Sister Miriam Dolores Latham, MM
Born: June 5, 1890
Entered: September 20, 1928
Died: June 20, 1989
On Tuesday, June 20, about 6:00 P.M., Sister Miriam Dolores, the Congregation’s oldest member at the time, died as she had lived, gently, quietly, and confident of God’s love.
Hattie Maud was the 8th of 10 children born to Adella Fuller Latham and Albert Alonzo Latham, on June 5, 1890, in Columbia, Connecticut. An unofficial student at the age of 3 – she wouldn’t let her brother go off to school without her – Maud developed her pursuit of learning early on. Despite the death of her mother in 1902, with added responsibilities given to the children, Mr. Latham was willing to allow her to go out to high school. From her second year on she worked her way through high school and college doing housework and taking care of children. She got her A.B. in English at Smith College in 1912 and her Master’s in English at Columbia Teachers College the following year. It is interesting to note that Mother Mary Joseph, who graduated from Smith in 1905, had had her interest in the missions aroused by her experience in college which ultimately led her to Maryknoll.
Maud worked as a teacher in grade and high school, including coaching plays, organizing Camp Fire Girls and starting a library. She did statistical work for a communications firm, was circulation manager for a magazine, was employed as a Research Assistant for the New York State Department of Health and taught Naturalization classes. At the end of World War I she had gone to France under the auspices of the YMCA to do canteen work with the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces. After her return to the U.S. she continued to visit the wounded in the Veterans Hospital, taking those who were able to dances and theater parties.
It was in 1927, through a mutual friend, Monsignor Duggan, of Cathedral Parish, Hartford, Connecticut, that Maud met Bishop James Anthony Walsh and had her first experience of Maryknoll. There is a 15 page handwritten account of this which is wonderful. Describing herself as “broken financially and physically after a 16-month illness, not even knowing where I would spend the night,” Bishop Walsh invited her to stay until Mother Mary Joseph returned from her visitation in the Orient. The intervening 3 months left her much impressed and an eager participant in what she called “the joyous spirit which is the soul of Maryknoll.” Among many impressions, she writes, “I saw a Sister get into an automobile and drive off toward the village. ‘Are Sisters allowed to drive a car?’ I gasped. ‘This certainly smashes all my ideas of convents, ‘ I laughed…all this gave me plenty of food for thought.”
It took a few months more before Mother Mary Joseph’s invitation to enter the novitiate was accepted. For some reason she resisted the idea that she had a vocation. In 1928, four years a convert, Maud decided to come and stay. She was 38 years old. Years later she said, “I didn’t want to be a religious but God finally got me here … I’ve learned that God gives His best to those who leave the choices to Him.”
At Reception she received the name “Sister Miriam Dolores”, made her First Vows January 6, 1931 across the road on the old compound and her Final Profession here in this Chapel on the same day in 1934, when she was assigned to Hawaii. Sister enjoyed teaching at Punahou High School, with its many extra curricular activities. She also delighted in the Island’s beauty and being able to get to the beach fairly frequently. Her great love of the water and vigorous walks were evidenced throughout her life, well into her 90s. Sister returned to the States in 1941 to do editorial work for the Maryknoll Magazine and various clerical tasks at the Sisters’ Center. She returned to teaching in Transfiguration Parish in New York’s Chinatown and then was asked to be librarian at Maryknoll Teachers College. Acquiring an M. A. in Library Science, Sister worked 13 years to bring the College library up to a high level of excellence. Age and bouts of poor health – she was 77 at the time – motivated a change and a lighter schedule, but Sister remained quite active doing arts and crafts for the Retirement Fund and through her hospital visiting.
She enjoyed her leisure time for reading, praying and long walks. During the 70s Sister became very interested in the Charismatic Renewal movement. This, and her early background nuanced her spirituality considerably. There was ever a hunger for God that urged expression, always in a forthright but unassuming manner.
At 97 she was alert, friendly, cooperative and humorous as ever. With the other members of her entrance group here at the Center she participated in and thoroughly enjoyed the celebration of their 60th Anniversary in February, 1988. She was much loved by the Nursing Home Staff, who commented that she always said “Thank you” for the smallest favor – either in words or by a twinkle of her expressive eyes.
The descriptions of Sister Miriam Dolores most mentioned by those who knew her are: gentleness, simplicity and closeness to God. Is that not a tribute we would all cherish from our friends?
We express our condolences Sister’s family and many dear friends. We welcome to Father Robert Jalbert, M.M., who will lead us in this morning’s Eucharistic celebration of remembrance and thanksgiving.