Sister Martha Marie McCaffrey, age 92, entered into eternal life at St. Joseph’s Provincial House on October 31, 2021. She had been a Sister of St. Joseph for 75 years and was looking forward to celebrating her jubilee of profession in March.
Sister Martha, christened Madeline Mary, was born in 1929 in Brandon, NY, to Mildred Duell and Ray Joseph McCaffrey. In 1939 the family moved to Hazel Park, Michigan, where Madeline attended grammar school until another move took the family to Syracuse where she graduated from St. Patrick’s School in that city.
Having met the Sisters of St Joseph at St. Patrick’s, Madeline was drawn to enter religious life, receiving the name Sister Martha Marie and making her first profession in 1949 and final profession three years later.
Sister Martha Marie’s life of ministry was rich and varied. She served in schools in the Albany and Syracuse dioceses, developing a special gift for teaching literature. This subject delighted her and she remained a lifelong reader. Sister was well prepared for her ministry, having completed her BA at The College of Saint Rose.
In 1966 Sister Martha Marie was missioned to Hawaii where again she shared her love of literature in schools in Honolulu, Waipahu and Kailua. She often reminisced about her six happy years in the Islands, saying the gentler pace taught her to relax. She also continued her education, earning her master’s degree at the University of Hawaii.
Back in New York, Sister again gave herself tirelessly in several schools, particularly Sacred Heart School in Troy where she also served as Library Coordinator. In 1997 she received the Elizabeth Seton Distinguished Teacher Award in recognition of her forty-eight years in the ministry of education.
Sister Martha Marie cherished her large family and looked forward to summer vacations and other opportunities to spend time with her many siblings, her ten nieces and nephews as well as the next generations. They did all sort of things together, particularly outdoor adventures such as hunting for wild berries. Aunt Martha taught all of them to quilt, a gift many cherish still. An “adopted aunt” was Sister Marilyn Feehan, who was loved by the family. Sister Mary Ellen Putnam was the “adopted younger sister,” who shared the gifts of making beauty through crafts.
In 2003 Sister Martha Marie moved to St. Joseph’s Provincial House where she promptly continued her service. An accomplished seamstress, she enjoyed working in the sewing room and was always willing to complete sewing tasks for others. This gift continued for nearly twenty years; Sister Martha Marie was among the first volunteers to make hundreds of masks when the COVID pandemic swept the country. The masks were sent to a variety of destinations where the need was particularly great.
Like her Biblical namesake, Sister Martha was a helper. She would respond to any need for assistance and she was particularly happy when she was asked to do anything involving arts, crafts, sewing, or beauty. Low-key and gentle, Sister Martha was easily approachable; both sisters and staff appreciated her willingness to be of service. She also continued learning, relishing good books and the crossword challenges in the daily paper.
Sister Martha Marie’s prayer often took the form of poetry. A late poem, “Full Cycle,” describes leaves, picturing them as “falling gently, they rest on November sod/ having lived their lives giving praise to God.” Like the leaves, Sister Martha too fell gently after a life of giving praise. Diagnosed with a serious illness, she elected not to have major treatment but continued living quietly, even enjoying a last Halloween gathering just before death claimed her. She will be dearly missed by family, friends, staff, and her sisters in community.
In addition to her parents, Sister Martha was predeceased by brothers Francis James, Donald, Charles, and a sister, Lorraine Gonia. She is survived by brothers Francis and Ray, as well as two special nieces, Anne Gonia and Donna Maness, and numerous other relatives.
Due to continued health concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no public visitation or funeral services for Sister Martha Marie. A private wake service and funeral Mass will be held on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning open to Sisters of St Joseph and Sister’s immediate family only. Contributions in Sister’s memory may be made to The Office of Mission Advancement, St Joseph’s Provincial House, 385 Watervliet-Shaker Road, Latham, NY 12110.
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