Biographies

Sister Carmelita Gunning, MM

Born: June 10, 1889
Entered: September 24, 1923
Died: December 14, 1981

We are in the heart of the Advent Season. Today we end the first stage of longing expectation for the coming of the Lord and tomorrow the Great “O” Antiphons begin. It is a beautiful time to celebrate with our Sister Carmelita the final coming of the Lord into her life. Sister Carmelita Gunning died on Monday, December 14, 1981, on the feast of one of her favorite saints, St. John of the Cross. The cross and the longing wait of Advent are two aspects of our faith that symbolize Sister Carmelita’s life. She waited for 92 years for the coming of the Lord. At this season of hopeful waiting we remember our Sister as we all wait for a Child to be born, for a flower to unfold, for a time when “Justice shall rain down from heaven.”

Many of us in this Chapel only knew Sister Carmelita as a patient, at Bethany, and then here at the Nursing Home. I only met her in recent years, but there was a bond there because Sister Carmelita and I were born on the same day – only it was 51 years apart.

Sister Carmelita Gunning was born on June 10, 1889, in Baltimore, Maryland. She was given the name “Catherine Magdalen.” She was from a large family of brothers and sisters, and after only a few brief years of schooling, Sister began to work. Then she came to Maryknoll in 1923 at the age of 34. She made her final vows on April 30, 1929.

After working a few years in the Venard, Los Altos and Los Angeles, as well as at the Motherhouse in various capacities – as a clerical worker, in the laundry and kitchen — Sister Carmelita began her long Advent time of pain and illness. For over 40 years she suffered and so, today, we rejoice that her waiting has finally ended.

On the day Sister Carmelita died, I had gone out for a walk and coming back through the front door, I ran into one of the Lay Missioner’s children, 4 year old Alyssa Short. She rushed out of the parlor to tell me, “Someone just died.” “Yes,” I said, “Sister Carmelita was 92 and she just went home to God.” Alyssa then said, in that striking way that children have, “I was in heaven before I came here.” That simple grasp of life’s beginning and end by a 4 year old, struck me with poignant force – do we not all begin and end in the Lord? He knows us before we are born. We live our lives in mystery and hope and we await His coming.

So, today, let us celebrate Sister Carmelita’s new Life; let us proclaim in this Eucharist our faith and our hope; let us pray for wisdom in the face of mystery and courage in the face of suffering; and let us pray that the reign of the Prince of Peace may come to our world soon.

We welcome as our celebrant today, Bishop Edward A. McGurkin of Maryknoll, and we remember in prayer Sister Carmelita’s family and friends.