Sister Mary Martina Nolan

Written on: November 2, 2008

The souls of the just are in the hand of God: these words of the Book of Wisdom spring from a hope based on God’s love for us. And it isn’t only in death that we fall gently into the hands of a loving God; for through Jesus, we are molded by these hands throughout our lives into trusting children of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and in the hour of death, this love is poured out on the faithful.

Today, we reflect on the life of our Grey Nun sister, Mary Martina. As she asked, few words, only a brief reflection; yet, remember we must, for precious in the eyes of the Lord is a life consecrated to God. And precious has her life been for many people who came to know and love her.

Sister Mary Martina’s life began in 1917 in Mahoney City, in the heart of loving parents, James and Anna; and three brothers, James, Robert and John. Her faith was nurtured by her sacramental life in the parish of St. Canicus, and by her education with the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. The seed of vocation was growing within Sister Martina at a tender age, and she began her life of commitment as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart in 1932, at Melrose Park, PA. Did she ever imagine that her journey of faith would encompass ninety- one years; seventy-six as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, and that on the feast of All Souls, in the hands of a loving God, she would stand on the threshold of eternal life.

Today, Grey Nun sisters, beloved family members, loyal friends of many years, and many recent friends among our devoted lay people here at the Motherhouse gather to pray and rejoice in the life of Sister Martina. We remember with gratitude her gentle presence among us. We know how your kindnesses gave her happiness; and we delight in recalling the ready smile of welcome that expressed so well her appreciation.

We remember the joyous times: celebrations of her Jubilees – 25, 50, 60 and 75. Particularly meaningful was the celebration of Sister’s Golden Jubilee in St. Canicus Church in her beloved Mahoney City, where Sister Mary of Victory, Sister Molly McGuire, a former classmate and life-long friend, and Sisters Florence Marie and Mary Priscilla, former Grey Nun teachers at St.Canicus School participated in the liturgy. I was honored to receive her renewal of vows. It was an exceptionally beautiful liturgical celebration in which eight priests attended in tribute to the life of Sister Martina, one of them, her devoted friend of many years, Father Steen, who is with us again today.

We remember also times of sorrow and pain which attest to the faith and trust of Sister Martina, a true believer in the Paschal Mystery: loss of dear family members and friends in death; bearing the sufferings of those who turned to her for help; the sacrifices of difficult ministries obediently accepted; adjusting to changes in religious life; and the burden of illness in her final years, a time of change and struggle as she embraced her cross for the last time at St. Joseph’s Manor. In all of these, Sister entrusted herself to God, the source of her strength and hope.

As a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, Sister Martina was dedicated to the education of youth and a life of service. Education is a hallmark of the Grey Nuns, and one for which Sister was well suited and gifted, as testimony confirms. She served in multiple school settings, as teacher and principal, and received recognition for her educational expertise and accomplishments. One associate described Sister Martina as a strong little woman with vitality, enthusiasm, charm and genuine love of people – a teacher with a broad outlook and deep insights on education. She was known as one who held her students and faculty to high standards of achievement; as one respected and loved by children. A former student from Immaculate Conception School in Eden, NY, wrote: “I truly believe that I am the person that I am today as a direct result from the rearing I received by the Grey Nuns….I don’t know how to fully express my love and gratitude to Sister Martina and her family for all she gave me….I guess it is not true that only the good die young. Sometimes we are blessed to have the good for a very long time.”

After Vatican Council II, Sister Martina acknowledged the influences and opportunities for advancing the causes of peace, and emphasized the unique role of educators in teaching the values of peace for a better future.

We remember the especially the personal qualities which endeared Sister Martina to her many friends, family, and associates: a woman of kindliness, with a generous nature, loyal and true to her friends, supportive of those bearing the responsibilities of leadership, a person of reserve, yet attentive and interested in the well-being of others. As one friend wrote: “You are a miracle in my life; I thank you for the unconditional love you have always given me.”

Sister Martina, in life and death, has truly fallen into the hands of a loving God and is now truly free and at peace; and we, her Grey Nun Sisters, thank her for a life-long fidelity to our mission and for enriching the life of our congregation with her love, service, prayer and dedication to the Heart of Christ. Thank-you, Sister Martina, and may you smile on us; as the angels lead you into Paradise.


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