Mary Frances Dougherty Swan was one of a kind. She was fierce in her loyalty and convictions and was able to think out of the box and make things happen. She had charisma that could light up a room. She had the innate ability to ask you for your help and before you knew it …… you were running the show. Mary Fran made you laugh, and she was fun.
She was born on March 7, 1941 and grew up, along with her family and many cousins, in Baltimore’s St. John’s 10th Ward. The thread of Irish culture and countless stories influenced her entire life. She graduated from the Institute of Notre Dame in 1959 and made lifelong friends along the way. She was ambitious in high school, working two jobs on weekends and after school. One job was secretarial work for Brothers Roofing and the other a clerk in a bakery. Both contributed to her excellent work ethic. At IND, the seed of Catholic Action was planted. Here and within her growing family, her Catholic Faith was fostered. She married Don Swan in 1965 and had two daughters, Catherine and Margaret, and was blessed with two granddaughters, Elizabeth and Ashley.
As a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, she was associated with Division 14 and Harford County, Division 1. When she became our State President in 1997, MD LAOH attendance was down. She took over and things began to change. Our beautiful St. Brigid, Memorial and Our Lady of Knock Masses once again enjoyed renewed attendance. With her encouragement and guidance, new Adult and Junior Divisions were started. Fundraisers were once again heavily supported. The State Board presented Mary Fran with State Life Membership and she was given the distinct honor of being awarded National Life Membership in 2015.
In 2002, she heard about a new middle school in Baltimore City for disadvantaged girls being proposed by four religious’ congregations, among them the School Sisters of Notre Dame who taught her at IND. At our State Convention in 2003, Mary Fran lobbied for the delegates at large to pledge $20,000 to enable a student to benefit from such an education. Over the years, we fulfilled that pledge and Maryland LAOH continues to support the Sisters Academy through various division donations and Pennies for the Poor.
Mary Fran was elected the first woman to chair the Baltimore Irish Festival sponsored by Irish Charities of Maryland. She also volunteered for the St. Patrick Parade and in 2004 proudly served as Parade Grand Marshal. She loved the yearly Parade where she could be found walking with her sisters and shouting out Happy St. Patrick’s Day to the crowd along the way. She participated in the Maryland Irish Educational Committee, not to mention her work and involvement in the creation of the Baltimore Irish Railroad Museum.
Maryland LAOH has been blessed with many wonderful women who paved the way and were an example to their fellow sisters on how to live our motto of “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity”. Mary Fran was one of these special women. May she rest in peace.
Carole Franz and Beth Lund
Harford County, Division 1