Sister M. Christopher Naumann, MM
Born: July 10, 1898
Entered: March 25, 1922
Died: April 18, 1982
“Our spirit as individual Maryknoll Sisters and the very spirit of our whole Congregation depends upon the use we make of the abiding truth of the words ‘As one lamp lights another nor grows less, so nobleness enkindles nobleness.'”
-Mother Mary Joseph
These well-favored words of Mother Mary Joseph became a lived reality in the life of our beloved Sister Mary Christopher whom the Lord called so gently and took so speedily into His fond embrace on Sunday evening, April 18, 1982, the Octave of the Resurrection – her lamp of nobility to shine now in evermore radiant splendor.
Dorothy Naumann was born in New York City on July 10, 1898, into a loving family, the eldest of five children. It was while she was an English major at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., from 1916 to 1920 that her missionary vocation was sparked through an address delivered by Maryknoll’s Father Founder.
An article in The Shield for November, 1936, describes her missionary involvement, naming her “…one of the very first women crusaders and a strong advocate for the establishment of Catholic Student Mission Crusade units in women’s colleges at the Second National Crusade Convention in Washington, D.C., 1920. From 1917 until 1920, with eight other college girls, she organized and directed the Wekanduit (We-Can-Do-It) Bureau which undertook to earn money in practical ways for the missions. The girls shined shoes, pressed clothes, tutored, ran errands, laid their hands to any task, all for stipulated sums which went into the mission treasury.” Subsequently, Dorothy’s own personal call to mission led her to Maryknoll where she entered on March 25, 1922.
While still a postulant, Dorothy was obliged to leave in October of the same year as a result of the tragic death of her father. A beautiful correspondence between her and Mother Mary Joseph marked this period. Mother encouraged Dorothy to return to Maryknoll periodically and don her postulant dress as a member of the family. She became employed as a social worker while taking some courses in pedagogy at Columbia. At this time there began to blossom within her a contemplative leaning with the eventual desire of entering Carmel in 1927. Mother Mary Joseph, who had previously hinted that she hoped to found a Cloister, now promised its becoming a reality. With this hope in mind, Dorothy re-entered Maryknoll on February 2, 1928, making her First Profession two years later on April 30, 1930. While waiting for the Cloister dream to be realized, Dorothy, now Sister Mary Christopher, assisted Sister Marie Doelger in the Novitiate.
With the move of the Sisters into the new Motherhouse in March, 1932, “Regina Coeli” was freed for the Cloister foundation. Sister Mary Christopher became intimately involved in all the preliminary preparations.
There were long consults with Mother Mary Joseph, lengthy deliberations on the mode of cloistered life, its beginnings, etc. With Sister Marie, she spent a week in Rochester and Buffalo, New York seeking information from the Carmelite and Dominican superiors and Father Thomas a Kempis Reilly, O.P. When assignments to the Cloister were announced on July 7th, 1932, Sister Mary Christopher was named first Assistant to Sister Marie Doelger. On October 4th, they began their long-cherished contemplative way of life. In God’s plan, Sister was prevented from being finally enclosed with the pioneer group on October 3rd, 1934, a sacrifice she offered wholeheartedly to the Lord. Her own promise of fidelity took place on April 22, 1935. Sister Mary Christopher lived these last 50 years in a spirit of unwavering enthusiasm and loving fidelity to her contemplative call within Maryknoll.
There was nothing provincial about Sister Mary Christopher. She had a broad, expansive view of world problems and a great sense of love of history. Her precise, well-informed, almost daily petitions at the Eucharist bespoke a prayerful interest in every phase of human endeavor, of human need, and revealed the depth of her own compassionate heart. Her interest in people was outstanding, and her unusual remembrances concerning them reflected her deep love for others. She had such a vital personality and was so enthusiastic and animated at college that her classmates nicknamed her “Ani.”
Sister Mary Christopher carried in her heart every young missioner and every new mission endeavor in a special way, and had long-standing correspondence with a number of Maryknollers overseas. The Maryknoll Lay Missioner Program was especially dear to her and she followed the activities of this lay group with particular attention, reminiscent of her own early involvement at Trinity College. She was very open to and receptive of new ideas, though she held onto basic principles which she cherished. Her love of community life and desires to upbuild it in every way were pronounced. Sister possessed a true nobility of soul marked by a deep sense of loyalty and fidelity to her contemplative vocation within the Church and Maryknoll.
Ties with her family, relatives and friends were intimate and caring. She experienced real joy in the religious vocations among them and entered deeply into the joys and sorrows of her godchild’s family. It was a habit of hers to add appropriate enclosures to her letters. These usually had a mission thrust.
Though in recent years her health was gradually declining, Sister faithfully continued her work in the Altar Bread Department. She also continued to find varied ways of brightening up the special feastdays – something which gave her great joy. This last week of illness brought Sister Christopher to her final surrender so gently and peacefully given, born of those many silent surrenders to Love in her long life of sacrifice and prayer in Maryknoll. Now, beyond all limitations, her caring love and dedicated spirit can fulfill her great and noble desires for the universal mission of Jesus.
We extend our heartfelt condolence to Sister Christopher’s relatives and friends. At the same time, we share with them our firm hope that Sister Mary Christopher is now experiencing the eternal joys for which her own jubilant spirit in the Lord prepared her so well.
The celebrants of the Eucharistic Liturgy this morning in the main Chapel of the Maryknoll Sisters Center are Maryknoll Bishop Edward A. McGurkin, Father John K. Halbert, Vicar General of the Maryknoll Fathers, and Monsignor Herman Heide, Sister Christopher’s cousin, of Our Lady of Loretto Church in Cold Spring, New York.