Sister Grace Marian Martel, MM

Born: December 13, 1908
Entered: June 28, 1936
Died: June 29, 1998

On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 1998, one day after the sixty-second anniversary of her entrance into Maryknoll, Sister Grace Marian Martel died at 9:35 a.m. in the assisted living unit at Maryknoll, New York. Sister Grace Marian, affectionately called “Gracie” by many, was eighty-nine years of age.

Dorothy Teresa Martel was born December 13, 1908 in Rutland, Vermont, the first of two children, to Frederick A. and Catherine Loveday Martel. Dorothy received her grammar and high school education in Rutland, Vermont, and graduated from Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy in 1926. She continued her education and obtained a teacher’s certificate at Vermont State Normal School before studying at Boston University School of Education where she received a Bachelor degree in Education and History in 1930. Following graduation, she taught at Arlington, Vermont Junior High and Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy and worked as a Stenographer at Lincoln Iron Works in Rutland.

At the age of twenty-seven, Dorothy applied for admission into Maryknoll and entered on June 28, 1936. At Reception she received the religious name of Sister Grace Marian. She made her First Profession on January 6, 1939 at Maryknoll, New York and later that same year was assigned to work in Hawaii where she spent the next twenty-eight years teaching children from non-English speaking homes – native Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans and Portuguese. In addition to teaching, she received a Masters degree in Hawaiian History at the University of Hawaii.

Sister was most competent as a teacher both in content and process. She was outstandingly able to organize and present ideas, as well as to hear and to respond in dialogue. She was a feisty, responsible, initiative taking, and cooperative woman. As she herself said of her years in Hawaii: “I thought of myself as a bridge builder. It was an ideal opportunity to help people appreciate each other and their different cultural backgrounds.”

Sister Grace Marian was just five miles away from Pearl Harbor when it was bombed December 7, 1941. Part of the Sisters ministry during World War II was to serve as a center where off-duty Marines visited, made repairs around the convent, and had coffee and donuts. Sister Grace Marian recalled with sadness the suspicion which engulfed the Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, and the toll the attack on Pearl Harbor had on the Japanese-Americans. There were 600 Army trainees at Schofield Barracks and 350 of the 600 were Niseis (first generation Japanese-American.) She said: “These people were Americans. They were good people and they went through hell. The Nisei soldiers were put off duty and suddenly the 350 were dismissed. The 442nd Regiment Combat Team was formed and was an all-Nisei unit. They were shipped to Naples, Italy and later fought in France. They were one of the most highly decorated units in World War II.”

In 1967, Sister Grace Marian returned to Maryknoll to serve in the Mission Awareness/Promotion Office, working out of Houston, Texas. Gracie said: “Even though you’ve lived all your life in one place, that doesn’t preclude finding happiness in an entirely new place. I’m a ‘now’ person. I think that’s a great grace – not to be yearning for the past.” Sister had a special charism with which to communicate the meaning of mission and in 1978, she was designated “Woman of the Month” by Breakthrough, a woman’s magazine, and given the title of “Amazing Grace.”

In 1973 Sister began part-time ministry in St. Anne’s Parish, Houston and three years later became fully involved in parish ministry. She was a member of the Parish Team comprised of the pastor, four associate priests, a married deacon, and herself. “Amazing Grace” concentrated on newcomers to the parish, the newly baptized, the poor, the sick and the elderly. One parishioner said of her, “Sister Grace is something else! You need roller skates to keep up with her. The Spirit of God is really with her.”

As a ‘now person’ Sister Grace served as an example, showing older men and women they can continue to live full lives. She established a Young at Hearts Club that provided a variety of activities to help these people broaden their horizons. As a Christian minister, she visited the lonely and brought communion to the sick – a living presence of the Gospel message. She believed that “Built into human beings is an adaptability which is a recipe for happiness.” She herself was a living example of her own ‘recipe’.

In 1994, at the age of eighty-six, when it was time for Sister Grace to retire at Maryknoll. Father Charles Christopher, pastor of St. Anne’s Catholic Community in Houston, in a letter to Sister Claudette LaVerdiere, President, wrote: “Sister Grace Marian Martel is preparing to return to Maryknoll. It is difficult for her and also for us. She has been a vital member of our parish community and staff for the last twenty-five years. I want to thank the Maryknoll Sisters for allowing us to experience the life, talents, ministry and generosity of a Wonderful Lady.”

Father Christopher also enclosed a copy of an insert from the parish bulletin and his own pastoral tribute to Grace. The parish bulletin read as follows:

Sister Grace Marian Martel, M.M.
A Wonderful Lady!

Stationed in Oahu and Maui, Sister returned to the mainland United States in 1967 to join the Maryknoll Sisters’ Promotion Team and live in St. Anne’s Parish. For the next 25 years Sister Grace ministered to the people of St. Anne’s Parish. She founded our Social Service Ministry in 1967 and most recently has ministered to our senior parishioners. We send Sister Grace back to her roots – Maryknoll – with our appreciation and love. Aloha to a wonderful lady!”

In Father’s personal tribute as pastor of St. Anne’s he wrote:

I wish I had the eloquence of the angels! In my short time at St. Anne’s I have learned to respect and love you very dearly. You have taught me a lot by your presence. You are always “you” – willing, loving, caring, helping and serving. You have left a deep impact on this community and the Basilian Fathers. As you leave to return to your roots at Maryknoll there is a “cavern” in our hearts. We are selfish – would like you to be with us “forever.” However, we know your love and prayers for us will last forever! We will never forget you – you will always be a part of us in memory, love and prayer.

We wish you well –
We wish you peace and contentment –
We wish you joy as you reflect on your time among us
and that you have served your God and his people well!
Until we meet in heaven!

We welcome and express our sincere sympathy and condolences to Sister’s relatives and friends. We are united in a special way with the peoples of Hawaii and Houston, Texas, with whom Sister had shared life and mission in a very special way. We welcome and thank Father Charles Christopher, Pastor at St. Anne’s Parish in Houston, for being with us today and for presiding at this Liturgy of Christian Burial for “A Wonderful Lady – Sister Grace Marian Martel.”

Aloha, “Gracie”. We wish you our love and peace and all those good things that Aloha means.