Sister Esther Donovan, MM

Born: December 25, 1913
Entered: October 15, 1929
Died: January 27, 2003

As we gather this morning to remember and to celebrate the life of our Sister Esther Donovan with whom we have shared faith, mission and our Maryknoll vocation, each of us who knew her recalls how she has touched our lives – personally and in community. For us, Sister Esther will be remembered for her gracious gentle manner, quiet sense of humor, ready smile and deep commitment to Christ in mission to the world. Today’s Gospel Reading beautifully exemplifies Sister’s life. Esther lived the greatest of all commandments – a life of love!

On the evening of January 27, 2003, Esther began her journey to New Life. At her bedside in the Residential Care Unit at Maryknoll, New York, were her sister, our Sister Agnes, and several other Sisters and nursing staff who lovingly cared for her throughout her illness. Sister celebrated her 89th birthday on Christmas Day and the 71st anniversary of her First Profession as a Maryknoll Sister on January 6th, Esther Donovan was born December 25, 1913 in Auburn, New York, the fifth of seven children, to Thomas and Mary Esther Keenan Donovan. She received her early education at St. Mary’s Grammar School in Auburn and attended Auburn Academy for two years before entering Maryknoll on October 15, 1929. At Reception Esther received the religious name of Sister Miriam David. She made her First Profession on January 6, 1932 at Maryknoll, New York and her Final Profession four years later on the same date.

In 1934, Sister Esther completed her secondary education at the Venard, Maryknoll Junior Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania and, in 1937, received a Teachers Certificate from Maryknoll Teachers’ College and was assigned to Hawaii. Upon her arrival on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu she began what was to be her long career in education in the schools of Hawaii and the Marshall Islands. She also served as Local and Regional Superior for many years and was Regional Delegate for three General Assemblies.

Even while serving briefly at Bethany in 1974, she was asked to be Superior, a great surprise, but she slipped gracefully into the role for a two year period. As a Superior, both at Bethany and in Hawaii, she was described as innovative, committed, steady and so trusted because confidences were never violated. She also helped the Sisters relax, one time buying a VCR on the spur of the moment when she realized none existed.

Forty-three years after contributing her teaching skills in the various schools of Hawaii, Sister moved to Assumption School, Majuro, Marshall Islands where, for 15 years, she taught and directed an in-service teacher training program and served as school librarian. There was very little resource material available but Sister met this challenge with enthusiasm and said: “If I am instrumental in training even one Marshallese to be a conscientious, dedicated teacher in the service of his or her people – one whose philosophy is based on Gospel principles – I consider my mission presence in Majuro to be a permanent value. Education is a pressing need and a demand of the Marshallese people but it cannot be adequately met unless we train teachers.”

Upon hearing of Sister Esther’s death, Sister Aurora de la Cruz wrote: Sister Norbert McLaughlin and I lived and worked with Sister Esther Donovan in the Marshall Islands from 1981 to 1989. As a young Sister I admired Sister Esther’s dedication, perseverance and love for God’s people in the Marshalls as evidenced by her full time ministry as librarian for Assumption Elementary and Assumption High School and her support of the ministry of the Sisters in the Outer Islands. For them she did shopping, forwarding food and mail, making necessary contacts to assure supplies were loaded on ships, bills were paid. In the midst of her busy schedule, Sister Esther found time to visit the sick in the nearby Majuro Hospital consoling and blessing them, helping them feel God’s love and care. She was also always present in peoples lives especially during the first birthday of a baby and for funerals.

I think the most important lesson I learned from Sister Esther was her total and complete dependence on God’s will which she expressed in a letter written to the newly assigned Sisters while she was Regional Superior in Hawaii. She wrote: “As with every other list of assignments this one, too, will bring joy to some and disappointment to others. However, if we all try to bear in mind that the Holy Spirit truly works in those placed over us, we will accept those changes in a spirit of Faith with fortitude and joy.”

After training a local Marshallese young woman to take over the library work at Assumption Schools in Majuro, Sister Esther made the decision to retire in Hawaii. Sister Esther’s dedication to mission and love for her Sisters was felt by all who knew her and, in a very special way, by all who lived with her. Her gentle and affirming manner was present to them at all times; they knew they had her confidence and remember her as a person who never had a bad word for or about anyone.

At the time of her Golden Jubilee Celebration Sister Esther wrote: “The years of growth and change in the world at large, in the church and in Maryknoll, have broadened my vision and appreciation of peoples and their needs in various cultures and levels of culture. They have also deepened my commitment to Christ in mission to the World. The period of my missionary life that I found most satisfying was being involved with students, because in that role one is involved with the whole family of each student – the key to society and the key to the church, for neither can exist without the family.”

We extend our deepest sympathy to Sister Esther’s sister, Sister Agnes, and to all her relatives and friends who are unable to be with us today. We are also mindful of our Sisters and friends in Micronesia whose faithful prayer partner will now be interceding for them from Heaven.

We welcome and thank Maryknoll Father Wayman Deasy who will preside at this Mass of Christian Burial as we give thanks to God for the life of Sister Esther Donovan.