Sister Anne Cecilia Balberis, MM

Born: July 22, 1920
Entered: June 10, 1939
Died: January 4, 2005

“Sing to the Mountains, sing to the Sea
Raise your voices lift your hearts
This is the day the Lord has made
Let all the earth Rejoice!”

Yes, let us rejoice and be glad today, as we gather to celebrate Sister Anne Cecilia Balberis’ entrance into New Life.

Baker woman! Counselor! Legend! How do we describe this gentle loving woman, whose smile, kindness and compassion touched all of our lives. So many of us have experienced her welcome as we returned from our missions and were greeted with much care and concern for ourselves, our family and always interested in knowing about the people with whom we shared ministry.

On January 4, 2005 , as the Eucharistic Celebration was to begin, Sister Anne Cecilia Balberis, passed away in our Maryknoll Residential Care IV. She was 84 years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 65 years.

Anne Leona Balberis was born on July 22, 1920 in Witherbee, NY, the third child of Matthew Balberis and Mary Anna Kavalauskas Balberis. Her father, who worked in an iron mine, eventually moved his family to their own dairy farm near Brockton, MA. The Balberis family belonged to St. Rocco (St. Roch), later St. Casimir Lithuanian parish, in Brockton, MA. Anne Leona attended Franklin and Howard elementary schools and St. Patrick’s High School, Brockton, MA.

She received her strong faith and love for the mother of God from her Lithuanian-born parents and deepened her faith through participation in parish liturgies, devotions and activities. When in high school she wanted to enter Religious life but was encouraged to wait until she graduated. When asked why she wanted to become a Religious she said: “To give – to give to God. He has been so good to me.”

Anne Leona’s life-long desire to become a religious was fulfilled when she entered Maryknoll on June 10, 1939. At reception she received the name Sister Anne Cecilia, which she retained throughout her life. She professed her First Vows on June 6, 1942 and her Final Vows on June 6, 1945 both at Maryknoll, NY. In 1942, she was assigned to manage the bakery at Maryknoll’s junior seminary (the Venard) in Clarks Summit, PA. where, for six years, she supervised Maryknoll Sister novices and postulants in baking nutritious and delicious foods for the student body and faculty.

Sister Anne Cecilia soon became Maryknoll’s baker and pastry chef par excellence, and for decades, taught and supervised future Sisters in the huge bakeries of the Maryknoll Sisters’ Bethany nursing home and the Motherhouse. Of her missionary vocation as a baker she once said, “I have been very happy wherever I was asked to serve. I served by feeding the boys who would be future priests, and I was teaching the postulants and novices to bake. I was training future missioners. It never mattered where I was, as long as I was serving the Lord in Maryknoll.”

Maryknollers around the world fondly recall Sister Anne Cecilia’s  breads, pastries and desserts, especially her Maryknoll breakfast bread. At the annual Maryknoll Sisters international bazaar, lines formed for her baked goods long before the doors opened, and her booth always sold out in a few hours. When the Maryknoll Sisters engaged a food service for the Motherhouse, she was hired as its baker from 1971 to 1988, when she retired. At that time, Sister was asked if she would be willing to accept a mission assignment in another country. She reflected upon it a while and said: “ I feel I belong here at the Center, this is my mission, to serve the Sisters and I am very happy.” and she added with a twinkle in her eyes “How could Bodo be without me.” Mr. Bodo Woltmann worked with Sister Anne Cecilia for 35 years. From 1989-2003 she continued to bake on a part-time basis and for special occasions. During this time she happily shared her baker’s secrets with Mrs. Edith Walters.

Starting in the 1960’s Sister Anne Cecilia reached out to those in need in the wider community as a faithful, long-term volunteer at Grasslands County Hospital feeding paraplegic patients. At home, before she went to work in the bakery, she would visit the bedridden Sisters in the Residential Care Unit. “They are part of my love,” she said.

Around the time of her Golden Jubilee in 1989, during an interview, she was asked what she liked about her years at Maryknoll she said: “Oh, I love Maryknoll and I love it as much as I ever did. Yes, they have been wonderful years. And I love my vocation as a religious. I am very grateful that God called me to Maryknoll. And I have been happy wherever I was asked to serve even if it wasn’t on the foreign mission. It didn’t matter to me as long as I was a religious and I was at Maryknoll.” When asked about her happiest memories, she responded: “I was always very happy in my work, being able to help others. Feast days are also such happy times – the celebrating – the meals – the singing. I love to sing”. Gifted with a strong soprano voice Sister Anne Cecilia was a permanent member of the Maryknoll choir all her life, until her illness in August 2004. In No Two Alike we read: “Joy moves over the face of Sr. Anne Cecilia like sunshine sweeping a landscape, as she freely gives you whatever she has.”

Her relationship with God was one of childlike simplicity. She rejoiced in spending many hours in God’s presence in the Eucharist and in creation. Praising God in song and in daily petitions: praying for the Holy Father, youth in the world, friends and neighbors, the sick, the soldiers in Iraq, the intentions on the bulletin board, our benefactors and for the safety of all travelers. How can we ever forget that plaintiff supplication: “Let us pray to the Lord”. Her devotion to Mary, Mother of God, began in her childhood. She felt and believed strongly that Mary was her mother and she entrusted her life to her.

Sister Anne Cecilia’s Prayer Ministry was the Full Circle. She remembered the women of Full Circle (former Maryknoll Sisters) both in prayer and correspondence. She was always so very happy to see them.

“Whoever wants to serve me, must follow me
and wherever I am there shall my servant be.
Whoever serves me will be honored by God” John 12: 24-2 6

Surely, she is singing and making joyful melody with God whom she loved and served so faithfully.

We extend our gratitude to the Maryknoll Residential Care Staff and to Mrs. Edith Walters for their goodness and kindness in caring for our Sister Anne Cecilia.

We offer our condolences to Sister Anne Cecilia’s family, members of Maryknoll Sisters Full Circle, and all her many friends. We are grateful for their presence as we celebrate Sister Anne Cecilia’s new life.

We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Thomas McDonnell, M.M. who will preside over the Eucharistic Celebration of Resurrection.