Sister Marie Antoinette Geist, MM

Born: September 14, 1902
Entered: September 23, 1923
Died: August 26, 1972

Sister Marie Antoinette Geist, died at 10:15 p.m. on August 26. Sister had undergone surgery at St. Agnes Hospital, White Plains, on June 12. Sister was brought to Bethany for care. Our nursing staff at Bethany and visitors were impressed with Sister Antoinette’s strong faith and cheerful spirit despite much pain and the discomfort of progressive weakness.

Sister had the consolation of a visit from members of her family during her last weeks and it was possible for her sister, Marie, to remain with her.

Maryknoll Fathers John J. McCormack, Francis J. Winslow, Vincent P. Mallon and John M. Martin concelebrated the Mass of the Resurrection in the Center Chapel on August 29, with Father Winslow sharing his thoughts of Sister’s life in the homily. Maryknoll Fathers Pete Byrne, Joseph Carney, William Fenton, Thomas Keefe and William McCarthy graciously offered to be pallbearers.

I have asked Sister Mary Coleman, who was a fellow missioner with Sister Antoinette in the Philippines and interned with her there to share with all of us the following recollections.

Loretta Mary Geist was born September 14, 1902, in Millvale, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Sister was seventh in a family of 13 children. She completed her grammar school education at St. Mary’s, Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. Sister entered Maryknoll on September 23, 1923, and made her first Profession on April 30, 1926. Her first assignments were to Bethany, the Motherhouse and the Venard where, in 1934, she completed the high school work she had begun before entrance.

While still a novice, Sister had mentioned, in responding to a questionnaire, that she had always desired to become a nurse. However, she made it very clear that she wanted, above all, to be wherever she was needed in God’s service, and to do whatever needed to be done. During those years at and near the home Knoll, Sister’s reputation as a skillful organizer and a generous worker became legendary. And as the young Community pulled up its roots to move across the road to a new compound, the calls for her services – she could apply her hands to most anything – were legion.

Sister Marie Antoinette’s first overseas assignment came in 1935 to the staff of the new Mercy Hospital, 10 miles from Shanghai, founded that year by Mr. Lo Pa Hong, for the mentally afflicted. The rehabilitation of the mentally ill was an innovation at that time in China and Mercy Hospital with its 400 patients was the first institution of its kind in the country. In 1937 when hostilities broke out between China and Japan, the hospital was in the direct line of combat, and for 3 months the compound was a battle site. One of Sister Antoinette’s tasks of mercy was to help bury the fallen soldiers under cover of darkness during the night. Although Mr. Lo was assassinated in 1937, the Sisters remained at the hospital until 1939 when they received new  assignments – Sister Antoinette’s to Lucena in the Philippines. There Sister taught Manual Arts (including macrame) at the Maryknoll School in Lucena and studied during vacation times at Maryknoll Normal College in Manila.

World War II found Sister interned in Manila and at Los Banos. She was able to continue her studies during those arduous years and received her Maryknoll Normal Diploma when the College was re-opened at the end of the war.

After the liberation of the Philippines in 1945, Sister Antoinette returned to the U.S. and was assigned to Transfiguration School, in Chinatown, New York. In 1948 Sister went again to the Philippines to take up once more, her work at Lucena. During the time spent in the U.S., Sister continued with and completed her undergraduate work and was awarded her Bachelor’s in Education by Maryknoll Teachers College in 1949.

In 1956, when Sister returned for furlough, she was assigned to Bethany to organize the laundry for the expanded infirmary. Four years later,  in 1960, she went to Monrovia for the same work and, in 1967, she was asked to return to the Center to supervise the laundry here.

Sisters remember many of her kindly practical jokes and her resourcefulness in coming to the aid of anyone in need. Sister brought her wholehearted energies to every task she undertook. When Sister Antoinette was asked to give the Supportive Services Department a description of her work goal in June, she wrote: “Continual contribution through service in assisting the promotion and maintenance of the health, welfare, convenience and happiness of residents at the Center.”

In remembering Sister Antoinette in our prayers throughout the world, let’s give thanks for the efforts she made to fulfill that goal in spite of her poor health these last years. May her nearly 50 years of Maryknoll life in mission be turned into the glory that eye hath not seen.