Sister M. Callista Gillespie, MM
Born: June 22, 1903
Entered: September 24, 1924
Died: July 26, 1997
We are gathered here this morning to remember and to celebrate the life of Sister Mary Callista Gillespie. Although Sister had been in Residential Care since 1986, her death came unexpectedly and as a surprise to all when she quietly and peacefully went to God at 7:05, Saturday evening, July 26, 1997. Sister was 94 years old. She celebrated her 70th anniversary as a Maryknoll Sister in 1994, having entered Maryknoll only four years after the Congregation was officially recognized.
Anna Josephine Gillespie was born June 22, 1903, in Brooklyn, New York, to Mary Faulkner and Neil Gillespie. One of five children, she grew up in a close-knit family with one sister and three brothers. Anna received her early education at Our Lady of Good Counsel Grammar School and Bushwick High School in Brooklyn, New York. When she was 16 years old, her mother died. She discontinued her studies and stayed at home to help care for her father, brothers and sister. At the age of 24 she entered Maryknoll on September 24, 1924.
At Reception, Anna Josephine received the religious name of Sister Mary Callista, the name she retained throughout her religious life. Her First Profession of Vows, April 30, 1927, were received by Bishop James Anthony Walsh at Maryknoll, New York. She was assigned to Hawaii a year later where she began her teaching career, the ministry which permeated most, if not all, of her religious life.
First in Kalihi, Sister Callista helped begin Saint Anthony’s School, initially holding classes in the parish hall. Three years later, she was assigned as principal and superior at St. Augustine’s School in Waikiki, the position she held for the next twelve years. In 1945 she helped start the Diocesan CCD Program; and from 1946 to 1949 was principal and superior at St. Michael’s in Waialua. Along with her duties as teacher and superior, she pursued her studies and completed her high school equivalency by taking extension courses from Sisters College, Catholic University, in Washington, D.C. She later received a bachelors degree in education from Maryknoll Teachers College.
In 1949, after 21 years in Hawaii, Sister Callista returned to the Center. She worked in the Promotion Office at the Center, went to Seattle, Washington, to open and teach in the kindergarten, and was later superior in Los Angeles, California.
In 1953, Sister’s teaching and administrative skills were again called upon and she was assigned to Merida, Mexico as superior and principal. The school and convent were originally located in a private home. Under Sister’s supervision a well-designed academic facility was constructed. The name chosen, Rogers Hall, and the school motto and shield, Veritas, are significant of Sister’s great devotion to Mother Mary Joseph Rogers and our Dominican heritage.
Sister won the hearts of all by her graciousness and beautiful smile. Although not fluent in Spanish, she was gifted with the ability to communicate with everyone she met. Sister Callista loved everyone and proved “Love is the language of the heart.”
In 1961, Sister returned to the Center. Eager to return to mission after a period of recuperation from an injury, she returned to her beloved Hawaii where she spent the next 22 years. She taught and was librarian at St. Michael’s, Waialua, and in 1971, undertook compiling the history of the Maryknoll Sisters’ work in Hawaii. She was fully engaged in community service to her Sisters, her former students and anyone in need.
In 1978, Sister wrote: “Considering my age, I plan to continue serving my Sisters here in any way I possibly can. I have been in charge of maintenance, guests and other tasks others have not time to take care of. I have served and hope to continue to serve old friends, who are now alone as well as lonely. Community life, for me, is sharing our joys, helping in one another’s trials, growing to have a deeper understanding of one another’s views and imperfections. In other words: a greater effort to grow in our beloved Mother Mary Joseph’s spirit and, in particular, our prayer life. My contribution is to continue to help through my prayer life and my work in the house and with my Sisters.”
In 1984 Sister began to face increasing health limitations, and after much thought and prayer requested a transfer to the Center. The Central Pacific Region wrote the following, as an expression of their appreciation for Sister Callista: “Sister Callista has contributed to the life and growth of the Central Pacific Region from its early beginnings, being a member of the second group of Sisters missioned to Hawaii in 1928, she helped build the educational apostolate, pioneered Maryknoll’s work in the newly formed diocesan CCD office, and returned in the 60’s to be a part of the difficult transition of Maryknoll out of Hawaii’s parochial schools. During the last decade of her ministry in Hawaii she contributed in many ways by her joyful presence and service.”
Sister Callista was a compassionate woman, sociable and friendly, well known for her joyfulness and welcoming hospitality. As she herself said, she loved fine sewing, letter writing and conversation – and to be orderly in her room, and neatly dressed. These qualities, along with her beautiful smile, will long, long be remembered.
We wish to welcome and offer our condolences to Sister Callista’s family and friends. We thank our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Emile Dumas, who will lead us in this Celebration of the Eucharist, as together we praise and thank God for the gift of Sister Mary Callista’s long life with us in Maryknoll.