Sister Richard Marie McKinney, MM

Born: November 10, 1889
Entered: July 5, 1936
Died: June 8, 1998

“Love is the music of the heart.” With these words, Sister Richard Marie McKinney aptly summed up her life when she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee as a Maryknoll Sister in 1996. Today, we gather to celebrate and thank God for her life and the love and music she shared with us as a Maryknoll Sister for sixty-two years. On Monday, June 8, 1998, Sister died peacefully in the Residential Care IV Unit.

Isabel Agnes was the foster daughter of Agnes Mary Lankton and Richard McKinney. Isabella was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts on November 10, 1899. Her father’s name was Henry Mysitivoy. There is no record of her mother’s name.

On December 16, 1901, when Isabella was two years old, she and her one month old brother, Ludwig, were taken by their father to Holy Family Institute, also known as Brightside Orphanage in Holyoke, Massachusetts. On October 14, 1903, three year old Isabella was placed with Mr. and Mrs. Richard McKinney, and Isabella Mysitivoy became known as Isabel Agnes McKinney.

Isabel’s musical abilities were recognized and nurtured by her family from an early age. She studied music under Werner Josten at Smith College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with Departmental Honors in Music in 1924. After receiving her degree in music from Smith College, she attended Manhattanville: Pius X School of Liturgical Music, and then went on to complete her Masters Degree in Music at Columbia Teachers College, New York City. Before entering Maryknoll, Isabel worked as music supervisor at Pius X School of Liturgical Music and taught music and dramatics at Lawrence School in New York.   

Isabel Agnes’ decision to explore Maryknoll may have been planted when she heard a Smith graduate, Mary Josephine Rogers (Mother Mary Joseph), speak to a group of students in 1920. When asked how it all began, Sister Richard Marie recalled: “I always wanted to be a Sister. I looked around at the various religious communities but they didn’t interest me very much. One day, while I was reading, it was as if a voice inside me said: ‘Why don’t you try Maryknoll?’ Since my graduation from Smith I had been teaching music. I loved it but I ached to do something more with my life. So my answer to the voice was ‘Why not?'”

Sister Richard Marie painted a vivid picture of her first visit to Maryknoll: “It was a dreary, rainy Saturday morning when I took the train up to Maryknoll for my interview. When I arrived, everybody I saw was dressed in gray. I hate gray! For lunch they served me beef stew! How much worse could it get?! Yet, that day, when I returned home, I knew in my heart that Maryknoll was the place for me. The Sisters were all so sincere…beef stew and gray garb notwithstanding!” Isabel Agnes entered Maryknoll on July 5, 1936.

At Reception, Isabel Agnes received the religious name of Sister Richard Marie – the name she herself chose, no doubt, in honor of her parents. She made her First Profession at Maryknoll, New York, January 6, 1939 and a year later was assigned to the Maryknoll School in Los Angeles, California and then to St. Bernard School in St. Louis, Missouri. Because many of Sister’s records from her childhood were destroyed in a church fire and could not be recovered, she could not obtain a passport and thus was unable to leave the United States. This must have been difficult for her who dreamed of being in mission in China but it never dampened her joyful, gracious and generous nature.

Mother Mary Joseph deeply appreciated Sister Richard Marie’s musical talent and, in 1944, she was assigned to St. Anthony of Padua School in the Bronx. Her children’s choir, glee clubs and dramatic productions became widely known for their quality and beauty. Sister radiated a deep joy to the children which flowed from her own inner peace and gratitude. In accepting her assignment to the Bronx she wrote to Mother Columba, “The Retreat struck many responsive chords in my heart so I leave for my Bronx Mission built-up physically and spiritually and with that oft-repeated feeling that as a Maryknoll Sister I certainly have received my two-hundred fold pressed down and running over.”

After more than twenty-one years of sharing her musical and liturgical gifts in St. Anthony’s School and parish, she was asked to introduce the musical and liturgical innovations of Vatican II to the novices in Valley Park, Missouri in 1965. In 1968, she was assigned to do the same at the Novitiate in Topsfield, Massachusetts, and was also named Superior there.

Returning to the Center in 1969 at the age of seventy, she continued her music ministry in the Music Library for the next ten years. Sister Richard Marie remained active in community events until her admission to the Residential Care IV Unit in July 1996.

We welcome and thank Msgr. Gerald Ryan, a long-time friend of the Maryknoll Sisters from St. Anthony’s in the Bronx, presently stationed at St. Luke’s Parish in the Bronx, who will preside at this Liturgy of Christian Burial as we celebrate and thank God for the life of Sister Richard Marie.