Biographies

Sister Mary Aquinas McKenna, MM

Born: January 14, 1910
Entered: December 8, 1930
Died: May 8, 1996

On this beautiful Spring morning we gather to celebrate Sister Mary Aquinas McKenna’s journey into her new life with God. For more than 65 years, she has been a Maryknoll Sister, and we have all come to know and love Sister Aquinas, especially these last years she has spent here at the Center. Her friendly greetings, questions and conversation as we passed through Assisted Living will long be remembered. On May 8, 1996, Sister quietly died and began her last journey in this life to be with her loving God in heaven. Today, we can truly rejoice with Sister as she has attained the “newness of life” promised to all of us by God.

On January 14, 1910, Sarah Anne McKenna was born in Clougher, County Monaghan, Ireland, one often children of Mary Anne and Owen McKenna. After finishing her schooling Sarah emigrated to the United States and joined family members living in Cleveland, OH. She worked as a store clerk before answering the call to enter Maryknoll. Sarah said she had thought about being a missioner, “ever since I can remember” and one day to go to China was her great aspiration.

Sarah entered Maryknoll on December 8, 1930, and at Reception was given the name of Sister Mary Aquinas and made First Profession in 1933. Soon afterwards, Sister was assigned to Los Angeles, where she made her Final Profession in 1936, and was to spend the next eleven years working with the Japanese community there. In 1944 she accompanied the people during their internment in a camp in Potson, Arizona and at the end of the war went to Seattle, Washington to do social work, again, with the Japanese community.

For Sister, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1945 was one of the highlights of her life. Her citizenship papers were later found carefully wrapped in special paper among all her other documents.

It was in the 1950’s that Sister began her work in Promotion, a work for which she will always be remembered. Her storytelling gifts and Irish wit were ever present whether Sister Aquinas was taking up a collection, speaking to school children about missionary life or with other Sisters on the long drives throughout the United States. Her devotion to this work was present even in later years and changing times. Her smile, her interest in others and her graciousness with whomever she would meet were always present, not to mention her untiring zeal in the collection of funds for the missions.

There were other times in her life when her zest for mission was lived out with equal fervor. In the 1970’s Sister went to Corpus Christi, Texas soon after a hurricane devastated the city and began work with Catholic Charities. She worked with the Hispanic community in interracial preschools, home visiting and summer enrichment programs. Then in 1977 Sister began a new missionary presence in Boston Chinatown. One of the projects dear to her heart was the Chinatown Boy’s Club which provided education and summer programs for youth. This was in addition to her accompanying Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants as they became accustomed to their new life in Boston.

During her various renewal times, Sister was able to return to Ireland to visit her brothers and sisters. These visits and reconnections with her family, always gave her deep joy.Then in 1980, Sister suffered a severe heart attack which made it necessary for her to change the pace of her activities. But in spite of failing health, she continued to do all types of volunteer work with the Chinatown community in Boston.

It was in 1986, Sister Aquinas returned to the Center after a very full and active life. When asked what she found most important in her growth and experience in Maryknoll, she replied “The fact that God called me and gave me the grace to respond, that is my deepest source of joy.” Sister went on to say, “I think Vatican II was truly a ‘godsend’. I think I gradually grew into a new, more aware mission outlook. I have been made extremely happy in the realization that Maryknoll is such a vital entity in the plan of Christ to bring the Gospel into the daily living pattern of people. I thank God for calling me to share in it-even if my part is only a little dabble in the work.” As her physical health and energy diminished, Sister later moved to Assisted Living where she continued to live out her mission life to the fullest.

Today, we wish to extend our deepest sympathy to the family members. We wish to welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Mike Duggan as celebrant of liturgy and Mr. Joseph Brady of Peekskill who will play the bagpipes at this final farewell to Sister Mary Aquinas.