Sister M. Angela Dalton, MM
Born: October 31, 1892
Entered: September 7, 1920
Died: July 9, 1985
We gather together for the second time this week to bid farewell to one of our Sisters. Today we praise and thank God for the testimony given to us by Sister Mary Angela Dalton’s life of commitment and service and of fortitude through long years of suffering. We rejoice that she is at peace and one with our Maryknollers and her family members in Heaven.
Grace Elizabeth Dalton was born on October 31, 1892, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was one of seven children, 3 daughters and 4 sons, born to Mary Conroy Dalton of Rhode Island and Joseph Dalton, who had emigrated to the United States from Great Britain.
Considering the number of children in the family and the times, Grace was fortunate in her educational opportunities. She graduated from Cambridge High and Latin School and then went on to Salem Normal Teachers College. Keen intelligence, love of reading and a thirst for knowledge made Grace an ideal student as well as an excellent teacher, a profession she devoted herself to for 6 years prior to entering Maryknoll in 1920. The Superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools wrote the following in his letter of recommendation: “Miss Dalton is a young lady of superior character, excellent ability, diligent and faithful. I am sure that she will be successful in any line that she undertakes.” This prediction proved to be true.
Grace was the first to arrive that September (1920), so was the senior of the group of thirteen postulants. There were only 50 Maryknoll Sisters then, so we can imagine how exciting it was to welcome 13 more potential members in one year. At Grace’s Reception Ceremony she received the name of Sister Mary Angela, chosen for one of her sisters. Between 1920 and 1925 Sister Angela completed her Novitiate training, directed by Sister Fidelia, worked in the Seminary and the Sisters’ kitchens, studied another two years at the New York Teachers College while doing part-time work at The Field Afar and made her First and Final Vows in 1922 and 1925 respectively.
Just short of a year later Sister Angela was happily on her way to the Philippines as a member of a pioneer group that founded the Malabon Teachers Training School. Despite the lack of furniture and supplies, a routine was soon established and in her free time, Sister Angela set her hand to raising chickens and beautifying the front of the building by planting coconut trees. Sister’s great interest in and love of growing things was a life-long characteristic and the one most mentioned by those who knew her.
Those first years were difficult, but full of exciting challenges and experiences that dominated Sister Angela’s memories for the rest of her life. Sister had had a chronic illness since Novitiate days and further health problems irritated by the tropical climate. After just 3 years of ministering to the people of her beloved Philippines, a medical examination resulted in a recommendation that she return to the United States.
Sister Angela was assigned, after a period of recuperation, to the West Coast where she used her teaching skills among the Japanese population of Los Angeles and Seattle. When Maryknoll Teachers College was opened in 1931, Sister returned to New York as one of the first professors and remained a member of the faculty until 1955. During that time she received her Bachelor of Science degree from Columbia University and her Master’s in History from Fordham.
We Maryknoll Sisters who studied at the Teachers College during Sister Angela’s twenty-three years there, remember her as an enthusiastic, patient, friendly and exacting educator, who made history come alive. One method she used to do this was to involve her students in the production of plays. Given the pressures of time, the impromptu costuming and the theatrical limitations of the students, these presentations could perhaps be described as more hysterical than historical; but to Sister Angela it was serious business. She was also demanding regarding written assignments and no one dared to turn in papers without quoting her prime sources – or at least did not dare more than once.
Mother Mary Joseph had encouraged Sister Angela to put her gardening talents to good use. A plot of ground on the Cloister Hill was converted from a wilderness into a paradise of color and beauty. Help was needed to maintain Our Lady’s Garden, as Sister Angela called it, so another extra-curricular activity was expected of her students. Some joked about it being slave labor, but as they worked alongside their tall professor (who had replaced her black veil with a wide-binned straw hat), they reveled in nature’s response to their efforts. Spectacular flower arrangements were provided for Chapel and parlors and any number of prizes were awarded to Sister Angela by the Metropolitan Gladiolus Society at its Rockefeller Center Exhibits.
Anyone who knew Sister Angela in those years saw her as a woman of strong convictions. She frequently praised the Mission Vision of Mother Mary Joseph, Father James Anthony Walsh and Father Thomas Price in her conversations and lectures. And no matter what the theme of the day’s history lesson, she managed to end with a story about the Philippines. It would probably be agreed that her biggest passions were flowers and politics.
After waving goodbye to hundreds of missioners at the Motherhouse, Sister Angela returned to California in 1955 where she applied her enthusiasm to Catechetics and a Literary Club in San Juan Capistrano. Her next assignment was to Bethany but not to retirement. A lighter schedule as portress provided time for a new ministry of writing. She had many articles published about the apostolate of strengthening Christian values among parents and children. She wrote, “The biggest missionary field in this modern age is the family.”
Failing health led to Sister Angela’s official retirement in 1971, when she was 79 years old. She remained active as long as she could. As her condition deteriorated, she patiently and gratefully accepted the nursing care she had need of for over 25 years. But to those who visited her during these last months, she conveyed a voiceless yearning to be free of a body no longer able to express its remarkable spirit. Sister Angela’s last response, communicated through her eyes, was of gentle delight when one of the Sisters showed her some flowers.
A former student wrote of something said to her by Sister Angela after class one day: “Sister, you are young, enthusiastic and full of life, let me give you some advice. Get close to God now that you are young! As the years go on you may lose friends, health and youth, but if you have a close relationship with God, you’ll have something lasting!”
This Sister added the comment: “Over the years since 1950 I’ve often remembered Sister Angela’s words and seen the wisdom of them – and the poignancy of them – a clue to what life had been for her with unshared sufferings, perhaps, and disappointments.”
On July 9th, in the Maryknoll Nursing Home, shortly after noon, Sister Mary Angela Dalton passed through the suffering of this life and into her own personal encounter with the God who knows all and who loved her through it all and in whom she trusted.
And so today we celebrate once again God’s gift and promise of resurrection in union.
We welcome Maryknoll Father Arthur Brown who will lead us in our Eucharistic Liturgy of remembrance and thanksgiving.