Biographies

Sister Mary Sylvester Collins, MM

Born: January 7, 1896
Entered: September 24, 1921
Died: August 23, 1942

Sister Mary Sylvester Collins (Elizabeth A.) was a native of Ardmore, Pennsylvania when she entered Maryknoll September 24, 1921.

Sister had previously attended Mother of Good Counsel School in Bryn Mawr and had worked as supervisor for 9 years at the Bell Telephone Company in Ardmore.

She was professed in April, 1924 and assigned as a language student to Gishu, Korea, and later to Antung, Manchuria, 1924-1926.

In October 1926, Sister went to Yeng You, Korea, and in 1932 was assigned to Novitiate Training of Korean aspirants to religious life at Pyeng Yang, Korea.

She returned to the States, ill, and died August 23, 1942, on the eve of the arrival of Korean missioners repatriated because of war.

Father General preached at her Funeral Mass, August 24, 1942:

In the death of Sr. Sylvester you have sustained a great loss, and you have been enriched by a great gain. You have lost the human activity and contagious apostolic zeal of one of your best and truest and most selfless missioners; but you have been enriched by a life that began and ended in generous identification with the sacrificial ministry of Christ, and you have gained a tradition for the spiritual treasure house of the community. This gain is twofold, by which you derive strength from the living example of an apostolic vocation that was acted out in your midst, and you desire intercessory help from the transference of an apostle of heaven.

In both your loss and gain, my dear Sisters, you have the full sympathy and all the prayers of Maryknoll; you have the sharing of your sorrow, and pride on the part of our Christians in Korea; you have, I think, the gratitude of the whole infant Church of Korea to whose upbuilding your Sister missionary contributed so greatly. And it may be that you have a reason to be envied a little by the angels in heaven; because an apostolic soul that devoted all its life, its energy, all its faculties in a perfectly generous spirit to the furtherance of the reign of Christ in the hearts of His people, that is a contribution to the aim that is nearest the heart of many in Korea, and certainly nearest the heart of everyone in heaven.

It is not customary at time of death to dwell on considerations that distract from the solemn necessity of recommending the departed soul to God; but when death etches a well-spent life for our inspiration we can mingle our grateful thanks with our prayers of supplication.

Sister Sylvester, in the mission advance of the Maryknoll Sisters’ community, was a key figure. Her career was spent in our Korean Mission, signalized by the Holy See itself as one of the most successful missions in the entire Orient. In that mission Sister was occupied with two of the most basic works necessary to its success, namely, the training of the native Sisters, and subsequently she was chosen for the direction of the work of all the Sisters in Korea.

This made her an important figure in the development of that highly successful mission, and in the process of her work, by her selfless devotion, by her continual zeal, by her kindly spirit, she must have accomplished an enormous amount of good, while at the same time preserving the esteem and affection of everybody who was associated with her: priests, Sisters and missioners. She is very much identified with the Maryknoll Mission in Korea.

When the ship arrives tomorrow that is repatriating a great number of our priests and Sisters from Korea, one of the first questions to be asked will be “How is Sister Sylvester?” The answer will be “Well, all well. All perfectly well.” And when we return to Korea, as in God’s mercy we expect to do, one of the first remarks to be heard from the lips of the Korean Christians will be “We had hoped for the return of Sr. Sylvester, that we might see her again.” Actually, they will see her again, in that great rendezvous where all Maryknollers will meet with their Oriental children in Christ that will take place in heaven.

It seems to me that sister Sylvester must have been a chosen soul in the development of your community and if that is so, it means that she was chosen for strength of character and generosity of spirit and a capacity for sacrifice because, after having labored for the mission with eminent success, she was selected by God to suffer for the mission and for the Community, and she did both in one and the same manner, and with one and the same spirit, with the smile of patience and, I am sure, with the prayers of a felt privilege, and certainly with the acceptance of love.

So, when this career is put together, we must feel that God has designed it as an inspiration and a help to the Community because it is an exemplification of the true vocation that every Sister in the Community has and has because she has received it from God. To work for Christ and to suffer with Christ is the reason why we were put on earth, and we have here a striking fulfillment of the divine formula. Let us thank God for it and mingle our great gratitude with our heartfelt sorrow. We send this treasure to heaven; but you keep a treasure of memory that will strengthen and bless all of you.

We must pray for the soul of our apostolic Sister at this moment when her soul is ushered into the presence of the sanctity of God. Let us pray with confidence because we must feel she is assured of a welcome, to happiness in the presence of God, with Christ Whom she followed, with His Mother whom she loved, with His people whom she served, and let us hope that she will pray for us, as we pray for her.