Sister Rebecca Quinn, MM
Born: March 21, 1931
Entered: September 6, 1949
Died: January 28, 2003
We have come together today to celebrate the life of our Sister Rebecca Quinn (Becky, as she was known affectionately by all). We often found Becky quick to offer her help in doing things that needed to be done. That is no less true at this moment. In her personal file Becky left a paper entitled “My Eulogy,” with a note at the bottom saying, “please feel free to delete anything.” Remembering and even picturing Becky now, I will gratefully quote from her own words in this letter.
“I was born in Philadelphia and named Geraldine Agatha on March 21, 1931, and was adopted by a family member in 1936. My adoptive parents were Ferdinand and Stella Doble Quinn. I grew up in Philadelphia, attending Epiphany parish grade school in South Philadelphia and, in 1945, I went to Hallahan High. As an only child I thought that was normal and grew up depending on myself and I never felt lonely.”
“My Maryknoll vocation was and is a true gift of God. In the 7th grade, we heard about missioners and the seed was planted in me. When I was a senior in high school, LIFE magazine published a story about Sr. Maria Pastores (Maryknoll Sister Margaret Sehlstedt) in Japan. I thought, ‘I could be a missioner in a far away place, not only here in the States.’ I wrote to Maryknoll, came in May for an interview and entered in September of 1949.” Sister Rebecca was the religious name she received and retained all her life. Her first profession of vows was on March 7, 1952 and her final profession was on the same date three years later.”
Becky says: “Coming to Maryknoll was the greatest decision I made in my whole life; knowing our Mother Foundress, the most enriching. The six years spent at our Maryknoll Center from 1949 to 1955 were years of formation in the ‘old school’ of religious life. I’m grateful for the discipline and values I learned and used for the rest of my life. Several of us earned degrees in education from Maryknoll Teachers College. For some reason dear God wanted me here and as I look back, I see myself as a catalyst – a bridge. The very month we arrived in Chile, my first mission, our dear Mother Mary Joseph died. Over the years, the most enriching regional meetings were when we talked about the memories each one treasured about what Mother taught us by her words and example.”
“My vocation has been my joy, and my greatest blessing was being sent to Chile. I never wanted to be a ‘teaching Sister,’ but I wound up teaching my first 10 years. By the mid-1970’s I began working with catechetical programs, and later with pastoral teams. In each place I was assigned, I did something different. I learned from the people and we evangelized each other. I helped guide and support them and they renewed my faith and my love for God.”
“From the Chileans I learned the joy of giving, the sense of extended family loyalty, the richness of friendship and the depth of spirituality. My mission experiences were mostly in rural areas and I got around on my bike. My first mission was to Las Higueras in Talcahuano and it was here that I experienced my first earthquake in May of 1960 when some 3,000 people died. In 1961 I was assigned to Chillan and later to Talca, Galvarino, Santiago, and Coelemu. In many places we trained lay leaders to take over parish works and to continue catechetical programs after Maryknollers withdrew from these places.”
Rebecca twice interrupted her work in Chile to give Congregational Service here at Maryknoll in the Data Processing office. Upon her return to Chile in the mid-1980’s she once again served in a new position, this time in Illapel. The Bishop of Illapel visited the Sisters in Santiago, saying he needed a secretary. Becky responded, “I could visit people in the hills, prepare groups, help in catechetics, but I am not sure if I’d serve as a secretary.” The Bishop smiled and said, “I don’t know if I’ll serve as Bishop, I’ve never been one before either.” Becky took the position and several years later, when she was being called to leave the next year to be Administrator at the Center, the Bishop wrote to Maryknoll. He said, “Little by little the Sisters have been leaving Illapel, and I always respected the decisions, knowing that religious communities are autonomous in the distribution of their personnel. But now I wonder if my silence has been interpreted as if the presence of Maryknoll in the Prelature did not matter to me. Far from that! I dare to ask that the Sisters remain in Illapel, especially Sr. Rebecca, and that other Sisters come to accompany her.”
Becky did return to Maryknoll, however, in September 1996 and served as Administrator of Supportive Services, relating to many of the offices and personnel at the Center until her unexpected admission to the hospital in July 2000. We are pleased with the presence at Becky’s wake and funeral of so many members of our lay staff who worked with her at various times here at the Center.
Becky was greatly appreciated wherever she lived and worked. While remaining a very private person herself, she had a special gift for making friends wherever she was and keeping up with them even as she moved to new places. We witness to that this morning both in the persons here present, as well as in the number of messages that have come in from the Sisters and lay people in Chile upon hearing of her death. We welcome her friends who have come this morning, along with members of her family.
Presiding over mass this morning is Maryknoll Fr. Joseph LaMar, accompanied by Fr. Thomas Golden, MM, who also served many years in Chile. They will lead us in our Eucharistic celebration of Rebecca’s life among us and her entrance into “the kingdom prepared for her from the creation of the world.”