For Sister Maggie Hession, Rangers baseball was heaven on earth

Posted Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Services Mass: 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. Andrew Catholic Church, 3314 Dryden Road, Fort Worth. Rosary: 7 p.m. Sunday at St. Andrew

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During Nolan Ryan’s first year as president of the Texas Rangers, a couple of visitors showed up in his office to offer some advice on the new job. They were Roman Catholic nuns named Sister Frances Evans and Sister Maggie Hession.

“They always had an opinion,” Ryan said Friday. “They would come up and tell me what I needed to be doing and what was wrong with the organization. Some of their advice was right on.”

As well it should have been. The sisters had been die-hard Rangers fans since the club moved to Texas in 1972 and rarely missed a home game in the decades to follow.

For past and present members of the Rangers organization, memories of the dedicated duo have been pouring forth in the last few days. Sister Maggie, 85, died Wednesday at a Fort Worth care facility. She had Alzheimer’s disease.

“Maggie was one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever known,” said Tom Schieffer, who preceded Ryan as the Rangers’ president. “There are very few people that I would say this about, but she was very Christ-like. She was always so kind to so many people, it didn’t matter if they were the powerful or the meek.

“She lived the life. I miss her already.”

Sister Maggie will be buried in a white casket trimmed in Rangers blue with the team logo in several places. It was paid for by the team, said Ryan, who recently left the organization. Sister Frances has one waiting for her, too.

“That’s what they requested, so that’s what we did,” Ryan said.

For about two years, Sister Frances has been attending Rangers games without her trusted sidekick of more than half a century.

“The noise [at the stadium] became too loud for her,” Frances said.

Frances grew up loving baseball in Temple, and taught the game to Sister Maggie, who was born in Ireland.

“We’ve been fast friends since 1954, very loving and dear friends,” Sister Frances said Thursday. “We’re more like sisters. I lost my best buddy.”

Nurse at St. Joseph Hospital

Magdalen Hession was born Oct. 20, 1928, in Galway County, Ireland, and entered the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word when she was 20. She earned a degree as a registered nurse from Incarnate Word College in San Antonio in 1955 and served in hospitals in that city and St. Louis before coming to St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Worth.

She worked there for more than 30 years until her retirement. Sister Maggie and Sister Frances met in college and were reunited at the Fort Worth hospital, where Frances organized a social services department.

“Lord knows we went everywhere together,” Frances said. “Wherever you saw one of us, you saw the other.”

That included the Rangers’ first home game in 1972. A series of benefactors provided season tickets and made it possible for the pair to attend almost every game after that.

In the process, they became stars themselves.

“I got here in 1983, and one of the first things you find out about when you come to the Rangers is Sister Frances and Sister Maggie,” said Chuck Morgan, longtime public address announcer for the team. “You needed to know those two. They were such great fans.”

In 1994, when team executives met to decide who should be the first through the turnstiles at the team’s new ballpark, a consensus was quickly reached.

“They were the first ones through the gate,” Morgan said. “They were such huge fans of the Rangers since Day One, and they didn’t hesitate to tell you that.”

In 1996, when the team made its first trip to the playoffs, Schieffer surprised the nuns by inviting them to New York for a series against the Yankees.

“They were the hit of New York. All the media wanted to interview them,” Schieffer said. “They were great. Frances kind of took the lead. She was more quotable. The New York reporters asked what they did that day and they said they had been to St. Patrick’s [Cathedral] to Mass. Sister Frances said, ‘We needed to do a little station identification. We needed to let the Lord know where we’d be.’”

Frances said one of their biggest thrills was attending a Rangers fantasy camp in the early 1990s and going to bat off Ryan, their idol and friend.

“We played baseball. We have our own uniforms,” Frances said proudly this week.

Ryan, who was still playing at the time, said he was “extremely nervous” about facing the nuns.

“I didn’t want to hit them,” he said. “It was quite a challenge. But they each hit a ball, and they ran to first base, and they were extremely happy about that.”

Another memory came to mind for Ryan this week. In his last year as a player, he developed tendinitis in a finger of his pitching hand. The Rangers sent him to a hand specialist in Fort Worth.

“I came out of my appointment and sitting in the waiting room was Sister Maggie and Sister Frances,” Ryan said. “They were concerned. We had to hold hands and say a prayer. That’s just the way they were.”

Other survivors include a sister, Nora Murphy of Hudson, N.H.; niece Ann Gillis and her husband, Dan Gillis; and niece, Ellen MacIntosh.

Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544 Twitter: @tsmadigan

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