Sister Jennieva Lassiter, MM

Born: April 19, 1925
Entered: December 30, 1956
Died: November 2, 1998

On the Feast of All Souls, November 2, 1998, at 10:15 a.m., Sister Jennieva Lassiter died peacefully at Westchester Medical Center. She was seventy-three years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for forty-one years.

Jennieva Lassiter was born April 19, 1925 in Cape Charles, Virginia. She was the fourth of fifteen children raised by Brogie and Bernice Jones Lassiter. The family moved to Philadelphia when Jennieva was nine years of age. Jennieva grew up strongly influenced by her parents’ values and strong Baptist faith. She wrote: “We never had much on the material side—there were so many of us and not much money. But there was something the family had in abundance and that was love in all its many forms. Love guided my mother in her everyday life and that meant generosity, kindness and the gift of herself to everyone, at all times. Then my parents too had great faith. Our whole family life seemed to be based on the love and mercy of God. As Protestants, reading the Bible was a part of our daily life.”

Jennieva attended Steele Elementary School and Germantown High School. While still in high school, Jennieva became interested in Social Work as a career where she felt that she could help others who were experiencing difficulties. After graduation from high school, she pursued studies in social work at Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio where she received a B.S. in Social Work in 1949. She continued her studies in social work and received an M.S.W. in 1951 from Columbia University’s New York School of Social Work. Upon graduation from Columbia, Jennieva realized her lifelong dream of becoming a social worker.

Jennieva moved to Portland, Oregon where she was employed by the Oregon State Public Welfare Commission as a caseworker in their child care programs and later with Catholic Social Services for Children. She specialized in the placement of foster children. As a Child Welfare Worker, she related to children of all ages but expressed a preference for working with teenagers. She felt that teenagers living in foster homes were often not the happiest or most approachable people, that they needed patient attention and someone to love them in their most unlovable moments. She wrote: “Since each person is an individual, unique and irreplaceable, then each case was extraordinary, each child unique, and each one’s anguish and pain became mine. The only way I could repay the many kindnesses I had received or put into practice the many lessons I had learned was to give completely to each individual case what was demanded of my time, energy and know how.”

While in Portland, Jennieva decided to learn more about the Catholic Church so that she could better understand the needs of the Catholic children with whom she was working. She eventually became a Catholic and was active in the Young Christian Worker’s movement where small groups reflected together on their reality and sought to bring Christian values to their places of employment and recreation. As Jennieva became interested in religious life, she felt drawn to Maryknoll because of her interest in helping people of other countries.

Jennieva entered Maryknoll on December 30, 1956 at Valley Park, Missouri. She received the religious name of Sister Martin Corde. Her First Profession of Vows was August 22, 1959 at Valley Park, Missouri and her Final Profession of Vows August 22, 1965 in Tanzania. In 1960 she was assigned to Tanzania where she would spend the next eighteen years.

Jennieva taught in Tanzania’s first Catholic secondary school for girls in Morogoro. In addition to her years of teaching Domestic Science and Agricultural Science in Morogoro, she was one of the pioneers of Nangwa Girls Secondary School, which was begun at the special request of President Nyerere. At Nangwa, Jennieva taught cooking, sewing and agriculture. She worked with government teams conducting training programs and seminars for women and girls, gave programs for developing leadership skills, trained literacy teachers and was a key member of the National Tanzanian Women’s Organization.

Illness made her return to the United States in 1978 a necessity. While at home Jennieva worked at Maryknoll in the Social Services office of Residential Care and was a regular volunteer at the Reception Desk. During this time, she became an active member of the National Black Sisters Conference, attending their gatherings when her health allowed. She worked to carry out the recommendations of the Conference and was committed to her mentoring role within the Conference. In 1984, she was a co-founder of PROP, the Positive Renal Outreach Program, which is a support group in Westchester County for people with renal failure and their families. This local initiative has received national recognition and served as a model and inspiration to others. The group has raised funds for the treatment of renal patients in low income areas of Westchester County.

In the book, No Two Alike, Sr. Maria Del Rey Danforth chose the title “A Woman to Love” for the chapter about Jennieva. It was a particularly significant title as it was indeed love that was the motivating factor in her life choices. The love that she found in abundance in her family led her to a career in social work with children whom she loved. Her journey of love continued on the path that led her to Maryknoll and to Tanzania. The PROP newsletter described Geneva with these words: “The word exceptional seems inadequate to describe a woman who has dedicated her life to help better the lives of others.”

We offer our deepest sympathy to Sister Jennieva’s family and welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Steve DeMott, who will preside at this Eucharist of Christian Burial as together we lovingly remember and give thanks for the life of this exceptional woman, our Sister, our friend, Jennieva.