Biographies

Sister Carmel Marie Calhoun, MM

Born: July 27, 1915
Entered: September 7, 1943
Died: May 19, 1978

We are gathered today at this Eucharistic Liturgy to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of our Sister Carmel Marie Calhoun, who died at Bethany on Friday, May 19th, at 7:50 a.m.

Sister Carmel Marie was the youngest of the three children born to Joseph and Annie Calhoun. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 27, 1915, she was baptized Margaret Elizabeth. Sister’s parents died when she was still very young and this had a profound effect on her life.

Sister’s smallness of stature soon earned for her the endearing and enduring name of Midge. With the coming of nephews and nieces, she became Aunt Midge. While other Sisters returned to their baptismal names, she retained her religious one; but made it known, at the same time, that Aunt Midge was also an acceptable alternative!

Sister Carmel Marie was 28 when she entered Maryknoll on September 7, 1943 after several years of professional experience in the business world. She brought her expertise and used it generously in service at The Field Afar office in the early years of her life at Maryknoll, and as bursar for many long years in The Cloister. In this office she was legendary and kept us all in tow – claiming, and often with a bit of truth in it, to be the only practical minded one among us. She did have her feet on the ground.

Sister Carmel Marie was professed as a Maryknoll Sister on March 7, 1946, and entered The Cloister in May, 1948, spending these past 30 years in exceptional fidelity to her mission of prayer. At the time of her assignment, she wrote to Mother Mary Columba: “Thank you, Mother, for my wonderful assignment to The Cloister. I thought I would have to wait years for such a desire to be granted, if it ever were. May the Holy Spirit enkindle in my heart the love required to serve God as a Maryknoll Cloistered Sister should. Of myself, I can do very little, but with the Holy Spirit and Blessed Mother helping me, my prayers may aid in the work of Maryknoll and the missions.”

Sister had a great love for Maryknoll and all that concerns its life and mission. There was no dichotomy between her missionary and contemplative call. They were united in vision and expression.

Sister’s approach to God was simple and direct as was her approach to everything else in life. Others saw integrity as one of her outstanding characteristics. The rightness or the wrongness of anything meant a great deal to her and so she lived according to principles as she saw them, even if, at times, they might differ from the insights of others.

Some time ago, we were sharing together on the question, “What is contemplation for me?” I recall Sister Carmel Marie saying that the text from St. John, “Live on in My love” was a true expression of the reality for her. “Live on in My love” is lettered on a banner that hangs over her bed and, undoubtedly, expressed the challenge and the ideal she tried to realize in her life.

The directness that characterized her approach to God and to others marked also her acceptance of her last illness. From the time that she realized the treatment for her illness was not working, she offered herself in trustful love to the Lord of her life. She remarked, “Isn’t this what religious life is all about, to lead us to this event – this day of the Lord?”

She is truly living on in the love of her Lord and would want us to celebrate His faithful love in song and praise. What would be a special joy to her is the presence of Jerry and Ron on the altar these two nephews whose priestly vocations were her pride and joy, as well as the object of her prayer and concern.

It is a beautiful thing that the Lord came for Sister Carmel Marie in the springtime. She liked to compare springtime at Maryknoll with a favorite passage from Exodus, 33:18—23:

“Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I beg you…’
And he said, ‘I will let all my splendor pass in
front of you, and I will pronounce before you
the name, Yahweh.
I have compassion on whom I will and I show pity
to whom I please.
You cannot see my face, for man cannot see me
and live.’
And Yahweh said, ‘Here is a place beside me.
You must stand on the rock, and when my glory
passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the
rock and shield you with my hand
while I pass by.
Then I will take my hand away and you shall see
the back of me; but my face is not to be seen.’“

We, whom Sister Carmel Marie has left behind, can watch the splendor of Yahweh pass in front of us in the beauty of springtime, but yet we see only the back of Him. But she now has pierced the veil and can see Him face to face. Death is indeed a short pain and a long, eternal joy.