Sister Mary Martin Cummins, MM

Born: September 24, 1912
Entered: June 10, 1938
Died: November 23, 1987

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, we, too, might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:3-4.

Sister Martin Cummins took the above quote of St. Paul not as mere rhetorical question and answer of Christian doctrine but as the core message of the Gospel. It had become the central and recurring theme of her religious education classes and the many other talks and lectures she gave. Her own firm belief in the Resurrection had always been part of her message. This morning as we come together to celebrate Sister Martin’s new life in God, let each one of us be reminded once again of the meaning of the Paschal Mystery in our own lives.

Sister Martin was born on September 24, 1912 and was named Margaret Elizabeth at baptism. She was the first-born child of Richard and Katherine McGowan Cummins, both of whom came to the U.S. from Ireland in the early 1900s. They settled in New York City where they married and where Margaret and her only brother, Richard, were born and grew up.

Sister Martin attended Cathedral High School from 1926 to 1928. However, she did not complete high school but instead transferred to Payne Business School and took a 9-month Stenographic Course, so that she could help support the family during the Depression years. She worked as secretary and sales correspondent for 9 years. Later in life, her lack of educational status would be one big source of frustration for Sr. Martin especially as she realized she had the knowledge and experience necessary to make her tops in her field. It was only in 1968 at age 56 that Sister Martin took steps to further her formal education. She had to obtain a General Equivalency Diploma for High School before she enrolled at Mary Rogers College. She graduated with a B.S. in Education in 1970 and was recommended to pursue an M.A. in Religious Education at the Catholic University of America so that she could be on the Faculty of M.R.C. She taught for only one year after completing her studies as the decision was made to close Mary Rogers College in 1972.

Sister Martin’s attraction to religious life and foreign missions had been with her for a long time before she entered Maryknoll on June 10, 1938. At her formal Reception she asked for and was given the name Sister Mary Martin in honor of Saint Therese, the Little Flower. She made her First Profession on January 6, 1941 and pronounced her Final Vows three years later. She worked in The Field Afar office from 1941 to 1946 when she was assigned to the Cloister. She rejoined the Motherhouse Community in 1950 when it became evident that the confinement of cloistered life was causing too much nervous strain and tension for her.

In 1951, she was assigned to do catechetical work in Stockton, California. The following year she returned to Maryknoll and worked at The Field Afar office until 1957 when she was assigned to St. Teresa’s to help with Mission Projects. Her supervisor had only praise for Sister’s “contagious enthusiasm for the work and her complete mastery of every detail.” And she also lightened the work as she was always “full of pep and full of fun.” This fun-loving trait of Sister Martin’s was not known to many of us but members of her Novitiate group could still remember when after sweating it out in the bakery and kitchen, they would escape to the woods where Sister Martin would play her violin so that everybody went off to prayers and bed relaxed and happy. In recent years when some of these friends came to the Center, she would drop them a note saying, “Tonight we will celebrate God’s goodness by going out to Friendly’s for an ice cream treat.”

For many, Sister Martin personified the Catechist par excellence. She devoted her energy and talent to this ministry for four years in Stockton, California; for another four years (1964-1968) as Coordinator of the National Office of Catechetics in Panama City and for fourteen years in different parishes in Westchester County, New York as teacher and Director of Religious Education from 1972 to 1986. She not only gave catechetical instruction to children but also to their parents. She was insistent that parents know and understand matters of faith, morals and ethics so that they could implement at home what she worked so hard to get across in the classroom. Her great dedication to this task was such that not even inclement weather could keep her from a scheduled class or meeting.

In June 1986, Sister Martin was treated for an illness which slowed her down considerably. In spite of her declining health, she agreed to teach a 10-week Basic Course for Catechists sponsored by the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of New York. This 2-hour a week class was held from January to March, 1987 here at the Center and gave some of our Sisters opportunity to attend together with outside participants. Sister Martin is remembered as having said it would be her ‘swan song’ performance. At the end of the course Sister was cited as “Catechist of the Year.”

Even with diminished energy Sister Martin tried to participate in the ordinary activities of each day – wanting and wishing that everything could be as it used to be for her. However, she knew the end was not far off and last summer she asked to be taken to New York City to see some of its famous sights. After another treatment in September, Sister was admitted to our Maryknoll Nursing Home. During the past 2 months of intense physical pain she kept her courage and sense of humor. She was quite lucid and ready when God finally called her at 12:40 p.m. on November 23, 1987.

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day and recall God’s blessings and goodness to us, let us in a special way give thanks for the gift of Sister Martin’s life to us all.

We offer our sympathy to Sister’s family and many friends from the Archdiocese. We welcome all of you and also Maryknoll Father Jack Corcoran, Monsignor Thomas Moriarty of Peekskill and Father James Maguire of Chappaqua, who will celebrate with us this Eucharistic Liturgy.