Sister Anna Maria Towle, MM
Born: January 1, 1864
Entered: October 6, 1912
Died: February 4, 1944
As we honor Sister Anna Maria this morning we have a feeling that in her case God so privileged her. He made her not only in a measure holy, but beautifully holy.
Sister Anna Maria came to Maryknoll in 1912. She was one of the first group of six or eight young women who took up residence first at Hawthorne. Later in the year, when the Seminary was opened in what is now known as “Rosary House” (in September, 1912), plans were made and one October day this little group moved into “St. Teresa’s Lodge”. In those days there was but the haziest notion that there might come into existence what is now known as “The Maryknoll Sisters”. They were then a group of lay-women, called “Teresians”. It was not until 1921, nine years later, that the first canonical Profession took place and that Sister Anna Maria became a Maryknoll Sister.
But from the first day of her arrival she was part of Maryknoll. She saw each new student arrive upon the property. She witnessed and participated in each little event of those pioneer years. She saw each Ordination, was present at each Departure, and now, thirty-two years later, as she takes her leave of us, she sees Maryknoll, not the little lowly dream of her first days, but a great reality, bearing upon its shoulders grave responsibilities before God to bring God’s message to the world.
We honor Sister Anna Maria, we show her our respect, but we do something more. We find in her case that she is one of those rare individuals toward whom we feel a warm affection —that she was given by God the gift of loveableness. She possessed inside of her wells of buoyant happiness; there was an attractiveness, a charm, a motherly sympathy that meant a great deal, not only to her Sisters, but to the students and to the priests with whom she had contact in her work.
Cardinal Newman in one of his prayers bids us ask God for health and strength of soul — yes — but to ask, likewise, for that bloom and comeliness of spirit that represents the richness and completeness of the Christian ideal in man. We feel that God gave Sister Anna Maria that bloom and comeliness of spirit. She is symbolized well — as it is often said of others — by the flame of the candle on the altar — so softly bright, so steadfast, so forgetful of self, so ready to give itself for others.
But in particular she embodied for us those fruits of the Holy Ghost to which St. Paul makes reference in his letter to the Galatians: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, temperance. St. Thomas tells us that St. Paul did not mean to enumerate with exactness all the gifts that come to men as fruits of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, but that he seeks to describe various facets of a single jewel focusing upon the one central theme of spiritual sweetness. It is the part of every man to struggle in his existence upon earth, but in the case of a few that struggle seems to be subordinated to a life of happiness, an easy spiritual joy in the doing of the day’s tasks. We feel that in some small measure this was Sister Anna Maria’s privilege.
Such people may be said to enjoy the possession of the ‘sacrament of the present’ . They live in a perpetual ‘now’ that gives them complete satiety, as if they seem to say, “If someone comes to me now, I must give myself completely to them now, for they need me now.” And thus their lives become a perpetual ‘now’ bridging eternity; they live calmly, happily, in this continual earthly ‘now’, and then pass easily, gracefully, into the eternal ‘now’.
Such people likewise enjoy the privilege of a rare contentment — they never seem to hunger for big pleasures, for great happiness. They never seem to plead for the whole loaf, they do not feel that they have been deprived of the loaf and given the crumbs. They see that in the wisdom of God, in every crumb there is the substance of the loaf. However tiny, however infinitesimal the morsel, they enjoy the very essence.
We offer our sympathy to the relatives of Sister Anna Maria, and we shall remember them in those prayers which we shall say in abundance for the repose of her soul. We take a lesson from her passing to dwell upon our own. In the California missions, on the great bells which hang in the bell towers, there is often inscribed the simple but beautifully quaint saying: “Of these tollings, one will be thine” It is with a feeling akin to envy that we look upon this life; we ask God that in some small measure we may enjoy the privilege of the beauty and the loveliness which has marked it.