Sister Alberta Sullivan, MM

Born: February 2, 1901
Entered: October 15, 1929
Died: June 2, 1981

If ever there was a Christian who was an “Alleluia” from head to foot, it was Sister Alberta Sullivan. How many times her hands and feet hastened to serve others, and to give praise to the Father. Her heart was open to all and her eyes showed the joy that came from deep within her. It was a joy that conveyed a sense of security and dignity born of God.

At her bedside Sister Alberta kept a simple wooden plaque that read, “Joy is not the absence of suffering but the presence of God.” Joy, presence and suffering come close to summing up her life.

Her journey was sustained by prayerfulness, and wherever Sister was present, the fruits of the Spirit were present – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and gentleness. It is almost impossible to separate gentleness and kindness from any remembrance of Sister Alberta, children knew this instinctively and those to whom she ministered witnessed to that fact. No matter what the hurt or need, they turned to her. Parents, too, lovingly recall the quiet influence she had on their families. Sister Alberta knew each family member by name, and having spanned three generations in one parish, she knew their relatives as well. Her duties as kindergarten and primary teacher in Hawaii, and later as librarian and school secretary were carried out with great care and attention to detail, but she would take time out to smile at good-natured teasing about working overtime.

Her presence in community inspired us – a woman of prayer, a generous worker, a listener, and one who affirmed and appreciated the talents of others. A frequent refrain in her letters was “My heart is full of gratitude.” Her room was neat and her few possessions reflected her priorities – the Scriptures, a few books and Maryknoll writings, her rosary, the tapes of songs sung by the monks of Weston Priory, and some cards to be made into greetings for others.

Sister Alberta was the oldest of a family of eight children and was named “Mary Margaret” at the time of her birth in Fair Haven, Vermont on February 2, 1901. She attended school in Fair Haven and and graduated from Brighton High School in Massachusetts then worked as bookkeeper, ledger typist and office clerk in a publishing house until entering Maryknoll on October 15, 1929. Following first vows on January 6, 1932, she was assigned to Hawaii and taught at Punahou until 1935 when she returned to the Center.

The years 1935—38 were spent at Maryknoll Teacher Training School and then Sister Alberta returned to Hawaii. During the school year 1945—46 she completed her studies at Maryknoll Teachers College and resumed her ministry at St. Anthony’s in Kalihi. A crossroads was reached in 1971 when Sister decided to volunteer her services at St. Ann’s in Kaneohe. With characteristic simplicity she looked ahead and chose 1973 as a year of transition in which she would search for a ministry that would allow her to be closer to her aging mother. Chilchilto, New Mexico became her new home and that part of her journey included an interlude of caring for her mother in Massachusetts.

At the end of that time Sister was able to assess her situation and respond once more to the prompting of the Spirit. Her ministry here at The Center continued until August of ‘78 when she was assigned to Bethany. She eventually moved to the Maryknoll Nursing Home when it opened in November 1978. In the Nursing Home she became an active member of the pastoral team – welcoming newcomers, praying with the sick and dying, and leading the prayers in Chapel. Her peaceful presence was recognized by those around her. As her strength diminished, Sister was confined to bed, and her suffering affected all – her Sisters, nurses, aides and housekeeping staff. She died quietly and peacefully on June 2, 1981.

The Scripture passage Sister chose for her Golden Jubilee card speaks of the way she lived and the way she continues to live after her journey through death to new Life:

“My soul is overflowing with the praise of my Lord. My soul is full of joy in God my Savior.”

We are especially happy to have Sister’s brother, celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection for her, he will be assisted by two members of his Order, and Maryknoll Fathers John K. Halbert and Bishop Edward A. McGurkin.