Sister Marya Roy, MM

Born: April 7, 1928
Entered: October 30, 1947
Died: July 20, 2000

“Because they are unfathomable, one can only describe them vaguely…” (#15 Tao Te Ching). This is the quotation that comes to mind in trying to write something about the life and person of Sister Marya Roy. My first recollection of Marya was sitting with her in the Vista Dome train going to San Francisco and then to Hawaii. It was 1952. We were on our way to our first mission. The fact that at least ten of us, Maryknoll Sisters, were on the wrong train did not seem to worry Marya. She was too taken up by the beauty of the stars, clearly visible and twinkling brightly in the night skies. I knew immediately that Marya had a very special appreciation for the beauties of nature. I also think it had something to do with her love and faithfulness to prayer. When asked what she most appreciated about a community, Marya’s answer remained constant throughout the years, “A community faithful to prayer.”

Barbara Jean Roy, better known in the Maryknoll Community as Sister Marya, was born on April 7, 1928, in Hartford, Connecticut. She entered Maryknoll on October 30, 1947. She was a member of the pioneer group of our new Valley Park Novitiate in Missouri. She made her first vows at Valley Park on May 8, 1950, and her final vows on May 8,1953 in Hawaii. Before joining Maryknoll, Barbara Jean attended St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut, and in 1952 she completed her studies for her bachelor’s degree in education from Maryknoll Teachers College.

The varieties of Asian cultures represented in Hawaii was an on-going fascination for Marya. She was sympathetic with the customs and ideas of peoples of other nations and nationalities. She sensed that a more thorough knowledge of their culture would enable her to impart a positive attitude among the students with whom she daily came in contact, and on whom she exerted considerable influence. She wanted to foster in them a love and understanding for all peoples. Her own deep love for Asians and their culture prompted her to request permission to attend the University of Hawaii where she obtained a Master’s degree in Asian Studies in 1977.

During her twenty-seven years of service in Hawaii, Marya filled a number of posts in various schools staffed by the Maryknoll Sisters, on the islands of Maui and Oahu. She worked as an elementary and secondary school teacher, as a guidance director, as administrator, and as principal of both elementary and secondary schools.

Always tugging at her heart, however, was the desire to serve in the Far East. China was her first choice, but after attending an Asia World Section meeting in Korea, she felt that God was calling her to that country. She was assigned there in 1979. Language study was not easy. Marya was fifty-one years old at the time, and she never became very comfortable with the language. Nonetheless, she had a deep desire to serve the people. She taught English to seminarians and workers and even engaged in some pastoral work. From 1986 to 1989, she served as Director of Research and Planning for the Congregation.

The lure of China, however, was still in her heart. When China opened up to the outside world and began welcoming foreign teachers into their universities to teach English, she discerned her desire to teach in China, with her community, the Korea Region and with the China Coordinating Committee in Hong Kong. In 1990, she secured a position at the Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages. In 1991, she made her way to Northeast China to teach in the Harbin Institute of Electrical Technology. She was hoping eventually to find a position in the Korean Autonomous Region in Mainland China, where she could unite her love for the Koreans with her love for the Chinese people.

This desire never materialized. It became obvious that Marya’s health had been declining. In early 1994, Sister Marya returned to the Center from Korea and underwent treatment for her illness. Following her recovery, Dr. Field sent the following message to Dr. Hsieh, “The diagnosis, prognosis, risks, options and alternatives were all explained at length with the patient and all questions answered. Thank you for allowing me to take part in the care of this pleasant patient…”

Marya was still hoping to return to China but after careful consideration, it was obvious to all that her teaching days in China had come to a close. She returned to Korea.

When Marya’s health problems began to limit her independence in ministry and community, the Korea Region decided she needed treatment and health supervision in an English speaking environment. Shortly after joining her friend Sister Margaret Shepherd in Hong Kong to celebrate their Golden Jubilee in May 1997, Marya returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center. On April 1, 1999, she was assigned to Monrovia where she spent a happy year despite continuing health problems.

On Sunday, July 16th, Sister Kay Byrne noticed that Marya was not in chapel for Mass, a major clue that something was radically wrong. On Monday, Marya was back in her place in chapel, as usual, and later that day went to see her doctor. She was extremely ill. During the next two days, she lost much of her energy and appetite, and her general condition worsened. She died peacefully in her sleep on Thursday, July 20, 2000.

There was something unique about Marya. One of her friends has described her as a woman of style. Another, as a woman you could not easily forget. Marya was something of a paradox. She was a wonderful cook, but her favorite restaurant was MacDonald’s. She seemed impatient about things that did not matter and very patient in most trying situations. She was also full of surprises, and her death was a surprise of sadness to all who knew and loved her.

The Chinese sage says that “to return to the root is to find peace. To find peace is to fulfill one’s destiny” (Tao Te Ching, #16). Sister Marya has now returned to her root where she has found her peace.

We offer our condolences to Sister Marya’s family and friends. We thank you for sharing Sister with us and for the gift she has been for each of us.