Rest In Peace, Sr. Martha

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sr. Martha of the Compassion, R.A. (Martha Agnes Henriquez) went home to the Father on Gaudete Sunday, December 16, 2007 in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

She was in the 95th year of her life and the 51st year of her religious consecration.

The Sisters of the U.S. Province request the charity of your prayers for the eternal repose of our Sister.

 

----

On the occasion of her 50th anniversary of graduation from Marietta College (Ohio), this article was printed in the college magazine. We include it here to give you an idea of how special our Sister Martha was and how dearly we will miss her.

 

Career Change Has New Meaning for 36 Grad

by Stacy Hurchalla, Student Assistant

 

Marietta's class of 1936 yielded many successes:  there is a world-famous doctor, a former president of an international glass company and a former UNESCO representative, among others.

And there is Sister Martha A. Henriquez, R.A.

Her simple white habit tops less than five feet of a strong-hearted woman. Her voice is deceptively soft and her brown eyes shine with humor as she reminisces over her life which resembles the plot of a James Michener novel.

"Its been a very satisfying life," she says, thoughtfully. She became a nun at age 44, a late start to a religious vocation which was at the end of an incredibly circuitous career path.

Martha Henriques graduated from Marietta as the oldest in her class (she is now 75). Her father, a British man of Spanish ancestry, met her mother who hailed from Georgia, while both were working on the building of the Panama Canal. Martha was born and raised in Cuba and came to Marietta as an English and business law major.

It was the Depression Era, and education was costly. However, aid came in the form of her uncle, George Blaser, who for 45 years was the College librarian for Marietta. Martha lived with him and her mothers sister on Fifth Street during her college years.

By 1952, Marthas life took a drastic turn when she received a call to the religious life.

"I literally got a call," she says. "I was in the chapel one day, nobody was around meand I heard a voice say, 'Come follow me!' I looked around and there was nobody there."

By 1955, she had become Sister Martha in the Order of the Congregation of Religious of the Assumption. "It took me two years to get all the signs, to really be sure," she says. "One was, I found it fairly easy to give up smoking. I said, Lord, it's up to you. And he did it. It seemed to me the Lord was just saying 'well, when are you going to do it?'"

So she did. By 1956, Sister Henriquez had taken her first vows and was immediately transferred to Mexico City where she served as assistant treasurer of the order's day school and as an English teacher.

By 1959 she was in Philadelphia and after brief stints in the order's Florida, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and North Carolina convents, she has become "a fixture" as she says, in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

"For me, it was the right choice," she says of her decision to follow a religious 'career.' "It's given me a new dimension in the spiritual side -- something I'd been yearning for. Advertising is all very material and that just didn't satisfy me."

Her life now is, as always, one thing after another. As supervisor of her parish's records office, she looks after 6,300 families.  "And thats a lot of records!" she says and takes courses in theology and psychology to name a few.

She's visited Paris twice to see the Mother House of the order and trekked to Rome, Lourdes, London and Oxford. She prays several hours a day. "The combination of the modern world and ancient secularism is very hard," she says, "but you just have to keep on working."

She continues, "I guess that's how I'd like to be thought of:  as a person who loved the Lord and wanted to love him more. That was the main force behind my life, and I can do it better in a religious setting than I could on the outside."

After graduation, Martha returned to Cuba for her first job:  teaching English at the Hershey School, a school developed for the children of that familiar American candy company's employees. "I was about the only one who had a job when we graduated because of the Depression," she says of her first venture, "so it was the only thing going." But still, it was hard going. She taught 16 twenty-minute classes a day.

Four years later, Martha moved to Ruston Academy in Havana, her high school alma mater, where she taught for two more years.

War struck. In 1942, she returned to the States ("I wanted to get closer to the action!" she says) and went straight to its heart:  New York City, where she landed a job as record librarian for Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).

"I censored scripts," she says. "CBS had short-wave broadcasts to Latin America and the people that were writing for them were Portuguese. CBS had me look them over to make sure they werent saying anything subversive during war time!"

Meanwhile, Martha's sister was working in Havana as Ernest Hemingway's secretary. Martha herself met many celebrities over the course of her stay at CBS: among them Richard Rodgers when Oklahoma! was opening on Broadway, and world traveler Wendell Wilkie, unsuccessful presidential challenger of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"I was lucky enough to see Wilkie in the elevator," she says, "and right away I wished him good luck in his campaign. He died the day I went South."

South means to Miami, Florida and to WIOD, an NBC affiliate where Martha worked as record librarian and then was rapidly (within one month) promoted to promotions director. It was 1944.

Among the celebrities she met there, Sister Henriquez recalls, were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, whom she interviewed, and Winston Churchill, who came to Miami to rest after losing political office in Great Britain.

"He gave a press conference, but I was more interested in Mrs. Churchill," she says. "She was a wonderful woman who really kept him going. She was very gracious."

"I was never nervous during my interviews, though. By that time, I was not exactly nonchalant but used to it. They're just people."

 

-- From the June 1986 issue of World