn’t sure enough to state it here. So thanks for confirming that for me, Jazz, and, as always, thanks for your visit. Mary always wanted to attend the SCN Conference in Austin, but it didn’t work out. Will you be there this year?


  2. gwynnrogers says:

    Lovely sentiments Mary Jo! I too am a knitter so I love hearing others tales. Thank you.


    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      It sounds like you’re really up to your ears at the moment with everything. Do you have a knitting project at the moment? I’d love to see a photo, if so. Thanks for visiting, Gwen!


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