Sister Virginia Flagg, MM
Born: October 8, 1912
Entered: August 4, 1930
Died: January 26, 2011
We gather this morning to celebrate the life of our Sister Virginia Flagg. On several occasions when Sister Virginia was asked how she wanted to be remembered by her Sisters, she said, “I fell in love with God when I was young and have lived in love with God ever since.”
Sister Virginia Flagg, whose entrance into eternity we celebrate today, was fond of repeating those words. Not only was Virginia conscious of her love for God and God’s love for her at an early age, but she was equally convinced that Maryknoll was the only place for her to serve the God she loved. She wrote, “I knew without a doubt that Maryknoll was where I wanted to spend my life. Never for one moment have I regretted being part of Maryknoll — my heart is full of gratitude.”
Sister Virginia died quietly and peacefully, after a brief stay in Maryknoll Residential Care on January 26, 2011. She was 98 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 80 years.
Born in Yonkers, New York, October 8, 1912 — the same year the Maryknoll Sisters were founded — Virginia was the eldest of 12 children in the Flagg family. She had eight brothers and three sisters. Virginia was the daughter of the renowned New York physician, Paluel Flagg, and Stella (Robblee) Flagg. Dr. Flagg was the founder of the Catholic Medical Mission Board, an organization set up to provide medical practitioners and supplies to the missions. He was one of Maryknoll’s earliest collaborators. He taught the Maryknoll seminarians First Aid and other basic medical skills to serve them in the mission field. Sister Virginia liked to refer to her father as “Maryknoll’s first lay missioner.”
Through her father’s close association with James Anthony Walsh and Mother Mary Joseph, Virginia, even before entering the Congregation, knew our founders. She also knew Francis X. Ford, Bernard Meyer, James Edward Walsh, James Keller, Patrick Byrne and many others who were welcomed guests in the Flagg family home in Yonkers. One Virginia’s brothers was named James Anthony after Maryknoll’ s founder. Another brother, Paluel, whose middle name was Venard, was named for Theophane Venard, the young French martyr that Bishop Anthony Walsh had set as a model for all Maryknollers, and her sister Dorothy, whose middle name is Byrne, for Bishop Patrick Byrne. The Flagg family was an intimate part of Maryknoll’s early days and foundation.
Virginia attended St. Vincent Academy in New York graduating in 1929. She then studied for one year at Mt. St. Vincent College in Riverdale, New York before entering Maryknoll on August 4, 1930. In 1932 she returned to Mt. St. Vincent to complete her A.B. degree in English and in 1971 she received an M.A. in Education with a major in administration and Supervision from St. John’s University, Jamaica, New York.
Virginia entered Maryknoll from St. Denis Parish in Yonkers, New York. At her Reception into the Congregation, she was given the name of Sister Stella Marie. On that occasion her father wrote Mother Mary Joseph, “I am especially grateful for your permission that she be allowed to bear her mother’s name, Stella.” Virginia’s mother, Stella, had died three weeks after Virginia was born. Sister Virginia made her First Profession of Vows on January 6, 1933 at the new Maryknoll Sisters Motherhouse in New York, and her Final Profession of Vows on the same date in 1936 in Korea.
Sister Virginia was assigned to Manchuria in 1935 where she worked in the school in Dairen. In the year 2000 she received a letter from a man named George which read in part, “I hope I have found you!!! Dear Sister Stella Marie, Are you the kind and lovable Sister that taught me when I was a child… in Dairen? As I write to you, memories flood back… I do not want to lose contact with you. I even hope some day to meet you.” Such was the impression she left behind on those she served.
During World War II, Virginia, along with other Maryknollers, was interned for two years in Dairen and then in Shanghai. She was repatriated to the United States in 1943 on the M.S. Gripsholm after spending 75 days at sea.
Sister’s next assignment was Hawaii. From 1944 to 1954, she taught in St. Augustine’s School in Waikiki and then at Maryknoll School in Sacred Heart Parish in the Punahou district of Honolulu. Returning home for her decennial in 1954, Sister Virginia was then missioned to Chinatown, New York. This four year assignment was the prelude to her spending the next 12 years in Hong Kong where she taught in Maryknoll Convent School in Kowloon, and then served as principal of both the primary and secondary sections of Maryknoll Sisters School, Blue Pool Road, on Hong Kong Island.
Virginia’s leadership qualities, her easy relationship with her Sisters and well as her energy and enthusiasm led to a number of special Congregational appointments: In 1971 she was recalled from Hong Kong to serve as the Director of Continuing Education; from 1974-1978, she served as the Coordinator of the Monrovia Retirement Community, 1985-1988 as Coordinator of the Maryknoll Sisters Center, and finally, 1988-1994 as the Certified Director of Activities in Maryknoll Residential Care.
What made Virginia attractive was her personality. Her father well described that special attractiveness when he wrote Mother Mary Joseph thanking her for the time Virginia spent at home following her return from Manchuria in 1943. He wrote, “I have been happy to contact once more the gay spirit which masks so effectively a depth of soul well known to you.”
Sister Virginia was a woman of style! She was a happy pioneer, an artist and a poet. She was also a great story teller. As our closest and last direct link to Mother Mary Joseph, Virginia also personifies for us “the early days of Maryknoll.” Her love of and dedication to Maryknoll were a part of her lived history. Upon hearing of Sister Virginia’s death, Father John McCauley, MM, a member of the Maryknoll Society’s Chapter in 2008 wrote, “You may recall that Virginia spoke for a full morning to the Society’s Eleventh General Chapter in October 2008 about the Founders. She made them come alive in a way that inspired us to return to her words through the course of the Chapter, and also to begin a process of planning the celebrations of our 100th Anniversary in a whole new way. Virginia wove the entirety of all of our ten decades and thousands of individual stories of mission into a single narrative of Spirit, faith, hope and courage embodied in three people. May she now rest in their embrace.”
Virginia’s many assets were framed within a gentle spirituality which she shared through her love of beauty, and her poetry. She had a special love for the beauty of the night. In 2001 when Virginia, then 89 years old, spoke of the Beautiful Midnight, she was speaking of her final encounter with the God she had loved and served so well for so long. She wrote: “There are maps for where I am going, but they are not for me. I am held by a hand more sure than any map. I go there as a child in the morning. I go as a traveler at noon. I go as a lover at night. I follow my star. The stark black rocks frighten me but suddenly a friend will jump out from behind one to startle me and laughter wafts me on. There are surprises, painful or joyful, that keep me going. As I get nearer the end of the journey, diminishments, obstacles like knotted roots trip me up. They can help me. They are a challenge. I use them to pull me up the mountain. I’m getting nearer to the Beautiful Midnight.” Even as we mourn Virginia’s passing we also rejoice with her as she now contemplates face to face the beauty in the Eternal Light of her Beautiful Midnight.
We are happy to welcome among us so many family and friends.
We are also happy to welcome Father John Casey, our Maryknoll brother, who will preside over this Liturgy of Christian burial.