July 27, 2021

Our Beloved Mother Gabriel

Four years ago, our beloved Mother Mary Gabriel Long, SsEW, foundress of the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word, passed on to her eternal reward.  When reflecting on Mother Mary Gabriel’s life, it was love that animated her entire life, a love that was poured into her heart by the Holy Spirit.

Mrs. and Mrs. Long and their six children (Mother Mary Gabriel on right)

Her life was the gift from our Heavenly Father, through the love of her parents, Nell and James Long. Her parents had a deep love for God, each other, and their six children. It was manifested by the way they lived their lives.  Mother Mary Gabriel quoted her father as saying “there is nothing worth a dern in this world but the Catholic Church.”

Nell and James Long with Mother Mary Gabriel as a Dominican Sister at St. Cecilia’s, many years prior to the founding of the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word.

Her parents loved their Catholic faith.  They assisted at Mass, received the sacraments, prayed the Holy Rosary, attended Novenas at the Church, and sacrificed so that their children received a Catholic education. Jim cultivated a garden of flowers for the Church and Nell would bake cakes for the priests.  They would also take in people who for various reasons needed a place to stay for a while.  Mrs. Long also would bring food, clean house, and wash clothes for neighbors who were sick and needed help.  Jim used to say that when Nell died there really would be an energy crisis.

When Jim’s father was at an age when he needed to move in with one of his children, he chose to stay with Jim and Nell, and he came into the Catholic Church on his deathbed.  The witness of her parents’ life of sacrificial love had a profound impact Mother Mary Gabriel. She would often say, “I have no excuse because my parents were living examples of sacrificial love.”  Nell and James Long handed on to her a love for the Catholic Faith and the desire to live a life of sacrificial love. Her formation in the faith at home was reinforced by the Catholic education she received from the Nashville Dominicans.

From a young age she had a love for our Eucharistic Lord and His Blessed Mother.  She loved the stories of the Eucharistic saints such as Tarcisius and Blessed Imelda.  Her love for the Mother of God greatly developed after she prayed for a deeper devotion to the Blessed Mother, and Mary answered her prayer!   Mother Gabriel especially loved the prayer of the Holy Rosary. She had a great love for Bible Stories and the heroic lives of the saints.  Her confirmation saint was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower,” whose emphasis was to do small things with great love.  Like her confirmation saint, Mother Gabriel was bold in her trust in the love and Providence of God, but she also had a great love for a humble and hidden life.


She was young when she began to think about a vocation to religious life (left: Mother Gabriel pictured with her two of her siblings).  In High School she attended St. Cecilia’s boarding school in Nashville through a work scholarship and suffered the trial of homesickness.  One of the Sisters at the school helped her through it by walking and talking with her, and during her time there, Mother Gabriel received the grace to respond to the call of becoming a spouse of Christ, a life of self-sacrificing love. Mother Mary Gabriel always had a great love for the Sisters in the convent and the students she taught, as well as a great desire to do for others what God had done for her: to lead souls to love God and each other.

Mother Mary Gabriel with her own mother, Nell Long, and Sister Mary John Paul.

Mother Gabriel also loved good recreation and making the other Sisters laugh and having a good time.  She understood that the essence of following Christ was the perfection of charity and it began with a pure heart.  One of her favorite prayers she would often quote was:

My God I love You, yet not for hope of gain,
Nor that I fear the pain of Thy just rod, but as Thou loveth me,
I love and shall love Thee, My Lord and My God.

Mother Mary Gabriel laughing at the Holy Father’s quip about two “John Pauls!”

The purity of her love for Jesus was her faithfulness to all that God asked of her.  She went wherever He wanted her to go no matter how great the cost. Starting a new community requires a great leap of faith, and while she always treasured her Dominican heritage, she answered God’s call to start the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word, and she never looked back.

Sister Marie Francesca after her Profession of Vows

She said that we need to choose to have the character to love.  Many times, she would say that the way you know that you are growing in your life of prayer is by love. Mother Mary Gabriel would say to the Sisters often that the early Christians were known for their love: “See how those Christians love one another.”

The Sister Servants lovingly cared for Mrs. Nell Long in the last years of her life.

Mother Mary Gabriel lived these words.  She would see to it that the sick and suffering were taken care of without counting the cost.  The last years of her life she had many health challenges.  When she would visit a particular doctor’s office, he said she brought a great peace to that place the whole day.  Another nurse said that, from the first time she met her, she saw something beautiful in her spirit, and that nurse ended up converting to the Catholic faith. Many stories like these can be told about Mother Mary Gabriel.

When it came to her own illness she never wanted to be a bother to other people.  When a Sister would ask, “Why does God not heal you?” she would always answer that we have to trust Him. This does not mean she did not want and ask to be healed, but she accepted her sufferings as God’s Will. While she was honest about her sufferings she also desired that being with her be a joy for others. She was particularly good at uplifting others! This is the heritage she has given to us her daughters.

Memorial Mass for Mother Mary Gabriel on the 4th anniversary of her entrance into eternal life.

We pray that the Good God may give us the power to live by love as Mother Mary Gabriel did and we conclude with another prayer she loved by Saint Thomas Aquinas:

Jesus, give me the Understanding to know You,
The Dedication to seek You,
The Wisdom to find You,
A Way of Life that pleases You,
And the knowledge that I will one day, at last, embrace You.