In 1904, when Mary Louise Wholean was a student at Wellesley College, her interest in foreign mission was stirred by a talk Father James Anthony Walsh, director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Boston, gave in a neighboring parish. She spoke with him afterwards, but she did not maintain contact, resuming it only in August 1911 when she was already employed as a teacher in her hometown of Westfield, MA. She asked him if there were any way in which she could serve the cause of mission. He was quick to respond to her earnest self-offering and to invite her to Boston for an interview.
Upon meeting Fr. Walsh again, Mary Louise was surprised to learn both of the existence of his mission magazine, "The Field Afar," and of the establishment of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America on June 29 that very year. Fr. Walsh was pleased to offer her the opportunity to serve, but regretted that he could offer no assurance whatsoever that she would ever be a missionary Sister. Mary Louise was satisfied under any conditions.
On January 1, 1912, she was joined by two other women, Sara Sullivan and Mary Dwyer who were also eager to dedicate themselves to the cause of mission through Fr. Walsh's enterprise. They began with a retreat together at the Cenacle in New York City, an experience which bonded them as the pioneer women of Maryknoll. From the Cenacle, they proceeded by train to Hawthorne, New York, the temporary site for the new foreign mission seminary.
As early as March 1912, Mary Louise became ill with cancer. Although offered the option to return home, she chose to stay with the group and to contribute her services for as long as she could, and that would be to within two months of her death at the age of 35 at St. Teresa's Lodge on Sunset Hill in Ossining, NY on February 19, 1917. How deeply she was appreciated is noted in the obituary in "The Field Afar" and in the homily Fr. Walsh gave at her Mass of Christian Burial, both included in the Diary.
It was perhaps Mary Louise's instinct for history that moved her to keep a daily log. The charming wit she brought to each day's entry makes for enjoyable reading, at once informative and instructive about the early days which were anything but romantic. These women lived by faith, a faith they passed on liberally to all who followed after, and which constitutes the solid rock on which the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation is built.