Sister Robert Marie King, MM

Born: February 27, 1912
Entered: June 11, 1935
Died: July 5, 2003

Sister Robert Marie died on Saturday afternoon, July 5, 2003, in our Maryknoll Residential Care. She was ninety-one years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for sixty-eight years.

Helen Clarinda King was born in South Pasadena, California, on February 27, 1912, the daughter of Robert King and Salome Proux King. She had two brothers who predeceased her. Helen attended grammar and high school in Santa Barbara, California and graduated in 1933 from Santa Barbara State College with a degree in education.

Helen entered Maryknoll from St. Andrew’s Parish in Saginaw, Michigan, on June 11, 1935. At Reception, she received the name Sister Robert Marie. She made her First Profession on January 6, 1938 at Maryknoll and her Final Profession on the same date in 1941 in the Philippines.

Sister Robert Marie was a champion tennis player and the seamstress who made all the costumes for a novitiate presentation of Little Women. She was famous for her sense of humor. What we may not realize is that this wit of hers was once a concern to Robert Marie. In a letter to Sr. Xavier many years ago, Sr. Robert Marie confessed, “I was inclined to be somewhat silly. .. and my conversations.., light and frivolous… I had resolved to become more serious and not see a funny side to everything that arises, but Sister, after my first three weeks of really trying to bring about this change, I found that it depressed me terribly… (She went on)… I found that I could be happy and carefree, just as God wants…and still do all he wants us to do… However, Sister, I had and still have a deeper side to my personality but no one surmised as much because I shared it with just a few…” Sr. Robert Marie shared these parts of her personality, both the humor and the deeper side, with so many through the years, and we are grateful neither had to be changed!

Her first assignment in 1938 was to the Philippines where she served as teacher and principal for the next twenty-eight years. She taught at Maryknoll Normal College in Manila, at St. James Academy in Malabon and at LaSalette High School of Santiago, Isabela. She was superior at Maryknoll College in Quezon City and was one of the forty-seven Maryknoll Sisters interned in the Philippines for three years during World War II.

For six years, Sister Robert Marie taught in Palau, Koror, the Caroline Islands. When it was learned that Sister was leaving the islands, a group of women and men begged her to stay. “Kindly give us a few moments of your precious time they wrote. We apologize for approaching you in this way, a very Palauan way… We have heard of your apocalyptic departure. We are sad. Very sad… We love you, we like you, and we need you… We like to make this request short, and to the point. We still need you and we ask you to stay and help us, our children, our school, and our Palau.” Attached to the letter were thirty signatures, men and women of Palau.

Sister Robert Marie served as secretary in the Personnel Department at Maryknoll, New York, from 1972 until 1975 when she began a new assignment in Hawaii. She was regional bookkeeper, worked with Vietnamese and Laotian refugees and with the Senior Companion Program in which senior citizens in good health helped other elderly people who lived alone. She was responsible for assigning staff and monitoring the companions. In 1984, she received the First Lady’s Outstanding Volunteer Award for exceptional voluntary service to the people of the State of Hawaii in the Senior Companion Program.

Avenue C in the lower East Side of New York City, was Sr. Robert Marie’s home from 1984—1990. Amid abandoned, burnt-out buildings that once housed the early immigrants to New York, the Maryknoll Sisters lived on a marginal income in a former tenement house of sixteen small apartments. Sister Robert Marie helped out at the Catholic Worker, she tended battered women and the housebound elderly and she visited prisoners at an Immigration Center, making contact with attorneys and arranging for sponsors. Folks who lived in the streets knew her as neighbor and friend.

Because of declining health, Robert Marie “retired” to Monrovia, California in 1990. She volunteered at the Unity Center in Monrovia, where, once again, she served the truly needy, the homeless, jobless and single-parent families. She returned to New York in 1994 and entered into a quieter life of prayer in our Residential Care here at Maryknoll.

We offer our condolences to Sr. Robert Marie’s family and we welcome Fr. John Barth, M.M., our presider at this Liturgy of Christian Burial.

Sister Robert Marie said she believed that people who give volunteer service to the needy are the Ambassadors of God to our world. Dear Sister Robert Marie, truly you have been “God’s Ambassador to our world.” That you have been our Sister is a source of pride to us.