Mary B. McDonough, 84, hospice nurse and dedicated family caregiver

Mary B. McDonough enjoying some boating on Lake Otsego in Cooperstown, N.Y. The photo was taken in the late 1980s.

Camera icon Courtesy of the family
Mary B. McDonough enjoying boating on Lake Otsego in Cooperstown, N.Y. The photo was taken in the late 1980s.

Mary B. McDonough, 84, of Glenside, a retired hospice nurse and mother of eight whose boundless energy and devout Catholic faith fueled her role as a caregiver, died at her home Tuesday, Sept. 5, of complications from an infection.

“She was a force of nature,” said her son William J. McDonough. “She didn’t just talk, she acted. She was a caretaker her entire life, first for her children, then for my grandfather, who lived with us and whom she cared for in his dying years.

“My father had a debilitating stroke in 1998, and my mother cared for him for 12 years. She was a warm, caring, selfless person.”

Mrs. McDonough was born in Philadelphia to John and Mary Burns, and reared in Wyncote. She graduated from Melrose Academy, and then Georgetown University, from which she earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1955. While there, she met and married Michael T. McDonough, a cardiologist.

After college, Mrs. McDonough began her career as a staff nurse at Providence and Georgetown Hospitals in Washington, and later at Temple University, once the couple moved to the Philadelphia area.

She and her husband had eight children, whom they reared in Glenside. When he fell ill with the stroke, Mrs. McDonough was determined to make life as normal as possible. “The dedication she showed was amazing. He stayed in the family home, and she got a van outfitted for a wheelchair and took him everywhere,” their son said.

Her husband died in 2010 at age 82, following a 54-year marriage.

In 1983, while also caring for her children, Mrs. McDonough had earned a master’s degree in pastoral counseling from La Salle University. She used her training as a hospice nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital.

It was during the 1980s, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was killing raging, that she found her professional calling – supporting and treating AIDS patients and their families. The work entwined her faith with her skills as an end-of-life caregiver.

He son recalled dinner-table conversation about a new “cancer” that she was seeing at work. It was striking mostly gay men in Philadelphia. The “cancer” turned out to be AIDS, and at that time, it carried a social stigma. “She didn’t shy away from these marginalized patients. She treated them as human beings. She was fearless,” her son said.

She established one of the hospital’s first support groups for those who were ill and their families, and even continued to lead the support group after her retirement from Pennsylvania Hospital in 1993.

A longtime resident of Glenside, Mrs. McDonough was a tireless civic volunteer. She was an active member of St. Luke the Evangelist Church on Fairhill Avenue. She served on the Parish Council, ran a yearly blood drive, and helped devise a program in which Catholic children whose schools didn’t offer art, music, and gym were given time to enjoy those activities at a nearby public school.

Mrs. McDonough was a member of the Delaware Valley Ethics Committee. She also advocated for the unborn as a regular speaker for  Pennsylvanians for Human Life, and volunteered her time to help the Catholic Peace Fellowship.

When not caring for patients, Mrs. McDonough enjoyed outdoor activities, travel, reading, or spending time at her vacation home on the shores of Lake Otsego in Cooperstown, N.Y. The “Owl’s Nest,” as the house was called, bustled with family, friends, and neighbors who became part of her extended family.

“It was a place of immense joy, constantly filled with laughter,” her family wrote in an appreciation.

Besides her son, she is survived by children Michael T. Jr., John, James E., Mary Elizabeth Morey, Jean M. Pyles, Ann L. Madden, and Patricia; 18 grandchildren; and a brother and sister. Daughter Mary Genevieve died in infancy.

A Funeral Mass was celebrated Monday, Sept. 11, at St. Luke the Evangelist Church.

Memorial donations may be made to any organization that cares for others, or to the Otsego Lake Association, Box 13, Springfield Center, N.Y. 13468.