Obituary: Mary Nella McLaughlin

PATTERSON, CA (March 29, 2017) – A celebration of life service for retired Covenant pastor Mary Nella McLaughlin, 69, will be conducted at 2 p.m. on April 1 at Patterson Covenant Church. She died February 11 after a battle with ovarian cancer.

She was born October 24, 1947, in Hemet, California, to John and Mary McLaughlin. From the age of five, she was raised by her grandparents.

Mary Nella studied sociology at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California, and theology at the Melodyland School of Theology. She earned an MDiv at North Park Theological Seminary.

Mary Nella married David Bruce on September 11, 1981. They later divorced.

Together they pastored South Chicago Evangelical Covenant Church from 1985 to 1990. They launched the Barnabas Project, a nonprofit that grew out of the church’s ministry. Through the ministry, they established low-income housing; a homeless program with World Vision; and a youth ranch for inner-city youth. They also purchased buildings for two transitional housing apartment buildings, Wellspring House and Leland House. They also co-pastored Patterson Covenant Church in Patterson, California.

Mary Nella founded a nonprofit, Women Changing the World, to help women in West Africa and Southeast Asia. Amid ongoing violence in Somalia during which her life was threatened several times, Mary Nella helped train women to start and run their own businesses. The organization also started an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.

In California Mary Nella engaged in numerous ministries including to migrant farmers and the homeless. When a friend was deported to Honduras, she moved to the country for a month to help her get settled.

Mary Nella served as chaplain at the Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, California, and several other hospitals. She most recently served as chaplain at Deuel Locational Institution for Men in Tracy, California.

She is survived by seven children and four grandchildren.

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  1. So sorry to hear of Mary Nella’s homegoing ; she was too young and we are the poorer. A remarkable woman–a devoted disciple of Christ, a very bright woman, compassionate, and caring as her resume makes clear. She was one of the founders of WellSpring Center for Hope, a ministry born out her deep compassion for abused women, a lot ministry that continues today under the aegis of Covenant Ministies of Benevolence. I knew her as pastor of the South Chicago CC, as member of the Barnabas Project and the WellSpring ministry and as vigorous advocate for justice and evangelism. Rev. Brawley’s beautiful words express the feelings Of many of us.

  2. It’s been a while, but the spirit of Mary Nella has never been far from me. From that first coffee in the North Park area, through various projects together, Mary Nella pushed me with her radical love for Jesus and her compassion for people, especially the marginalized. My shock and grief at learning of her passing is surpassed only by my gratitude for who she was and what she meant in my life and the lives of all she touched. Peace to her memory and to her wonderful collection of “kids!”

  3. Mary Nella was such a loving person with a beautiful spirit. Peace to her memory and to her family.

  4. Though we had not seen year other in some years, I remember Mary Nella as a dear friend. We were in seminary together. She was deeply wise, compassionate, and generous- which she lived. I am moved by her life and witness, and I will forever be grateful for her friendship.

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