Sister Irene Solzbacher, MM
Born: June 21, 1934
Entered: September 2, 1953
Died: November 29, 2018
As a person who rejoiced in the dawn, Irene maintained her joyous spirit throughout her life. She was born on June 21, 1934 in Luxemberg City, Luxemberg to William and Regina (Reiff) Solzbacher.
At an early age Irene remembers her parents saying night prayers with her and then hearing them pray together and the safe feeling this gave her. This became a strong influence as time went on and her father’s courageous involvement in the peace movement made it necessary for the family to evacuate on short notice. During the escape Irene was praying and she saw a group of nuns in the same situation. She recalls hearing an inner voice saying that she too would be a Sister, but of a different kind.
After the family settled in the United States, but before Irene could go to school, her father home-schooled her. She was able to accomplish the work of three grades in one year.
By the time Irene got to high school, she knew she wanted to be a missioner. She set out to find out all she could about Maryknoll and was ready to enter on September 2, 1953. At the time of her Reception, she received the religious name Sister Irene Marie. She made her First Vows at the Maryknoll Sister Center on March 7, 1956. For Irene studies at Manhattanville and Maryknoll Teachers College came easily and in 1961 she was assigned to Hawaii where she taught math, science and religion courses at Maryknoll High School in Honolulu. She continued her education at the University of Hawaii for a Master’s Degree in Education. It was in Hawaii that Irene made Final Vows on March 7, 1962.
Shortly after Vatican II Irene was introduced to the Charismatic Renewal. She became an active and respected leader. By inviting speakers, she met at national meetings, Irene helped coordinate the growing number of charismatic groups in Hawaii.
Ever attentive to the urgings of the Spirit, Irene felt called to work more directly with the poor. She moved to Kuhio Park Terrace, a housing project, and began studies for a medical degree at the University of Hawaii which she earned in 1975. She chose psychiatry for her residency requirements. At the time personnel were needed at another housing project and Irene, generous as usual, responded. From 1975 -1978 she worked at the Makiki Health Clinic.
With a year and a half left to finish her residency, Irene, had a chance encounter at the Makiki Clinic, that set the stage for Irene’s future. A gentleman, accompanying a reluctant patient to the clinic, struck up a conversation with Irene. He told her about an effort being made to set up a new kind of ecumenical community composed of men and women from various walks of life living with chronically mentally ill people. This was to be a healing Christian Community that would also maintain an outpatient psychiatrist clinic. It was called Kahumana.
The Waianae Health Clinic had not succeeded in finding a full time psychiatrist. Irene accepted the position. She saw this as a place where Maryknoll would better be serving the poor. The Kahumana group was looking for a new location and they found one in Waianae. Irene became more involved in their efforts, and the down payment arrived at the eleventh hour.
A few months later at the 1978 General Assembly at Maryknoll, NY Bishop Mwoleka gave a talk on integrated Christian Communities and the Sisters from the Hawaii Region felt a strong confirmation of the plans at Kahumana.
Irene served at the Kahumana Mental Health Clinic from 1978-1979 and as Director of the Kahumana Counseling Center from 1979 to 1995.
Irene returned to the Maryknoll Sisters’ Center in 1995 where she served as Director of Social Services and later as a volunteer in the Maryknoll Sisters Health Care unit. Many Sisters remember her sensitive service and her great love of gardening.
Irene retired in 2015 and on November 29, 2018, we thanked and blessed Irene as she peacefully opened herself to an everlasting dawn with God and the Communion of Saints. Irene had arranged to donate her body to science. She had been a Maryknoll Sister for 65 years.
We welcome with us this afternoon, our Maryknoll brother, Father Kevin Hanlon who will preside at this Memorial liturgy.
A Memorial Mass will be celebrated on Thursday, December 6, 2018 in Annunciation Chapel at Maryknoll, NY.