Sister Mildred Payne, MM

Born: August 3, 1924
Entered: October 5, 1946
Died:  May 24, 2010

As the sun was beginning to set on the afternoon of May 24, 2010, in Maryknoll Residential Care IV, our dear Sister Mildred Payne quietly and gently slipped away into the arms of her loving God. It seems as if she took to heart the gentle command in the prayers for the dying that were being said at her bedside: Go forth, dear Sister Millie, upon your final journey. Go from this world, and be with God. It was at that very moment she took her last breath. Sister was 85 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 63 years. She has donated her body to science.

Those of us who were with Sister Millie these past years can attest to her acceptance of her long and painful illness with the same patience, grace and tranquility with which she lived her life.

Mildred Ann Payne was born in Lexington, Kentucky, to Gertrude C. (Harvey) and Joseph Houston Payne. Mildred had two brothers and a sister. Her brother survives her. Mildred and her siblings received a thorough Catholic upbringing from their non-Catholic mother, who in later years surprised her family by becoming a Catholic.

After attending Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville and St. Catherine’s Academy in Lexington, KY, Mildred graduated in 1942. Three years later she received a BA in Sociology from Ursuline College in Louisville. The following year, while working in Washington, D.C., at the Army Air Force offices, she studied at Catholic University of America. She returned to Catholic University after Profession and received a Masters degree in social work in 1951.

Mildred entered Maryknoll in Ossining, NY on October 5, 1946, from St. Peter’s Parish in Lexington, KY. At Reception Mildred received the name Joseph Gertrude but later returned to her baptismal name. To her friends she was Sister Millie. Sister made her First Vows on April 6, 1949, at Maryknoll, NY and her Final Vows on that same date in 1952 in San Francisco, CA.

In 1951, Sister Millie was assigned to Catholic Social Services as a family and child welfare caseworker in San Francisco and Stockton, CA. One of her happy memories of San Francisco was when her mother came for an extended visit and taught art to all the Sisters in the community.

In 1966, she was assigned to Chile where she worked in a national agency that cared for more than 600 poor children in 16 homes. She wrote that the children were fed and clothed and given a weekly bath as they had no water in their homes. Here she was able to combine missionary dedication with professional service. On November 24, 1968, she wrote to Mother Mary Coleman: “The work here offers ample opportunity for direct work with parents and children in the field of social work. Though I have much to learn the peace I feel seems to me to be a good sign that I can contribute and find my apostolate here. Si Dios quiere.” (God willing)

Sister returned to the United States in 1971. She became a certified Catholic Chaplain and worked at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, IL in a regional trauma center. While there she was instrumental in introducing a program in connection with the local medical school to have ministers trained to be present in the hospital’s emergency room, something she felt was necessary for pastoral care.

In 1975 Sister served in the Congregation’s Development Department. Later she used her artistic gifts supervising arts and crafts for the retired Sisters at the Center. In preparation for doing this she took courses in pottery.

Sister Millie was assigned to El Carrizal, Guatemala, with Sister Regina Johnson in 1978. Here, amidst humble living conditions for three years serving the poor in a remote area, a lifelong friendship and strong partnership for mission began.

But it was when she and Sister Regina were assigned to pioneer the mission work in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1982 that Sister Millie’s creative nature was able to flourish. After setting up comfortable living space in the storeroom of the church, she and Sister Regina began building Basic Christian Communities some of which are still functioning under the direction of self-confident Church leaders.

Sister Millie, with members of her community, established a social service center that opened its doors to people in need of food, clothing, school supplies, medicine and any other urgent need. Sister Millie will be remembered for her unrelenting commitment to the poor and her firm conviction that their dignity must be preserved while caring for their needs. Her long term goal was to make them take responsibility for themselves, their communities and their church. To this end she built and taught others to make solar ovens, to use soy in their diets and to save, no matter how little, in the credit union she began. After 17 years under her direction the credit union is still in operation in the hands of a competent local board of administrators.

The thrifty virtues acquired in her frugal living carried over into her life. She was never known to make a purchase before checking out every possible vendor to get the best price.

In community, Sister Millie was a strong unifying presence, a peacemaker and one who could “brighten the day” with her sometimes planned and sometimes impromptu celebrations, always hosted with characteristic southern charm. Our lay missioners assigned to Oaxaca always express their gratitude for her warmth and hospitality.

Sister Millie’s missionary zeal spread to her family who participated in her many projects. It was pure joy for her to open the boxes they sent and find just the right person for each item and just the right pair of shoes for the right pair of feet. She enjoyed monitoring the progress of the students who were able to further their education because of the financial aid she could channel to them.

In 2006 Sister returned to Maryknoll and joined the retirement community. She spent her time pursuing her hobbies. Always mindful of the Community needs, Sister patiently gathered lavender and dried flowers into colorful pieces of net and tied them with a ribbon to be sold as lovely scented sachets at the annual bazaar. Her prayer ministry was the staff of Outpatient Care.

Gradually, as Sister became weaker, she began the transition to Residential Care. But first she asked her friend, Sister Joan Malherek, to help her plan a celebration for her Sister companions in Assisted Living.

We extend our condolences to Sister Millie’s brother, who is unable to be with us today, and to his wife, Sister’s brother-in-law, and her niece as well as to her other nieces and nephews whose cares and concerns, achievements and joys were always a part of her life.

Viva, Millie! Go forth, dear Sister, on your final journey. Go from this world and be with God.

We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Joseph La Mar, who will preside at our Memorial Liturgy.