Sister George Anthony Kayser, MM

Born: July 17, 1924
Entered: October 5, 1946
Died: July 8, 2010

Sister George Anthony Kayser died on July 8, 2010 in Arequipa, Peru.  In 2008, her failing health necessitated her moving to Arequipa from the highlands of Yanque.  Her love and care for the people of Yanque continued to be expressed in her prayers, correspondence and telephone calls to the end.  A few days before she died, she was admitted to the hospital.  The Sisters from her local community were with her during these days and also when she passed away.  She was 85 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 63 years.

Dorothy Anna Kayser was born on July 17, 1924 in the Bronx, New York City, NY to Eva (Tholen) and George Kayser.  Her older sister and brother both predeceased her.

Dorothy Anna attended St Anthony of Padua School in the Bronx and graduated from Cathedral High School in New York City in 1941.  After graduation she worked for five years for the F.W. Woolworth Co. in Laurelton, Long Island. On October 5, 1946 she entered the Maryknoll Sisters from Our Lady of the Cenacle Parish in Richmond Hill, Long Island.

At Reception she received the religious name, Sister George Anthony.  She made her First Profession of Vows on April 6, 1949 at Maryknoll, NY and her Final Vows on April 6, 1952 in Balboa, the Canal Zone in Panama.  She was assigned to Central America in 1949, and spent her first year in Siuna, Nicaragua studying Spanish.  In 1950 she went to Balboa, in the Canal Zone of Panama. There she did catechetical and social work for three years.  In 1953 she was assigned to Ancon, Panama, where she taught kindergarten and did catechetical work.  In 1954 she returned to Siuna, Nicaragua, where she did catechetical work for three years.

In 1957 she returned to the Motherhouse for a period of Renewal and later that year she joined the Bolivia/Peru Region and was assigned to the Parish of St. Rose of Lima, in Peru.  For six years she taught the sixth grade in the parish school and did catechetical work with the public school children in the parish.  In 1963 she was assigned to be the secretary to Maryknoll Bishop Eduardo Fedders of the Juli Prelature in the Altiplano of Peru.  During the next three years she and two other sisters moved from Juli to work in Lampa Chico, a small farming community where they did pastoral and social work.  It was during this time that she learned to speak Aymara while sharing the simple farming life of the people.

In 1966 she was named the administrator of the Center House in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where she served for the next five years.  During this time she also visited the orphans and prisoners in Cochabamba and offered her service as accountant for some of the mission areas.

In 1971 Sister George Anthony returned to Peru. At the invitation of Fr. Paul Hagan of the Ogdensburg Diocese in New York, she joined the existing inter-community pastoral team that worked out of Chivay, in the Caylloma Province of Arequipa. Over the years this team was made up of members of different religious congregations including other Maryknoll Sisters. The team attended to both the spiritual and physical needs of the people: farmers, shepherds, weavers and sewers. When the officials in Chivay objected to the team’s thrust for social justice, the team moved to Yanque where they continued to carry out their pastoral responsibilities for the whole Colca Valley. They lived in the remnants of a 15th century Franciscan monastery. Several years later, Fr. Paul Hagan died in a car accident while on home leave. The Bishop of Arequipa named Sister Antonia as administrator of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Yanque. She lived and worked with the Quechua indigenous people of this area in the central highlands of Peru for 39 years.

Sr. Antonia had a great admiration for Dorothy Day and so for her to share the simple life of the poor was a dream come true.  Part of her day was spent tilling the arid altiplano fields on the grounds of the monastery to provide food for the community and to share with those in need.  She learned Quechua and became a friend and mentor to the people, an advisor to the catechists, the giver of medical attention to the sick, and an advocate for the poor in their struggle for their rights to land and water.  One of the projects that was most appreciated by the people was the breakfast program that she started some 30 years ago.  Hundreds of poor children and parents came each morning for fresh baked bread and hot soup; all that was asked in return was a piece of kindling that could be used for the next day’s cooking or any other small contribution.  In a Maryknoll Magazine article Antonia shared that the missionary cornerstones of her life were: “culture, cult and cultivation”.  She explained that culture is the people, cult is prayer, and cultivation is planting what you eat and eating what you plant.

She celebrated her 50th anniversary as a Maryknoll Sister in Arequipa in May of 1996. Her memorial card for the occasion carried Mother Mary Joseph’s description of a Maryknoll Sister, an ideal that she truly lived.  In Yanque the following month she received a special citation from the Province of Calloma, Arequipa, Peru, in gratitude for her dedicated service to the people.  Sr. Antonia had a great respect for the language, culture and customs of the people.  Although she willingly shared her knowledge and gifts with others, she also felt that she was always learning from the deep wisdom of the people.  She believed that it was only by sharing life with the people that a missioner could come to share deep friendships with them and together experience a mutual respect, one for the other.  Only recently she said: “Together in the fields, we can be happy and also cry together, for example when there is a good harvest or when the potatoes fail to grow.”  Just a few hours before she died, Sr. Antonia said to all: “I am happy and I want you to be happy too.”

On Friday afternoon, July 9th there was a wake followed by a funeral Mass in Arequipa.  The Maryknoll Sisters, other religious and many of her dear friends attended.  Sr. Margaret Kilduff, in the name of the Maryknoll Sisters, welcomed all and recalling the life of Sr. Antonia said:  She was an extraordinary missioner marked by: joyful simplicity, openness to all alike, and a strong faith, a sense of humor, an ongoing search for God and a spirit of freedom.  She inspired us all with her commitment to the poor, her simple way of life, and her thirst for justice.

(The following is taken from Sr. Margaret Kilduff’s written account of Sister Antonia Marie’s wake, procession, Mass and burial.)

After the Mass, Srs. Maria Zeballos, Aurelia Atencio and Margaret Kilduff joined the caravan of cars that made the four hour drive over the mountain roads and arrived at Yanque in the dark of night; the sky was studded with stars.  The whole town was gathered to welcome Antonia.  An all night vigil, in below zero weather, began with rites, food, drink, prayers, hymns and shared remembrances.  As the new day dawned the welcomed sun bathed the majestic Andes with its golden light.  Then all were served boiled quinua that had been cooked over an open fire in the patio of the church.  The women were dressed in black with blue striped cloaks and the men in black ponchos, also striped in blue.  All were in mourning.

The procession began on its way to the church, after the men raised Antonia’s coffin on their shoulders, the women, with lovely flowers, formed an honor guard.  As all processed, they sang beautiful Quechua hymns.  The town band with trumpets, horns and drums filled the town square with music.

On Saturday, July 10th, Fr. Pedro Bustamante Lopez, Antonia’s dear friend, with Father Marcos Alarcon Vasquez, the pastor, and Maryknoll Fr. Michael Briggs concelebrated the Mass of Christian burial.  The church was full and the youth led the singing of the hymns in Quechua.  The Gospel reading reminded all that happiness and peace are God’s promise to all who live the Beatitudes.

After Mass the coffin was re-opened and all had the opportunity to come forward to say their goodbyes.  All then processed to the Municipal patio where the town officials gave their testimony of respect and appreciation of Sr. Antonia.  The Mayor then invited anyone who wished to speak.  The spontaneous testimonies were extraordinarily touching.  They spoke of Antonia’s ability to listen, console, understand, and lend a hand in times of difficulty, to be a mother and a friend to so many.

At the entrance to the cemetery a large circle was formed and the pall bearers began their dance holding Antonia’s coffin on their shoulders. The women danced around the men holding streamer ribbons from the coffin as special dance music was played.  Sr. Antonia was then buried in the foothills of  the Andes Mountains, near the eucalyptus trees and next to the grave of Sr. Sara Kaithathera, a Medical Mission Sister and nurse, with whom she lived and worked for many years.  Thus Antonia was laid to rest in her beloved Yanque, just as she had wished.  She will be remembered by many as the “Mother of the Colca Valle, Mother of Yanque”.  May she rest in peace.

We are happy to have Maryknoll Fr. Carl Meulemans with us today to celebrate this Memorial Mass.