Sister Agnes Farrell, MM

Born: June 17, 1915
Entered: June 15, 1938
Died: November 27, 1976

We would like to share with you our grief and joy, the peace that we feel and the sorrow we cannot hide at the sudden death of our Sister Agnes Farrell. Agnes died quietly and peacefully in her sleep early Saturday morning, November 27, in Santa Cruz. Her death came as a tremendous shock to all of us. The night before her death she had been happily talking with Sister Fran Callert and Juanita Alpire, a young woman who lives next door, and Juanita’s mother and then she had gone to bed about 10:30 p.m.

Fran left her sleeping early Saturday morning to go on a retreat day with a group of catechists. It wasn’t until the afternoon that Juanita became concerned at not seeing Agnes and went over to check. It was then that she discovered that Agnes had died. By the time Fran got the news and arrived home, all the neighbors were there standing in silent sorrow; Paul Koch, a St. James priest had arrived and was beginning to make arrangements; and Bishop Charles Brown, the Maryknoll auxilary Bishop of Santa Cruz was just coming in the gate. The Maryknoll Fathers, the Dominican Sisters and the St. James priests began arriving and helped to make phone calls and other arrangements.

The doctor who wrote out the official death certificate is a young woman the Beni who has known the Sisters for years. With great love and tenderness the doctor helped dress Agnes, and Fran put a chi rho medal around her neck and a rosary with a happy death crucifix in her hands.

The Maryknoll Fathers immediately offered their parish, San Roque, for the wake and funeral. The casket was carried there and placed in the parish center attached to the Church. The Sisters from Montero and Mineros began arriving and all night long they took turns keeping vigil. During the first hours, many of the neighbors were there and Bishop Brown read the liturgy of the resurrection. Later Fran and the Sisters led the rosary. As the night wore on, the Sisters were alone with Agnes and prayed psalms and read scripture together. Early in the morning they prayed Lauds together for the first Sunday of Advent. The readings spoke to the depths of everyone’s heart of the coming of the Savior.

In the morning four of us came down from Cochabamba. We had gone out to the airport hoping against hope to get all four of us seats on the regular Sunday flight. When we arrived at the airport, we found to our amazement a plane already there which turned out to be flying to Santa Cruz practically empty on a special flight. So we were all able to make it.

As Sunday morning passed more and more people arrived. Matt Mueller, the Dominican priest who had been on the team with Agnes in Muyurina, left at five a.m. to try and reach the colonies to tell Sisters Rita Keegan and Mary de Porres. They dropped everything when he arrived and in 15 minutes were on the road back with him and the three of them arrived by 1:30 p.m.

By 3:00 p.m. the sala was jammed and at 4:00 we began the procession to the Church all singing “How Joyful it is to Enter the House of the Lord.” The Church was filled with sisters, brothers, priests and lay people who had known Agnes from almost 30 years ago when she first arrived in Bolivia. Six priests in their white albs carried the casket to the foot of the altar. Eighteen priests concelebrated the Mass. Father Bernie Garrity was the main celebrant and spoke of how he had come to Bolivia in 1947 on the same boat with Agnes and of her dedication to the people and generous spirit. The Archbishop of Santa Cruz, Luis Rodriguez, gave a beautiful eulogy after communion remarking on the sacrifices Agnes had made to leave her home and family and for so many years serve the Church in Bolivia. The singing and whole spirit of the Mass revolved around the resurrection theme and many, many people shared in the Eucharist at communion time. It seemed to be a moment of great solidarity and a clear sign of the universality of the Church.

The Sisters had made up the liturgy, choosing songs and readings that they felt expressed what Agnes had lived for. The first Reading was from Timothy 2: 8-12: “If we die with Him, we shall live with Him; If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him.” The Second Reading was from John 6: 35-40: “I am the Bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never be hungry… Everyone who looks upon the Son and puts his faith in Him shall possess eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The hymns expressed the joy and hope in the resurrection. After communion we broke into English with “Maryknoll, My Maryknoll.”

After Mass a large group walked in procession behind the hearse to the cemetery. There Agnes was placed in a niche of the Adoratrix’s Sisters’ crypt. It is in a beautiful slot with tall stately evergreens and palm trees shading it and a green lawn in front of it.

Last night we started the nine-day novena of prayers which is the custom here, Agnes herself had been speaking of these novenas the night before her death and had said that she would love to see the novena become a means of bringing a neighborhood together in prayer as a Christian community. Through this novena, we hope to realize her wish.

In death even as in life then, Agnes’ missionary call is to clear. Her life and her death help us reflect on the great mystery that we all must die in order to live. We know she is at peace with the Lord, whom she loved so much and served so faithfully all her life. Our sorrow at such a sudden death is eased by knowing that we share it all with you. Moreover we have been so very grateful to the many people who supported us in this hour of need. We are particularly grateful to the Maryknoll Fathers, here in Cochabamba, who showed themselves such true brothers to us during this time. We are also most grateful, for all the priests, brothers, and sisters in Santa Cruz who have been so overwhelmingly concerned and present with us these days.