Sister M. Baptista Reed, MM

Born: June 21, 1907
Entered: December 8, 1930
Died: July 21, 1983

This morning we gather as Community to celebrate the entrance into New Life of our Sister Mary Baptista Reed. On Thursday, July 21, 1983 at 7:00 p.m., Sister died shortly after being admitted to Phelps Memorial Hospital from Maryknoll Nursing Home where she had been resident since 1980. Sister Baptista was 76 years of age.

Catherine Veronica Reed was born June 21, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents, George and Catherine Daly Reed, were born in New York City. Catherine had two brothers. She remained close to her nephew and his family. At age three, Catherine had suffered the loss of her right eye, and used an artificial eye the rest of her life. She never let this interfere with any activity, and many were unaware of this handicap which she so quietly endured throughout her life. Catherine attended St. Peter’s grade school and Holy Cross Academy in New York City. She also took a year secretarial course at St. Peter’s Commercial School. She worked four years as secretary to a Consulting Engineer with the British Aluminum Company in New York City before coming to Maryknoll. Catherine became an excellent secretary, outstanding in her skills: letter perfect typing, dictation, bookkeeping expertise, to mention a few of her talents, along with a quiet efficiency, accuracy, and smiling good humor – all of which she brought to her many assignments later in Maryknoll in service of the Church in mission.

Catherine entered Maryknoll December 8, 1930 from Our Lady of the Angels Parish, in Brooklyn. At Reception she received her religious name “Mary Baptista”. She made her first profession on June 24, 1933 and pronounced her final vows on June 24, 1936 here at Maryknoll, New York. Sister had great devotion to John the Baptist, and later felt right at home when, following her assignment to Hawaii she learned, upon arrival, that “Baptiste” or “Baptista” were common surnames there.

During the years 1931-37, Sister Baptista served in secretarial positions at the Motherhouse; and from 1937-47 as secretary to the General Council of the Maryknoll Fathers, successively to Father James M. Drought, Vicar General; Bishop James E. Walsh, Superior General; and Father George M. Daly, Assistant Treasurer. In 1947 she was assigned to the West Coast, first at San Juan Bautista Mission and then Stockton, California, where she was engaged in both social service and catechetical work. One of the Sisters who had been in mission with Sister Baptista at Stockton recalls: “A man who had been away from the Church for 50 years approached Sister Baptista one day about returning to the Sacraments because looking at her face he felt he had nothing to fear.”

In 1950, she was assigned to Hawaii where she served for 16 years in the capacity of Business Manager and also Administrative Assistant for Catholic Social Service, Honolulu. Those who lived and worked with Sister Baptista in Hawaii know of her devotion to Catholic Social Service, to Maryknoll Community, and to parish life. She saw the Agency through several phases of growth and finally to its permanent location on Vineyard Street. From a handful of Sisters to a large staff of lay employees, Sister helped guide financial and other transactions. Faithfully, she drove Sisters back and forth daily from the convent in Nuuanu; attended meetings where she took minutes, excellent recorder that she was; kept the budget; coordinated programs for refugees from Hong Kong and Cuba; did the purchasing; supervised volunteers in distribution of food and clothing to the poor, and performed numerous other tasks. Many employees and clients, of all ethnic backgrounds and religions, remained good friends of hers, and kept in touch long after she left the Islands.

At home, with her kindness and quiet humor, Sister Baptista added immeasurably to our community life and mission. Every Christmas she would bring out her special recipe for fruit cake and bake dozens of cakes for benefactors. She was actively involved in performances for feast days, once taking part as a ringmaster in our version of a circus. Sister would instigate picnics and make it seem like fun when gusty trade winds sometimes sent potato chips flying and sand into her carefully packed sandwiches. Sister Baptista was never at a loss to salvage a situation. Once when the Bishop and Board of Catholic Social Service were invited to the house for a luncheon meeting, the chiffon pie fell treacherously flat at the last minute – she served it anyway and in style as “Hawaiian Delight!”

She loved the grounds around the house and Church, and often was seen praying outside. A gentle woman, deeply contemplative, yet fully active – and she loved St. Joseph’s in Lanikai. Her idea of bliss was to float off-shore in a large inner tube, bobbing up and down with the waves, unconvinced that the tides might carry her off. Hawaii was the true love of her life, but she generously responded to a Community request in 1966 to fill the position of secretary to the Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers Society for a period of six years. Her furlough in 1972 proved to be her final time in Hawaii. She had requested reassignment to Hawaii, but had again responded to the need of the Fathers’ Council to provide secretarial assistance to Father Raymond Hill; and this she did from 1973 to December, 1976.

Always interested in improving her skills and broadening her mind, Sister Baptista earned an Associate in Arts degree from Rogers College in 1973; and by attending classes in the evenings, was awarded her Bachelor’s degree in Community Development at Pace University in June 1975 – no small accomplishment at her age (68) while holding down a full-time secretarial job.

In 1977, failing health lessened her activities and increasing incapacitation caused her to be admitted for a while to Maryknoll Nursing Home in 1978 and again in 1979; in 1980 she became a full-time resident. This period gave Sister the opportunity to develop more fully the contemplative part of her life, which she had long desired to do.

Her unflagging good humor persisted even in times of great weakness. She was the official “pray-er” for the Congregational Personnel Department, and when the office staff visited her on a stormy day, she remarked that she hoped her prayers would be more effective for the Department than they had been for the weather!

It was difficult for Sister Baptista to give up her beloved Islands when she had to choose between a possible return to them and another call to fill a need at the Home Knoll. But the sacrifice was generously made as she recognized the greater need to serve Maryknoll in its worldwide mission. We know that she is serving that world now from a new perspective and that we can count on her prayers for all of us still working in the vineyard.

The Liturgy this morning is being concelebrated by Maryknoll Fathers John K. Halbert, Vicar General of the Maryknoll Society, Joseph R. Lang, and Francis J. Winslow, our friends and brothers in mission.