Sister Marian Cunningham, MM
Born: August 15, 1898
Entered: October 15, 1926
Died: February 14, 1982
Welcome to you who are here to acknowledge the happy passage into eternity of Mary Florence Cunningham, known within her Maryknoll Community as Sister Marian. Mary Florence was born on August 15, 1898; she entered Maryknoll at the age of 28, on October 15, 1926; and died February 14, 1982 here at The Center. Sister Marian’s family origin is Burlington, New Jersey; born of James and Maria Gallagher Cunningham, she was one of seven children.
There is an indication in the file that the prospect of religious life was the first attraction for her; and that through reading, through communication with a Dominican relative (who was in the missions of Indo-China), and through contact with Father John Morris of Maryknoll, the idea of serving God refined and focused on the possibility of the Community of Maryknoll Sisters. There is a reference, also to an interview at Rosary House some two years before she submitted her application papers, and that during that time she had taken a Home Nursing course offered by the Burlington Chapter of the Red Cross – all of this suggests careful, thoughtful method in her planning while awaiting that moment when her parents could give a free approval to her “carrying out a cherished dream to enter the foreign mission Sisters of St. Dominic” as our Congregation was known at that time.
Entrance to Maryknoll set up a pattern familiar to many of us: Postulancy spent at the Venard in Clark Summit, Pennsylvania, where she assisted in caring for the domestic needs of the Maryknoll seminarians; and Novitiate spent here at the Motherhouse.
In 1929, three years after her entrance, a faster pace marked the disposition of her life: Profession of first vows on April 30th, summer courses in Education at Catholic University, Washington D.C., and assignment to Hawaii, where from September 1929 until 1946 she was engaged in education of young persons in the grammar grades both in Kalihi Kai and Heeia. Organ and piano lessons were part of her gift to the students and Sisters. Sister Marian made her final profession of vows in Honolulu on April 30, 1932.
1946 marked the beginning of another series of moves: her return to the Motherhouse; her assignment to Transfiguration Convent in New York in 1947, and then came assignment to Bethany Convent in 1948 where for the next 20 years Sister Marian was involved in several activities. She assisted in the Kitchen, the Laundry, the Library, and in 1952 contributed to leadership in the Bethany Community when she was appointed one of the Councillors in that House.
Persons who knew Sister well during all these years reveal characteristics which have perdured right up to these last years in Maryknoll Nursing Home, where she came to take up residence when it was ready for occupancy in 1978: a craving for the practical; a great sense of fun; a deep fund of kindness; a keen interest in world and local events; enduring friendships and the hospitality engendered in these; an indomitable independence, and small patience for “fuss and muss,” which occurred when the focus was thrown on Sister… or when something might indicate the increased limitations of her own ability.
As far back as 1946 Sister Marian began to have serious health issues. This is when I got to know how close to, and how fond of her, her family is…and how well they knew her “stubbornness”. Finally, with support from family and friends, Sister made the weighty decision, and decided to go for treatment and was very happy with the outcome.
With the new year, Sister Marian became very ill and never fully recovered. She realized that she might not be able to work out of this illness into health. For the Staff who knew her, it was a remarkable experience to watch her giving over to Another’s plan for her. One day she said to me, half jokingly, but also telling me she understood: “When they get you into the bed all day, then you know they’ve got you in their power, and you have to give in!” And from then on she very graciously endured the “fuss and muss” of care for her.
Sister Marian must have left deep impressions on all those who knew her well. Since meeting her in 1976, I am left with a deep regard for a woman who had responded to that cherished dream of a mission vocation, who had exercised a fierce independence although vision was poor and gait unsteady, and who then made over that final gift to God, so that her last days were a very simple but profound yes to all that had been and to what is to come. And let us all now say for her: Alleluia!