Sister Mariel Vitcavage, MM

Born: April 10, 1911
Entered: December 6, 1930
Died: February 15, 2003

We gather this morning to celebrate the life of our Sister Mariel Vitcavage.

Sister Mariel died, rather unexpectedly, on Saturday evening, February 15, 2003, at Phelps Memorial Hospital, in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Sister Mariel was 91 years old and has been a Maryknoll Sister for 72 years.

Agnes Frances Vitcavage was born in West Pittston, Pennsylvania on April 10, 1911, to Peter and Victoria Gigrosky Vitcavage, both of whom came to the United States from Lithuania. She had three sisters and one brother, all of whom have preceded her in death.

Agnes attended grammar and high school in West Pittston and worked in a silk weaving factory before entering Maryknoll on December 6, 1930. At Reception she received the name of Sister Mariel. She made her First Profession on June 24, 1933 and her Final Profession on the same date in 1936, both at Maryknoll, New York. She received a degree in education from Maryknoll Teachers College and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy from  Manhattanville College in New York City in 1939.

On the occasion of her diamond jubilee in 1990 Mariel reflected: “From the age of thirteen I thought of becoming a missionary… I dreamed of going to China and, although I never got to China, my life has been an awesome adventure filled with meaning. God’s faithfulness has followed me throughout my journey.”

This journey took her to Seattle in 1939 where she taught in the school for Japanese children until the school was closed when the children and their families were sent to internment camps. Sister Mariel worked at the Maryknoll Hospital in Monrovia, California as sacristan, taught in St. Louis, Missouri, in New York City at Transfiguration Parish, in Los Angeles at St. Mary’s, and for nine years in San Juan Capistrano, California. One of her students from those days wrote about Sister Mariel, “Since the day Sister Mariel walked into our 6th grade classroom at St. Mary’s in Los Angeles to this date, we have been friends and ‘sisters.”’

Sister Mariel began a twenty-one year ministry at Maryknoll High School in Punahou, Hawaii in 1956. Besides teaching she worked with students on a school newspaper, in a variety of clubs, and helped students give of their talents by visiting hospitals and putting on shows to entertain the patients. She teasingly came to be called “grandmother” as new generations entrusted their children to her care.

In 1977 Mariel returned to Maryknoll, New York. She served in the International Gift Shop and the Library and later helped the Sisters in Residential Care.

Sister Mariel described God one time as her “pacesetter.” She would become nervously tired, she said about herself, wanted to be able to take life easy, be calm and peaceful, with no rush. When asked once what she treasures most, what makes up the essence of her missionary life Sister Mariel said, “That God called me… that His faithfulness has carried me on… He has not disappointed me. I thank Him more and more all day long for all he has done for me, my life with Maryknoll Sisters, my life with all the people of God with whom I lived, my life with perhaps thousands of students I taught.” Last year Mariel wrote, “I am praying for the General Assembly, for new young Sisters, and candidates… Oh! I’m pretty busy with prayers and I know and believe God hears every one.” She thought of God as she enjoyed beautiful things. She thanked God for “this and that,” for those who cared for her, for the medications that helped her, for her Maryknoll Sisters who were her community. Her prayer ministry was for Vocations and the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful.

We offer our condolences to Sister Mariel’s family. We welcome Fr. John Hudert, M.M., our presider this morning. And finally, dear Sr.Mariel, rest now calmly in beauty and peace. No rush. We are grateful for you.