Written on: April 15, 2013
‘Then Jesus said to those on the right: Come, you that are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
It will come as no surprise to those of us who knew Christina Mary well that she did not have anything prepared for her funeral liturgy. She was always too busy with the present to worry about that future event. One of Chris’ favorite books (one of many) was The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. (The one that I found among her things is well worn and falling apart – a testimony to how often she used it). That was what Tina did – she lived in the presence of God and in the present.
When Eileen White and I were asked to prepare the liturgy for Christina, Eileen chose the readings. I’m sure you will agree that they are fitting for this occasion
Mary Christina deYcaza was born on March 2, 1926 in Ithaca, New York, to Mariano deYcaza and Caroline Hillick deYcaza. Her father, Mariano, though born in the Philippines was Spanish. Christina Mary was very proud of her heritage – and boasted that because of her Spanish skin she was able to withstand the many hours that she loved to spend in the sun. How many of us found her there in front of St. Joseph’s Manor when we visited!
Christina Mary met the Grey Nuns at D’Youville College which she attended after graduating from St. Agnes High School in Rochester, NY (a boarding school). Following her College graduation and a year of work, she applied to enter the community. Her parents were not open to her entrance – I’m sure they were reluctant to lose their Mary Christina with the dancing, Spanish eyes.
Sister Mary Kathleen Duggan traveled with her from Buffalo on the Black Diamond train – she remembers that they tried desperately to find a station where they could get one final highball before facing the novitiate!
Her early years in community were spent in the classroom in a variety of locations – even at Champlain Valley Hospital School of Nursing in Plattsburg, NY. I remember her confessing to Eileen and me that she’s not sure exactly what she taught there but she enjoyed being there. I think it was there that she and Sister Doris Wieland formed a friendship which lasted until Doris’ death. When Chris would visit the Motherhouse, she and Doris often enjoyed walking the grounds and talking.
In 1963, she answered the call of the congregation for volunteers to serve at San Norberto Parish in Lima, Peru with the Norbertine priests. She was one of four including Sister Helen Rita, Sister Mary Claver and Sister Ann Virginia who left for Spanish language school before going on to Lima. (I was in the novitiate at the time and remember the sendoff – as we gathered in the Rosary at Melrose to say goodbye and wish them God speed.)
During the 9 years that she spent in Lima – she was joined by many other Grey Nuns. The sisters worked in the school which was really 3 schools – one in the morning for paying students, one in the afternoon for the poor and one in the evening for the domestic workers. Ask any of the sisters who were there with her and they’ll tell you many tales. Tina loved dogs and there was always a dog or two at the house. When she lived with Eileen, Betty and me, she love Sweetie Pie, our Border collie – they were constant companions. Maureen Quigley told me that Tina once asked her if she thought there were “dogs in heaven”. We don’t know but maybe Christina does!
In the letter of Paul to the Philippians we heard: I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. And I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Christina was a seeker – During a 30 day retreat – she was drawn to Eastern spirituality – and the writings of William Johnson. She actually wrote to Father Johnson, an Irish Jesuit. They arranged to meet and he introduced her to Sister Eileen Storey – thus began another and very important part of Chris’ journey – a journey to deep contemplation of the Christ Jesus who was her Lord.
Father Johnson speaks of contemplation and action – and that was the story of Chris’ life from that first encounter with Eileen. During the time she worked at Covenant House, she and Eileen lived in a house of prayer there. Eventually Eileen established Aletheia House of Prayer and Chris lived with her for many years – the house moved often – and the residents changed often but Chris was a more permanent resident. Eileen was her dear friend and Chris made many other wonderful friends there – women who continued to keep in touch with her long after they or she left the house of prayer.
In a letter to Sister Mary Charlotte, Chris says “The freedom to do service for the poor has undoubtedly been one of the great gifts given me by our community. I’m sure it has kept me real.” Her years in New York were ones of contemplation and action – her work at Covenant House, at Caring Community, with Meals on Wheels, the Grey Nun Food Pantry, at Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service put her in touch with the needy – needy in body and in spirit. Her joy-filled spirit – gleaned from her contemplation – reached out to their needs.
As if the time in the House of Prayer was not enough, she lived for a month each summer in a hermitage on the property of a group of sisters in Kentucky – Following a vacation with her niece Kathy and her husband, Paul, they would take her to the hermitage – and equip her with the supplies for the month.
Just a word about her family. She was devoted to them – her sister, Gloria, her brother, Deke, and her nieces and nephews. Paul and Kathy are here with us today – as are Molly, Amy and Jeff – the next generation – and Morgan – a great, great niece. You’ve heard me refer to Sister Christina Mary by many names – Teenie was her family name and later Tina in the congregation – but then Chris – can be confusing – all the same person. And her nieces and nephews refer to her as Aunt Teeny.
Physical energy caused her to retire from her work in New York and eventually leave the House of Prayer. She was pleased that the congregation asked her to take up residence in the Novitiate House where she lived with Eileen, our novice, Jan Kelly, and me – and later Betty Bagen and Sweetie Pie. She would take the township loop bus several times a week to visit our sisters at St. Joseph’s Manor. She loved to paint and spent many of her days in prayer, in reading and in painting. We would regularly receive a handmade birthday greeting – and one year, we found nestled in our Christmas tree, hand painted flowers of the Holy Land – her journey to the Holy Land was a highlight of her life.
Just before her illness, we had a fire in the house – Chris was not at home at the time – but it originated in her room. She was distraught that she might have caused it and wanted to talk with the pastor and let him know how sorry she was. Fortunately, after her illness, she didn’t really remember that – and although the pastor did visit her in the hospital and later at St. Joseph’s Manor – it was not a topic of conversation.
We first got to know Kathy and Paul as they were constant companions at the hospital during Chris’ surgery and long recovery. And often visited during her years at St. Joseph’s Manor. Chris lived there for more than eight years. Sister Mary Kathleen notes, “One characteristic to be noted is her tremendous, grace-filled patience and acceptance during her long years of hospitalization and inability to walk. Given her Spanish, short-fused personality, it was absolutely remarkable and an obvious outcome of her deep faith. Such acceptance! Always that booming laugh. She has been a great example to us. So loving to the end.”
Her years at St. Joseph’s were not idle ones – she zoomed around on her wheeled vehicle – she who had never learned to drive – and visited many people. She was not very good at spatial concepts and how big the chair was – hence an accident or two!!
She kept vigil with many of our sisters and others when they were dying. Everyone knew her! And loved her!
Her entire life was a reaching in and a reaching out – Her deep contemplation led her to serve, always serve – if only making a meal or feeding the hungry.
Her friend, Mae, who had spent some years with her at the House of Prayer, came to visit when she was living with us. She was showing Mae around the Motherhouse and pointed to the big double doors and told Mae that you only go through those doors in a box.
Mary Christina deYcaza, Sister Christina Mary – in a very short time you will be going through those doors – but I’m sure that you have already gone through the double doors of heaven and are enjoying one of the many mansions prepared for you! And you will be reunited with your parents, your sister and brother, with Doris, with Eileen and with Aggie Allard, Sister Mary John, your college roommate whom you revered.
Thank you for the joy you have brought into our lives! We love you, we miss you! Rest in Peace, dear Teeny, Tina, Chris, Aunt Teeny!