Sister M. Aquinata Brennan, MM

Born: January 22, 1907
Entered: April 5, 1927
Died: January 24, 1983

We come together this morning as family and community to celebrate and to remember the life and faithful commitment of our Sister Mary Aquinata Brennan. Although Sister’s health was frail, death came quite unexpectedly last Monday afternoon, January 24th, 1983. Sister died at Phelps Memorial Hospital only hours after having been admitted for tests. Only two days before she had quietly celebrated her 76th birthday. And, today, we celebrate Sister Mary Aquinata’s birth and entry into Life in all its fullness and mystery; and we remember with gratitude how we have been touched and graced through the sharing of her life in Maryknoll and in mission.

Annabelle Brennan was born on January 22, 1907, the second of three children born to John and Margaret Moran Brennan. She attended St. Brendan’s High School in Brooklyn and prepared herself for teaching with studies at Hunter College and St. Charles Normal School. Through the Field Afar she developed an interest in Maryknoll, and entered the Congregation on April 5, 1927, stating simply, “I want to give my life to Jesus.”

At Reception time Annabelle received the name “Sister Mary Aquinata.” She was professed on October 28, 1929 and made her final profession 3 years later here at Maryknoll, After completing a B.A. in Education at the College of Mt. St. Vincent in 1933, Sister was assigned to our Japanese Mission at Los Angeles, an experience which instilled in her a deep love for the Japanese people.

Missioned to Hawaii the following year, Sister taught at St. Anthony School on the Island of Maui while also serving as Local Superior. Seven years later she was assigned to the Philippines where she was to continue in Educational ministry for almost 40 years. Ever eager to grow in her profession as a teacher, she obtained an M.A. in English Literature from the Ateneo de Manila in 1964.

Sister Aquinata’s passion for teaching and her dedication to building relationships and close personal contacts with her students were foundation stones in her long and fruitful missionary career. When many others felt called to leave the work in schools and institutions, Sister Aquinata maintained her firm belief in the importance of formal education and the value of a good teacher/student relationship as a means of witnessing to the Gospel message.

Reflecting upon some events of Sister Aquinata’s life we discover quite clearly the faithfulness and joyfulness with which she lived out her desire to give her life to Jesus. Throughout the years, Sister often alluded to the motto of our Congregation, “Ecce Ancilla Domini” as the central theme and guiding spirit of her life.

Sister arrived in the Philippines just 3 weeks before the outbreak of World War II. Very quickly the situation became tense and it was necessary to evacuate the Sisters at the mission in Lucena. It was characteristic of Sister Aquinata that before leaving the house, she insisted upon leaving a note for the incoming Japanese Army!

With the other internees she lived out the war years in Internment Camps, mostly at Los Banos; and after liberation in 1945, she once again took up teaching at St. James Academy in Malabon, where she continued to have great influence with students. It was said of Sister Aquinata that although her field may have been English Literature, it would be more accurate, perhaps, to say that her field was mission presence.

For some years Sister Aquinata served on the faculty of the High School Department of Maryknoll College in Manila and in later years she worked in the Adult Education Program established by the College as an outreach to the poor of the nearby barrios.

Sister Aquinata was also responsible for organizing a self-help Sewing Project for women. In this capacity she raised funds, secured materials, and taught women, who had no source of income, how to sew. This work challenged her organizational skills and she also arranged for the marketing of the finished products.

When, in 1980, Sister returned to the United States, she asked to retire at Monrovia. In spite of failing health, she remained quite active, always thoughtful and interested in others. She organized a reading group among the Sisters there as well as setting up regular meetings with many of her former Filipino students and their families, who had settled in the Los Angeles area.

In October, 1982, serious illness caused Sister to return to The Center with residence in our Maryknoll Nursing Home. Early this year she seemed fairly well-recovered, and transferred to The Center Community. She immediately contacted the Personnel Office to ask about contributing service, and for the past month she had been working in the Office of Social Concerns.

One of the great joys of Sister’s return to Maryknoll this past year was the  opportunity of spending her first Christmas in 56 years with her family. We rejoice with her family today in that happy memory.

Sister Aquinata’s entire life in Maryknoll was consumed by her love and devotion to mission. Let us today give thanks to God for the life of this missioner among us and for the witness to the Gospel which she gave for so many years.

We welcome as celebrant of the Eucharist this morning, our friend and co-missioner, the Reverend Robert E. Sheridan of the Maryknoll Society.