Sister Rosemary DeFelice, MM
Born: March 25, 1903
Entered: June 6, 1921
Died: September 6, 1997
On Saturday afternoon, September 6, 1997, Sister Rosemary De Felice died peacefully in the Residential Care Unit of the Maryknoll Sisters. It was 74 years ago that Sister Rosemary made her First Profession as a Maryknoll Sister.
Sister Rosemary was born March 25, 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut and was baptized Manuella Frances. She was one of six children – two sons and four daughters – born to Concetta Amatto and Crescenzo De Felice. She graduated from New Haven High School in 1921 and two weeks later entered Maryknoll and made her first profession of vows in 1923 at the Maryknoll Center. In 1926, on the same date, she made her Final Profession in Los Angeles, California.
In 1923, Sister Rosemary began her service as a kindergarten teacher, first in Los Angeles and next in Hawaii. In these two missions, she opened and taught in three Maryknoll kindergartens. In 1931 she was assigned to Hong Kong where she remained for sixty years, until 1991, with the exception of the wartime years, 1940-1946, and short periods of renewal spent at Maryknoll, New York. In 1967, when Sister celebrated her 64th birthday she thought it was about time to retire so she returned to the Center. Her retirement lasted just one year and she was back on a plane to Hong Kong! Although Sister Rosemary’s formal teaching ended in 1982, she continued many of her volunteer tasks as long as her health permitted. In particular, Sister continued her service as a religion teacher in Hong Kong government schools until she left Hong Kong in 1991.
During her early years of teaching, Sister Rosemary spent her summers in study. In 1941 she enrolled at Saint Joseph’s College, West Hartford, Connecticut where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Psychology. She also studied in England and Italy to become a certified Montessori teacher. Upon returning to Hong Kong she shared generously her knowledge of Montessori methods and through her guidance this program spread in the Hong Kong schools. She believed kindergarten was the time to stimulate the intellect, stretch the imagination, to dance and play with both, explore nature and stir the heart – setting a firm foundation to build character, attitudes for life, virtues, and further the development of the intellect. She had a special love and understanding of children with disabilities. She paved the way for hearing-impaired children to enter mainstream schools and classes, a practice not heard of at that time. Educators in Hong Kong, including the Jesuits and Christian Brothers, often deferred to her ideas and suggestions as they recognized her expertise as a gift from God.
“Let the little children come unto me” had deep meaning for Sister Rosemary. She nurtured the faith in each child as over the years she prepared children in three different schools for First Communion. She involved their mothers in helping her teach the other classes, and formed lasting relationships with these women, their husbands and other children. Her relationship with the children she taught was very loving and she regarded each little one with dignity and respect.
Sister Rosemary was an organizer, planner and great provider. She was in charge of the convent kitchen and prepared special culinary delights that would tease the appetite of those who were weary from hot and humid Hong Kong, the ill who needed basic nourishment, the friends who came to visit, the traveler en route to mission, and the priests and brothers who visited or just stopped by to say hello. Hospitality was one of her greatest gifts and unexpected guests were warmly welcomed at her table. Behind this activity was the example of Mother Mary Joseph, whose appreciation of generosity, beauty and good taste Sister Rosemary tried to emulate.
She saw that the chapel was always a place of beauty and a peaceful and quiet spiritual haven for all. She elegantly arranged fresh flowers, provided beautifully brocaded tabernacle veils and displayed an assortment of hand-crafted candles.
Sister Rosemary kept in close contact with her family, friends and her Maryknoll Sisters. In her free time her fingers would literally fly over the keys of her typewriter as she wrote letters to all. She wrote as life happened – no paragraphs or punctuation, she just talked to the person. Her heart was in all her letters and they were pure stream of consciousness.
She also loved music and opera and attended as many concerts as she could. After each, her one comment would be: “Do you think we will have such beautiful music in heaven?” Sister often talked about death. No doubt, the choirs of angels prepared a concert for her arrival on Saturday!
The Sisters who had the joy of living with Sister Rosemary will long remember her many kindnesses and thoughtfulness. She longed to be remembered, however, mainly as a Kindergarten teacher and there is no doubt that she will be remembered by the hundreds of kindergarten children whose lives she touched.
We welcome and offer our deepest sympathy to Sister Rosemary’s family and friends. We are very happy that Father Peter Barry and two of her former students from Hong Kong, are also with us. We welcome and thank our Maryknoll brother and friend, Fr. Bill Donnelly, for presiding at this Eucharist of the Resurrection as we celebrate and thank God for the life of Sister Rosemary.