Sister M. Laurentina Heaney, MM

Born: November 19, 1897
Entered: October 15, 1925
Died: October 8, 1996

In today’s Scripture reading from St. Paul, we hear the words, “You see, all this is for your benefit, so that the more grace is multiplied among people, the more thanksgiving there will be to the glory of God.” Through Sister Laurentia’s life and witness, grace has surely been multiplied among us and the people she served. So today, we gather to celebrate her life and to give thanks to God for her many years in Maryknoll and in mission. Sister had the honor of being the senior, age wise, of our Maryknoll Community. Her desire was to be the first Maryknoll Sister to reach 100 but God saw fit to call her rather to the beginning of her eternal life.

On October 8th, 1996 at 7:10 in the morning, Sister Laurentia Heaney died peacefully in our Residential Care Facility just a month before her 99th birthday. She had been admitted to Residential Care after two years in Assisted Living. Through health issues, her indomitable spirit pulled her through the natural healing process. God called her the day after the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, to whom she had such great devotion.

Alice Elizabeth Heaney was born on November 19, 1897 the sixth of nine children of Irish parents Hugh Heaney and Elizabeth McGinnis in Brooklyn, New York. She had three brothers, Frank, Hugh, and Lawrence, and five sisters – Margaret (our former Sister Dolorita), Mary McMahon, Kathryn Pemberthy and Anna Fox. The fifth sister, Ellen, our Sister Bernardine, is living at our Retirement House in Monrovia. Alice attended St. John Evangelist Grade School in Brooklyn and had two years of high school. Her sisters, Margaret and Ellen, entered Maryknoll in 1922, taking the names Sister Dolorita and Sister Bernardine. Alice, too, desired to enter but her mother did not give immediate permission, preferring rather to wait and see how the other two daughters fared. Alice bided her time helping her mother at home, working as a saleslady in the Pattern Department of Macy’s Department store, and being an active member of her parish Blessed Virgin Sodality and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Columbus.

Alice was finally able to enter Maryknoll in 1925, and made her First Vows on April 30, 1928, taking the name Sister Mary Laurentia. After helping out at our Bethany Guest Sister House, she was assigned in 1929 to Los Altos, California where she worked in the Maryknoll Fathers Junior Seminary kitchen. She was transferred to our Maryknoll House in Seattle, Washington in 1931, to do domestic work and made her Final Vows there on April 30 that same year. In 1932, she was assigned to the Children’s Home on the Island of Maui in Hawaii where she spent the next five years working with children and doing the sewing. As one Sister put it, “she left her mark on all the children in that orphanage”. Sister Laurentia herself wrote some interesting vignettes of this time describing how she taught the children “…about Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Cross”. She described one little five year old youngster whose attention span was shorter than usual. “He started to run from the room but his teacher’s voice recalled him. On one foot, poised to run, he looked from me to the attractions beyond the open door, then back to the teacher, then again at the pleasures beyond. What to do? The problem was written all over his eager little face. Slowly, he turned back, temptation conquered – not happily but resigned”. She continued “It was such a clear picture of what happens when we are tempted. The attraction, the struggle – do we conquer or give in to what attracts us? A stern lesson from a little child who instinctively sensed something wrong and who somehow took the right road. A loving lesson, too, of God’s grace which never fails us if we only listen to it.” How reflective this is of her own simple yet deep spirituality!

She returned to the Center in 1937 and worked first in the Seminary kitchen until 1954, then in the Motherhouse sewing room and later in the Maryknoll Sisters Sponsor Department. In 1965, she was assigned to the Maryknoll Fathers Sponsor Department for three years and lived at St. Teresa’s. It was about this time, around the age of 70, that she taught herself typing! A story was told by a younger Sister of that era relating how Sister Laurentia was sitting next to a sink full of dishes waving her hands in mid-air just as the Superior came along. When asked what she was doing, she replied that she was practicing typing! The Superior advised her to practice on the dishes! She must have learned well for in 1968, she was assigned to the Center to do clerical work at the Associate Desk in Direct Mail and would let nothing go out unless it was perfect. Sister Laurentia remained in Direct Mail until 1980, and after a short time in Monrovia retired in 1983 at the age of 86!

All this is the factual part of Sister’s life but how does one capture the essence, the real life, of this wonderfully unique Maryknoll Sister? In 1995, when Sister Laurentia celebrated her 70th Anniversary in Maryknoll, one of the gifts was a booklet in which many Sisters had written their memories of Sister through the years of her “joy, sparkle, simplicity, gracious hospitality, spunk, unbeatable spirit, interest in everyone and everything, enjoyment of life, marvelous memory, being forever young and funny, a joy in community…” and on and on. What came through was the deep appreciation of and gratitude for Sister Laurentia through the years.

Sister Luise Ahrens, the past President of our Maryknoll Sisters Community, now in Cambodia, and a good friend of Sister Laurentia, has summed it up well in her faxed letter of appreciation which I now quote:

“In the eight years that I was at the Center, Laurentia was a good friend and a constant support. In the first years, she would come down to my office to tell me the ‘real’ needs of the community and in later years, I joined her often for breakfast in the third floor dining room. In those eight years, she suffered one diminishment after another, but always found God in the twists and turns of the journey. When she could no longer see to read or write letters to family and friends, both of which she loved to do, her response was, ‘How good God is to send wonderful sisters to help me read and write letters!’ Her radio kept her horizons exceptionally wide, and she never failed to remember the poor and suffering of the world, especially Cambodia, in the daily nursing home Mass. She confided: ‘I know I should call it Liturgy but it will always be Mass to me.’ She was the one in her large family to take care of their aging parents. She always regretted her lack of education and a ‘profession’ – but she brought the gift of her dear self to Maryknoll and tried to fulfill, as all of us do, Mother Mary Joseph’s ideals for us with energy and fidelity! She was a missioner always – committed, sensitive, led by God, and showered abundantly with the ideal of ‘the saving grace of a sense of humor’.”

Indeed, Sister Laurentia and her delightful sense of humor will be greatly missed but we know that her sparkle is even greater as she enjoys eternal joy, peace, and happiness with her Lord and Creator, to whom her whole life was dedicated.

We welcome the family and friends of Sister Laurentia. We extend our sincere sympathy to all of you.

We also welcome our Maryknoll Father Edward Manning who will preside at this Liturgy of Resurrection and Maryknoll Father Edwin McDevitt who will give the homily.