Maryellen Harmon

Maryellen Harmon, RSCJ

Birth: Feb. 6, 1924
Profession: Feb. 9, 1955
Death: June 18, 2011

Maryellen Harmon, RSCJ, educator and race relations consultant, died Saturday, June 18 at the age of 87. Sister Harmon had the heart of an educator and the mind of a researcher. She ministered in education for more than 50 years. A memorial Liturgy will be celebrated at Teresian House in Albany on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 2 p.m.

Sister Harmon was deeply committed to her vocation. Frances Tobin, RSCJ, said of her, “I knew Maryellen as a person who was not afraid to climb mountains or go down into deep valleys, realizing that she was being led by the God who was her all.”

Sister Harmon was born February 6, 1924, in Terre Haute, Indiana. Her parents were Daniel Lewis Harmon and Mary Molloy Harmon. She entered the Society of the Sacred Heart at Kenwood Convent in Albany, New York, in 1946. She made her first vows in 1948 and final vows 1955.

Sister Harmon earned her bachelor of science in Professional Chemistry with teaching minors in Mathematics, Biology and Philosophy from the University of Detroit in 1945. She received Masters Degrees in Chemistry and Mathematics from the University of Detroit in 1963 and 1967 and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts in 1976. She studied teacher education programs in eight European countries as part of a sabbatical in 1985-86.

Sister Harmon taught in various Sacred Heart Schools for 23 years, including schools in Providence, Rhode Island; Rochester, New York; Noroton, Connecticut; Greenwich, Connecticut; Grosse Pointe, Michigan and New York, New York. In 1970, she founded The Street Academy, an "alternative education center" for at-risk youth in Albany’s inner city. In Albany, she was elected to the public school board. She later served as superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Beginning in 1980, Sister Harmon turned her brilliant mind to higher education. This work included teaching leadership and education courses at Boston College, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Detroit, Madonna College in Livonia, Michigan, and Siena Heights College in Adrian, Michigan. She wrote Curriculum Guidelines for Religious Education K-12 (Viewpoint Publications) and Multicultural Education for Preservice Teachers (Madonna College Press) and numerous professional articles and papers.

Her extensive post-doctoral research earned her recognition as an expert in curriculum and assessment. She served as a consultant in race relations, curriculum and staff development, management and long-range planning and school board development. Sister Harmon advised public school districts in Springfield, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; Middletown, Connecticut; and Albany, New York. She worked with Simon and Schuster, Prentice Hall and other publishers, as well as with the National Science Foundation and the Educational Development Center, on science assessments, project reviews, and problem solving for special needs students.

Margaret Seitz, RSCJ, said of her, “For me, she is up with the ‘greats’ in Society education. She never once forgot that her knowledge was at the service of others. There is so much more to Maryellen than a listing of all the things she did. Her intelligence was keen and she brought it to bear on everything. She was kind and generous to one and all.”

Sister Harmon was a member of Alpha Sigma Nu, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Educational Research Association, and the John Dewey Society. Prayer and music were her foremost personal interests; she played organ and piano and participated in choral singing. She also enjoyed knitting and poetry. She had a keen, dry, wry sense of humor and was easily and often able to laugh at herself.

Suzanne Cooke, RSCJ, wrote of Sister Harmon, “She had a great mind AND heart. She was someone who listened with both.”

Sister Harmon was predeceased by her parents and all of her siblings. Her brothers were David Patrick Harmon and James Molloy Harmon. Her sisters were Frances Harmon Burress, Anne Harmon Hackmon and Josephine Harmon Demko. 


Submitted by Julie O'Loughli... on

Sr. MaryEllen was a great friend of mine and my family  for many years. She was a great teacher, and friend. I will always be thankful for her help during my years at Boston College, and beyond. Thank Sister! Say hello to my Mom up in heaven.
                  Julie O'Loughlin-Collins

Submitted by Marsha Whelan on

I came to know Mary Ellen in her later years when I was with the Network of Sacred Heart Schools. I never knew all of her wonderful accomplishments until this morning when I read them here. She was a gentle soul with a keen mind and huge heart. She was always willing to help you - a generous soul.; and always ready with advice and it was always good advice. My life was so enriched by knowing her.

Submitted by David Demko on

Once she was no longer cloistered, my aunt Maryellen visited our family often. One time she brought along a student from the Street Academy. While I was working on my doctorate, we liked to discuss student evaluation and the dreaded phenomenon of teaching to the test. In conversations with my son, the topic was physics. Maryellen was my boss for a school year while I established the band program at Epiphany school in Detroit, and she provided the music for my wedding. A gift from her I particularly remember was a card with "JOY: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last." Maryellen's legacy includes a unique combination of faith, kindness, professionalism, and concentration on the important things, like education.

Submitted by iherbst on

Mary Ellen Harmon was a woman small of stature but large in mind and heart.  Early on, she followed her father and specialized in the field of chemistry, but one science could not hold her.  For most of her life, she was an educator and master teacher known across the country for her expertise in her field.  Yet it would be a mistake to remember MaryEllen just as an educator, however good; she was a vowed religious whose vision and fundamental desire were those of the expansive heart of her God, Jesus Christ.  I had the good fortune to work with Mary Ellen, especially during her days on the Board of Education of the Archdiocese of Detroit.  This led to the privilege of being one of her friends.  So now asa member of the Communion of Saints., I pray she will continue to help all her knew her.   Walter Farrell, S.J.

Submitted by iherbst on

In 1982, I asked MarynEllen if she would accept the position as principal of Epiphany grade school located in the inner city of Detroit.  I had just been appointed pastor in January and I asked her to become principal the following fall.  I told her that we would be a ministry team together, serving the school, the church and the whole parish.  As I sit at my desk and remember her, what I recall is a woman filled with faith whom God had gifted with many, many talents.  Not only was she a brillant educator, but she was also a very hands-on teacher.  Mary Ellen had an indomitable spirit that believed a problem was only a problem if you defined it as such. I found her to be a woman who walked in faith with Jesus, who loved the church, who was dedicated to her community of sisters in the Sacred Heart and also found the face of Christ in everyone she met.  She was an inspiration to me in my ministry.  I treasured her friendship and her partnership in parochial ministry.   Rev. Kenneth Kaucheck