Mary D. honored by Diocese
Mary Donnelly of Block Island was recognized by the Diocese of Providence with the Lumen Gentium Award in Community Service and Charitable Outreach. It’s a fitting award, given Donnelly’s over half-century of medical service to the people of Block Island, and the enormity of the charitable outreach her nonprofit, the Mary D. Fund, provides.
Donnelly, a registered nurse, arrived on Block Island in 1958 with her husband and young family, and quickly began working with the Rescue Squad. She worked tirelessly on the island, making numerous house calls and home visits, providing healthcare and services often as the only licensed medical professional on the island. She served as President of the Medical Services Committee and as an incorporator of Block Island Health Services. Donnelly lobbied and worked for the construction of the Medical Center, where she became a constant fixture until she hung up her stethoscope in 2013.
But nursing is not the only way Mary Donnelly has been taking care of Block Islanders all these years.
The Mary D. Fund was established in 1984, providing financial assistance to islanders in need since that time. With the help of her daughter Marguerite, Donnelly, now 93, oversees the distribution of funds for everything from utility bills to medical expenses to education costs. No money ever changes hands, as individuals bring their bill to Donnelly and the fund pays it directly. The Mary D. Fund ensures that no one in need is ever turned away.
“Literally thousands of individuals have been assisted, be it food, rent, mortgage payments, tuition, health needs, and always, emergencies,” said Father Joseph Protano, pastor of Saint Andrew Catholic Church on Block Island.
The Mary D. Fund raises money through donations and fundraisers like the annual Mary D. Ball, and then distributes the funds throughout the year to help Block Islanders in need.
“She is truly a pioneer in population health,” said Rhode Island’s former Human Services Director, Jane Hayward. “She recognized the impact of social determinants on health status before anyone was writing about them in the literature.”
Realizing that financial concerns and constraints lead to poorer health overall, Donnelly has spent the last 37 years working to alleviate those financial hardships for islanders.
The Lumen Gentium Awards were established by the diocese in 2013, and are presented in nine categories to recognize those who have demonstrated outstanding service to the church in their parish, the Diocese of Providence, and the community-at-large.
Donnelly has been a parish trustee, and has served in every ministry of the parish, including lector, Eucharistic minister, parish council, finance council, and leader in the Ladies Guild.
“She is a holy, prayerful person,” Fr. Protano said. “She shows up wherever and whenever there is a need, and is generous with the gifts God has given her.”
“Mom’s Catholic faith is the foundation of her life and our family,” Marguerite Donnelly said. “As a nurse, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, everything she does is an expression of faith. She teared up when she found out about the award. Mom was so very touched. It’s an honor.”
Mary D has been recognized across the country, with her many accomplishments and generosity featured on CBS News, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Providence Journal, and in the film “Island Nurse.”