Sister Mary Ann Potenza, longtime teacher, principal and volunteer, dies at 89

Sister Mary Ann Potenza, 89, a long-time member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, a former teacher and school principal, and a popular volunteer companion to hospital patients in need, died Friday, January 7, of heart disease in Assisi. Abbey Retirement House in Aston.

Sister Mary Ann was a member of the Parish of St. Francis for 69 years, and was a guide, teacher, and administrator of the Diocese of Philadelphia for 52 years. Using an approach focused on personal contact and attention as well as academics, she has taught computer science and math honors to elementary and middle school students at Our Lady of Consolation and All Saints in Philadelphia and St. Stanislaus’ School in Lansdale.

She was a natural leader and organizer and served as school principal for 17 years at St. Bonaventure’s School in Philadelphia, St. Ignatius’s School in Yardley, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Minersville, Pennsylvania, part of the Diocese of Allentown. She has also taught in the Diocese of Baltimore and the Diocese of Wilmington.

Sister Mary Ann later said of the satisfaction she had in the many classes she supervised, “I loved children. … [Teaching] It taught me to be willing to give it to my community. When the changes came, I was ready.”

Sister Mary Anne’s niece, Marianne Loftus, said young students in particular were drawn to her aunt because of her optimism and open-mindedness. “It was the life of the party,” Loftus said. “She was never sad when she was around. She always had something nice to say. Everyone knew her, and she knew everyone.”

Later, Sister Mary Ann volunteered for two decades at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Langhorne in the Nobody Dies Alone program that provides bedside escorts for terminally ill hospital patients who do not have family or friends available. Her enthusiasm and cheerfulness affected the others there, too.

“She was able to see the humor in everyday events and was often smiling at her hospital colleagues,” Sister Patricia Helen Warman wrote in tribute. A fellow volunteer wrote: “Sister Mary Ann knew what to say and when and how to say it, or just hold your hand.”

Born April 10, 1932, Sister Mary Ann grew up in Philadelphia with sisters Genevieve and Virginia, and brother Louis. She was a member of the Parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, and graduated from John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School. She received her BA in English and Education from Mount Saint Mary’s College in Maryland and made her first vows in 1953.

“I am grateful to the sisters in my community for what we share as sister to sister and to our past and present days together.”

Sister Mary Ann

She’s been a fan of Phillies her whole life, and she liked to say that two of her first words as a child were “Fightin’ Phillies.” She was a good listener, and made her own greeting cards decorated with hand-drawn flowers.

Sister Mary Ann has been known to spontaneously form prayer groups anywhere to comfort those she has faced in pain and has been particularly sensitive to people who have lost loved ones. She moved to Assisi House in 2016.

In a tribute, a fellow at St. Mary’s Medical Center wrote that Sister Mary Ann was “a true friend, companion, and someone who has guided me on my spiritual journey.” Her niece said, “I left the legacy of a great woman.”

In addition to her niece and niece Genevieve, Sister Mary Ann is survived by other relatives. Her other brother and sister died earlier.

Services were Thursday, January 13th.

Donations in her name may be made to the Foundation for Sisters of Saint Francis, 609 S. Convent Rd. , Aston, Pa.19014.

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