This month brought to mind the term “may day” and its many meanings. It represents May Day festivals with springtime celebrations. It also marks International Workers’ Day, which is also known as Labor Day in many nations. Further, it serves as a distress signal in emergencies. And, it denotes the day Catholics around the world offer special devotions to the Virgin Mary, to whom May is dedicated.

“May day” definitions like these made me think of the Maryknoll Sisters’ variety of mission experiences. Some Sisters had adventures close to home, and some ventured beyond the familiar. A Sister could find herself tilling a garden in the US or providing pastoral care to rural villages in Tanzania. She could be teaching on a Pacific island or practicing medicine in the Andes. No matter the circumstance, Sisters were always up for challenges to their ingenuity, empathy, bravery, or creative chops. So this May, we explore a few “may day” moments with the Maryknoll Sisters. These moments prove that life for the Sisters was certainly never dull!

Postulants gardening at the Motherhouse, 1936

May Vignettes from the Motherhouse

May 1927 “The blossoms showing pink in the orchards, and the general gardening going on remind us that it is actually May – the trees all seem to be coming out well, but we have heat still in the radiators, and could not very well get along without it, and be comfortable. Some of the wicked New Yorkers say the climate is getting like that of California.”

May 1928 “May day on our compound… It was a beautiful evening and the views from the hill-top can hardly be surpassed. When we came home we met Sisters Eustace and Pierre, who had come down a little early in order to attend to the bees. They were dressed in merry-widow fashion. A picture no artist could paint. In order to be protected against the sting of their pets they wore big straw hats with black net veils draped from the hats to their shoulders, gloves, and what not.”

May 1930 “May Day witnessed the signing of the contract for the bulding of our new home! Deo Gratias, and may Our Lady bless every inch of its progress! The cherry tree on the road to St. Joseph’s blossomed to greet the May.”

May 1932 “A new garden has been started down towards the woods about half way between the Motherhouse and Regina Coeli. The dahlias and gladiolas will be planted there this year. The less hardy things will find a better prepared home on the hill for the present.”

Click on the book to read Sr. Mary Boyce‘s story about sixteen hours spent in shark-infested waters.

A letter from Sr. Bernice Kita in Guatemala, May 1980

“On May 1st, Labor Day, there was a huge demonstration by workers. They were elated by the recent successful strike of sugarcane and cotton workers on the coastal plantations. Thousands had struck for higher wages and the government finally raised the minimum wage for farmhands from 1.25 Quetzales to 3.20. They had asked for 5 Quetzales, but were happy to get any raise at all. That wage is per day, you realize, not per hour! A lot of people, including priests and church workers, supported the strike as a just demand for a living wage and better working conditions. Among them was Conrado de le Cruz, a young Marianist missionary priest from the Philippines. He went to the Labor Day demonstration with some of his parishioners and his sacristan. They were kidnapped in broad daylight in Guatemala City around lunchtime, and haven’t been heard from since…

Hundreds of ‘little’ Church people, catechists and parish workers, have suffered disappearances, torture, and death. They are known to their communities and families and friends. But when a priest disappears or is killed, that event makes bigger ripples. And it gives the rest of us professional Church workers much food for thought. It tests our faith.”

Sr. Lorraine Beinkafner and Sr. Bernice Kita at a dinner with the parish, San Antonio Palopo, Guatemala, 1983

The May Queen by Sr. Mary Alma Erhard, May 1937

She wears sunlight in her hair

And violets in her eyes

And her cheeks are the petals of a rose.

She bears Love on her arm

And lilies are her feet

And they carry Life wherever she goes.

There are graces on her lips

And rainbows on her robes

And her wreath is the coronet of May.

She is Fairy Queen of earth —

The want at her heart

Is a Bud from the Triune Bouquet.

She is Mother, Queen and Maid

And God is her Child

And her Courts are the meadows where they play

Forever and for aye.

She is Mary full of Grace,

She is Queen of Eternal May.