Biographies

Sister Mary Matilda Jessup, MM

Born: January 22, 1903
Entered: October 15, 1929
Died: September 6, 1997

We gather today to remember and celebrate the life of our Sister Matilda Jessup. Although Sister had been a resident in Residential Care since October 1996 and in failing health, no one was prepared for the news of her death on Saturday evening, September 6, 1997.

Margaret Mary Jessup was born January 22, 1903, in Brooklyn, New York, the younger of two daughters born to Matilda Newton and John Jessup. Her sister, Florence, predeceased her. Margaret Mary received her early education at St. Anthony’s School in Brooklyn, and after graduating from St. Joseph’s Commercial High School, worked as a Stenographer and Typist for several years before entering Maryknoll on October 15, 1929. At Reception she received the name Sister Mary Matilda, the name she retained throughout her religious life.

Sister’s exceptional secretarial skills were soon recognized, and shortly after making her First Profession on January 6, 1932 she began what was to be her life-time ministry of service to the Society and Congregation. For thirty-four years she worked as secretary in various Field Afar offices of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, followed by twenty years in the Maryknoll Sisters’ Development Office. Her mission at the desk touched people throughout the world, and made an important and indispensable contribution to the work of all her sisters and brothers in Maryknoll.

Sister always had a twinkle in her eye, and her happy disposition and sense of humor were contagious. She had a remarkable capacity for fun. She loved life, loved people (especially the younger Sisters), and loved being of service. She was also a faithful correspondent and regaled all with her mission stories. It was a big surprise to her, she said, that God had planned an entire life-time of helping support the Community by her secretarial skills. “I had wanted to go to China as a missionary since I was a child, but God had other plans for me. Since this was what God wanted me to do, my whole life has been happy, thank God.”

In 1971, Sister Matilda was offered a trip to Guatemala. She was happy she was able to accept this gift and in a note to Sister Barbara Hendricks, President, thanking her for this opportunity she wrote: “It really was worth while waiting 42 years to visit Guatemala! I am grateful to you and the other members of the Board for this opportunity.

Throughout her life, Sister Matilda suffered many personal hardships, but love remained and not without a sense of humor. She told Sr. Sue Rech, her friend for thirty years, that she wished things were different, that she wished she could change herself – that she can’t change others. When Sue replied: “Sister, you are a wise woman,” Sister Matilda’s response was: “Well Sister, it’s common sense.”

In 1982, on her application form for assignment to the Center, Sister wrote: “I have always felt honestly that when I die I shall be judged on how I acted towards my Sisters and I have always tried, despite many failures, to treat each one with kindness and patience and a smile, as all this means so much to me.”

At the age of 79, on September 2, 1983, Sister Matilda decided it was time for her to retire, and went to Watch Hill for a two-week vacation. Sister Peg Donovan of the Central Governing Board, wrote the following appreciation:

It will be difficult for all of us not to have your pleasant, kind self in the office – being there to answer so many questions about the U.S. Church and Bishops – to welcome and make feel at home the new mission educators – to listen to the tales of joys and woes of the other promoters as they return to the Center from visits to schools, parishes and Bishops. You have given so much encouragement and support to our Sisters so that they in turn could do a better job on mission education. You took the burden of the secretarial task on your shoulders for all these 20 years. How many can claim such faithfulness to mission education!

In 1996, the Central Governing Board asked which Maryknoll Sisters had never received a mission cross. Sister Matilda Jessup, 93 years old minus one month and a Maryknoll Sister for 67 years was one. On December 23, at the Christmas Liturgy on Residential Care, she was presented her mission cross with these words: “Receive this cross, Sister Matilda, sign of God’s love and of our faith. May you continue to witness to Jesus in our midst all the days of your life!” And she has done just that in her life-time ministry of service to the Society and Congregation, in promoting global mission from her desk.

We offer each of you here present – her family and friends – our loving condolences. We thank you for joining us in this Liturgy of the Resurrection for Sister Matilda and for the joy you brought to her throughout her long life. We thank our Maryknoll brother, Father Bill Donnelly, who will preside at this Eucharist, as we thank God for the gift of Sister Matilda’s life and for her total participation in the mission of Jesus.