New Brunswick

Fredericton university student remembered as a 'fabulous' force

Mary Frances Cronin, 23, of New Maryland had the world by the tail. Her sudden death has left family and friends reeling.

Mary Frances Cronin, 23, died Friday of a pulmonary embolism

Mary Cronin, 23, of New Maryland, was looking forward to an eight-month work term for McElhanney in B.C. after doing land surveying for the engineering company as a summer student. (Submitted by the Cronin family)

Mary Frances Cronin, 23, of New Maryland had the world by the tail.

The popular university soccer player, coach and dean's list student was on the cusp of a remarkable career in geodesy and geomatic engineering, qualified to map the ocean floor, create 3D models or develop navigation systems.

She was scheduled to fly to Vancouver on Monday for an eight-month work term with the same engineering consulting firm her older brother works for. She was going to live with him and his fiancée, her best friend from university.

She had a "huge, bright future ahead of her. Companies bidding" for her, said her father, Arthur Cronin.

"She could do anything she wanted to do. She was just phenomenal," her mother, Michele Cronin, said.

But Mary died suddenly Friday at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton.

A preliminary autopsy shows she died of a pulmonary embolism. 

There was nothing anyone could do, her mother says.

"They don't know how long the pulmonary embolism was there. They don't know what caused it."

Mary tested positive for COVID-19 after her death, but it's unclear if it was a factor, her parents say.

No COVID symptoms

She didn't have COVID symptoms.

She was tired, but she had written her last exam on Wednesday and had been up for 24 hours studying and preparing, so her parents chalked it up to being overworked and stressed out. 

On Thursday, Mary took it easy, shopping and watching television with her 13-year-old cousin. 

"There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary," her mom says.

When Mary woke up at around 7 a.m. on Friday, she felt lightheaded.

Her mother helped her get settled back into bed and calmed down, then tested her for COVID.

The result was negative. 

But when she checked on Mary later, she thought her daughter "just didn't look right," so she called 911.

"I actually was on the phone with 911 and I left to get dressed to head to the hospital and went back in and when I checked on her, she wasn't breathing."

She said the dispatcher, paramedics and hospital staff did everything they could. 

"As one of the family members said, [Mary] had no idea it was coming, which is good," she said. "In her mind, she was preparing to continue and plan for her future and the rest of her life."

Older brother looked up to her

On Monday, family and friends were united both in their grief and in their remembrances of the remarkable, vibrant young woman who left an indelible impression on everyone she met.

Mary's brother Raymund Cronin, 26, is devastated. He and Mary "weren't just siblings," they were best friends.

"She was the person I would confide in. Even though she was younger, I looked up to her every day," he said. "She was just such an incredible person. She made me want to be better."

His sister was "truly brilliant," he said, proudly noting that she showed him up in every university class they both took.

"When she first got hired on to my company, I just couldn't wait to tell people and couldn't wait for them to meet her," he said.

"I was just so proud of who she was and what she had accomplished."

Raymund Cronin, pictured here with his sister Mary at Picaroons, says she was 'truly brilliant' and brightened every room she walked into. (Submitted by the Cronin family)

He knew there was so much more to come, so much more that she would achieve.

"She was coming to work for McElhanney, but I knew one day she was going to run a company or she was going to be a powerful figure. That's just who she was."

She 'filled the room with love'

His fiancée, Mackenzie McLeod, remembers the day she met Mary six years ago.

Mary was in her first year at St. Thomas University, where she started out in sociology before deciding to follow in her big brother's footsteps and switch to a bachelor of science in engineering at the University of New Brunswick.

They were opposites, she said, but Mary quickly endeared herself. 

She was "very eccentric, very loud. … Even if you barely knew her, you felt like you [had known] her a long time." 

They became close, and Mary was to be her maid of honour at her wedding next summer. The sudden death of her beloved would-be sister-in-law has thrown those wedding plans up in the air.

"I will definitely miss her pushing me outside of my comfort zone always and just knowing how to make anyone laugh and make literally no matter what it was a good time," McLeod said.

"Like any time, any situation, as soon as she walked in, it was better. ... She made everyone laugh and just, like, filled the room with love."

Mary Cronin (right) with friend and future sister-in-law Mackenzie McLeod (left) and friend Kayla Onciul (back) at a Pride Parade in Fort St. John, B.C. Mary was a fierce LGBTQ+ ally and loved her many queer family members and friends. (Submitted by the Cronin family)

Mary's oldest cousin, Mollie Cronin, 29, fondly recalls that boisterous Mary had her own dedicated box of Band-Aids in kindergarten.

"There were lots of shenanigan," she said.

Mary, the fifth of 12 cousins, was "always sort of egging [the older ones] on and getting us to keep up with her energy."

With the younger cousins, she was "their biggest champion. ... She was extremely nurturing and loving."

Skilled soccer player and role model

Amy Hughes met Mary when she was a "freckle-faced" 15-year-old who was allowed, by exception, to play on the Fredericton women's league's soccer team because of her skill.

Hughes later coached Mary at St. Thomas University, where she was the six-foot keeper for three seasons, including in  2018, when she led the team as captain to win the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

"She was just bigger than life … She just had such a large reach and impacted so many people," she said, noting how Mary served as a "really strong role model" to younger players.

"She would excel at anything that she put her finger on, really.

"She gave it everything in every aspect of her life, whether she was on the field, or in the classroom, or coaching youth at [Fredericton District Soccer Association] ... she was just a very awesome personality."

Mary Cronin, in blue, was the keeper and captain of the St. Thomas Tommies in 2018 when they won the ACAA championship. (Keith Minchin/Faces of Fredericton)

The Fredericton District Soccer Association is "deeply saddened" by Mary's sudden passing.

She was "a leader, a phenomenal teammate, friend to many and a true inspiration to our youth players," it said in a post on social media. "She will be greatly missed by all who knew her."

A family friend has created the Mary Cronin Fredericton High School Memorial Soccer Scholarship.

It's a fitting tribute, her mother said – Mary had a passion for the game, loved the competitive spirit of it, the camaraderie and the challenge.

A talented athlete and fierce competitor, she also excelled at rugby. In 2019-20, she helped the UNB Varsity Reds win the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

The family is "absolutely floored" by how many people Mary impacted in her short life and who have offered condolences, something her mother said is a tribute to the fact that Mary lived life to the fullest.

"She was fabulous," she said, "and a force."

 A service in celebration of Cronin's life will be held at York Funeral Home's T. Gordon MacLeod Memorial Chapel on Thursday at 2 p.m. The service will be livestreamed.

The University of New Brunswick, which is offering counselling services and other supports to students and staff, will fly its flags at both the Fredericton and Saint John campuses at half-mast in Mary's honour until the service.


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