Sister Mary Florian Harbula, MM

Born: November 19, 1904
Entered: June 7, 1923
Died: August 17, 1977

On August 16, 1977 I received a call from Sister Marie Rosso, Coordinator of the Central Pacific Region, bringing the news that Sister Mary Florian Harbula had died during the early hours of the day while still asleep in the Maui house. She was found at 7:30 a.m. by Sisters Beatrice Carvalho and Aurora de la Cruz, members of her local community. Her departure from our time and space was sudden and unexpected. She had been actively involved in community life and mission on her dearly loved Island of Maui. Only last month she had made the community retreat along with nearly 60 other Maryknoll Sisters in Honolulu and, subsequently, attended several days of Regional meetings. We are once again drawn to reflect on the Paschal Mystery at work in our lives.

Her parents had come to the U.S.A. from Austria-Hungary, settling in Poughkeepsie, where Emma Veronica Harbula was born on November 19, 1904. The family moved to Newark, New Jersey while she was a small child, so that most of her grammar school took place in a Newark public school. She also studied in a public high school at night while working for several years in an insurance office. At the age of 19, she entered Maryknoll on June 7, 1923.

Sister Mary Florian’s eight years of waiting and preparing for her first overseas assignment to Hawaii were spent in completing her studies and helping in the kitchen at the Venard. Although she was frequently burdened with ill health, she steadfastly followed a pilgrim path of discipleship, which began as a teacher in Hawaii in 1931 and led her to subsequent assignments of teaching and catechetical work in Los Angeles, Monrovia and the Bronx, as well as clerical work in the Field Afar office and Mt. View, California. In 1966, after an absence of 30 years, she was again assigned to Hawaii where she would spend the remainder of her life, in St. Anthony’s School, Wailuku, Maui, where she served as Secretary in the Guidance Department of the High School, taught Adult Bible classes, gave religious instructions to retarded children, and often visited the sick elderly in the hospitals and nursing homes. She also taught in the secondary school on a part-time basis, being semi-retired since 1973.

She expressed great happiness in a letter to Mother Mary Coleman dated September 15, 1966 after she had arrived in Maui. “I have arrived safely at Maui and it is good to be here! I have met several former students and they remembered me. That made me very happy. One young man came and spent two hours one evening telling me why he went back to College after being a ‘drop-out’ – because he remembered I had told him he could be an ‘A’ student if he put his mind to it.”

Sister Mary Florian Harbula will be buried on Maui, in the small cemetary adjacent to St. Anthony’s in Wailuku on Friday, August 19, after the Mass of the Resurrection which will be held in the parish Church of St. Anthony.

It seems fitting and indeed deeply symbolic of the earthly journey that she died in the very place where she began her mission life. Having been called by Jesus and set for His Mission on a wandering pilgrim path, she has now been called to enter into His Resurrection.