Biographies

Sister M. Theodore Farley, MM

Born: January 18, 1898
Entered: December 7, 1921
Died: June 7, 1993

With the precious spirit of Sister Theodore in our midst, we come together today to express our profound and humble gratitude for the priceless gift of living-love we have touched and have known in and through our sister and friend.

Her quiet departure from us at the age of 95 took place on Monday, June 7, 1993, at 2:10 a.m., here at our Center.

Last Christmas, Sister Theodore wrote a note to our Sister Gilmary Simmons expressing her sense of being drawn into a martyrdom of love, not a doing something, but more related to being. Sister did not know what this meant for her, but on January 31, just one month later, the meaning began to unfold for her in the form of a solitary journey of suffering. Yet, beneath it all, lay the still waters of God’s own presence and peace, upholding, nourishing and confirming the faith and the love by which Sister Theodore had always lived her life.

Marion Adele Farley was born in New York City on January 18, 1898, to Joseph Austin Farley and Mary Gertrude Tack. She was one of four children. Her brother Theodore became the well-loved Jesuit Father Ted; her sister Gertrude entered the Mercy Sisters and her sister Josephine married.

Marion began her elementary education with the Madames of the Sacred Heart in New York City, attended Mount Aloysius High School in Cresson, Pennsylvania, until 1916 and graduated from St. Elizabeth’s College, Convent Station, New Jersey, in 1920 with a B.A. in English.

As President of the Catholic Students Mission Crusade at the College, Marion felt the need to become acquainted with at least one missionary order. Visiting Maryknoll one Saturday afternoon, she met the Teresians, 43 in number. Sister Theodore later wrote: “It was not so much what I saw at Maryknoll that Fall afternoon as the indefinable spirit of, joy and dedication in the midst of real hardship and poverty, that captivated and challenged me.” The following year after her Graduation from College, on December 7, 1921, Marion Adele Farley entered the Congregation of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic.

Sister Mary Theodore made her First Profession at Maryknoll on April 19, 1924. From 1925 to 1926, she completed her M.A. in Education at Mount St. Vincent’s, which prepared her for her first teaching assignment in the Philippines in 1926. Sister Theodore was one of the 8 pioneers to go to the Philippines. She assisted in the opening of a Normal College for young women in Malabon, where she remained for about one year, before she was made Superior at St. Mary’s Hall, a hostel for women students attending the University of the Philippines in Manila. Sister made her Final Profession on April 19, 1927, in Baguio and, in 1929, she returned to Malabon to be Superior of the Convent there. Sister Theodore wrote to Mother Mary Joseph expressing her feelings of incompetence for this position at Malabon, but also expressing her faith that she could do all things in the One who would strengthen her. “I’ll do my very best,” she wrote, “and leave all to God. You will pray for me, won’t you, Mother?”

In 1931, Sister Theodore returned to the States as Delegate to our General Chapter, after which she was sent as Superior to our Japanese Mission in Seattle and, in 1934, she was assigned to our Center as Motherhouse Superior.

After attending the General Chapter of 1937, Sister Theodore was asked to take up her duties in the Novitiate, fulfilling the role of beloved Novice Mistress until her entrance into the Cloister on September 24, 1945. Of these years Sister wrote: “My eleven years spent at our Motherhouse as Superior and later Novice Mistress were a great grace for me, in that these works brought me in daily contact with our Mother Foundress… a woman of great faith…warmth and understanding…deeply spiritual, interested in the welfare of her daughters…I conferred with her on many matters…the problems were legion…she seemed to be the embodiment of the words ‘wisdom of God be with me; always at work in me.'” These same words are applicable to Sister Theodore, for throughout the years the flow of Maryknoll Sisters, Brothers, Priests, Family and Friends, who faithfully kept in touch with her attests to the wisdom she shared, the care she gave, the faithful prayer she poured out, and the enduring inspiration she has been in their lives.

In 1922, as a novice, Sister had spoken to Mother Mary Joseph of her deep desire to live a life of prayer and penance and Mother shared with her “a great secret” – her intention to establish a contemplative way of life within our Congregation. Would Sister Theodore be willing to wait? It might be a long wait! Twenty-three years later on September 24, 1945, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, Sister Theodore did indeed enter the Cloister. In a note to Mother Mary Joseph, she expressed her initial perplexity: “I am deeply happy – yet so surprised, for somehow I had given up hope… I’m overwhelmed with God’s goodness, yet I don’t mind telling you I’m scared to death…”

In 1981, Sister Theodore reflects back on her contemplative call: “After a happy life as an active missioner in Maryknoll, why did I, through God’s grace, choose this? …for one who loves people as I do, this choice was an enigma… I can only answer that I felt I could give more totally to the missions by such a choice… Since coming here, love for my family, friends and for people in general has never waned but grown and deepened…”

And in October 1992, during the 60th Anniversary celebration of the Cloister in Maryknoll, Sister Theodore shared her spiritual journey within the Cloister: “I have had no extraordinary experiences of God during my years here. There has been a silent, daily growth in the awareness of God’s Presence in my heart…growing knowledge of the mind and heart of Jesus has been my chief joy and occupation.”

Sister Mary Theodore was a woman of faith and of fortitude, a noble woman. She felt deeply, maintaining her vulnerability to the end – yet she also stood solid and strong as the ravages of old age, the loss of family and friends through sickness and death and the winds of change whirled around her. Sister Theodore was a loving woman, who gave of herself, her opinions, her poetic nature, her emotional responses, yet who also had a remarkable capacity to receive love from others. Sister loved people; she loved mission; she loved Christ. To her Cloister Community she advised: “As a fruit of my experience of love and union with Jesus, I would urge that we continue to make Jesus the center and focus of all our relationships with one another and of all that we do – and are.”

And Sister Theodore clearly knew her purpose in life: “Why did I become a missioner? Life is only for love.” All of us gathered here, and so many others, have felt this gracious, compassionate, wise and strong love touch us and even enfold us through the heart and the prayer of our Sister.

At Christmastime in 1987, when Sister Theodore was spending time at the Center following surgery, she sent the gift of a small evergreen tree to her Sisters at the Cloister. May her blessing then be her blessing now, her final blessing to us all. Sister Theodore wrote:

“May love permeate your Christmas tide and carry you through every joy and sorrow, every suffering and trial of the coming year. Completely at the disposal of love, like Mary, may nothing disturb your peace. I love you all and thank you.”

We welcome and extend our deepest sympathy to Sister Theodore’s family and friends.

And we warmly acknowledge and welcome our own Maryknoll Father John Moran, our Celebrant today, whose presence and fidelity to Sister Theodore these past years have been gift and sign of God’s abiding Love.

And now with Sister Mary Theodore, let us sing the song and pray the prayer of living-love!