The following is an edited version of the eulogy for Sr Anne Marie Rodriguez read at her funeral Mass on September 14, Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.
When Sr Anne Marie took her last breath on the evening of Our Lady’s birthday, September 8, we knew that we had lost someone special. The previous Provincial, Sr Juliana Alexander once described her as someone whom God had taken his time to knit together. Her goodness was rare and many people who were fortunate to have interacted with her can attest to this.
Sr Anne Marie was born on March 20, 1934 to Louis and Cecelia Rodriguez, the second of three children – Fr Neil Rodriguez CSSp her older brother and Sr Glenda Rodriguez OP her sister, both deceased. She attended St Teresa’s Intermediate School from the age of three until she began her secondary education at St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain.
Although she was often described as a bright student by her peers and teachers, she never once felt that she was better than others. She recognised her academic ability as gift and used it in service of others. As a student, she often spent her spare time tutoring others and throughout her religious life placed this gift at the service of the Province and the Archdiocese.
From Form 3, Sr Anne Marie began to reflect seriously on becoming a Sister of St Joseph of Cluny. After completing secondary school, she decided to break the news of her desire to become a religious to her parents. Her father, she recalled, had no objections but her mother who had already given her son Neil to the priesthood was deeply upset at losing a second child to God and asked her, “Who would rub my head with bay rum when the night comes, if all my children were going to give their lives to God?” Sr Anne Marie was torn. Finally, with the help and counsel of Mother Raphael Glynn, then Provincial, Sr Anne Marie entered the convent in 1953.
Sr Anne Marie took her relationship with God very seriously and understood the value of self-sacrifice for the greater good. So when she was faced with the choice of either pursuing her island scholarship immediately or entering religious life, she chose the latter. If she recognised that her words would bring more harm than good, she would reserve her opinion and as we say ‘hold her tongue’ for she was a peaceful person who did not like to cause anyone undue upset.
Another way she demonstrated her self-sacrificing nature was her usual generous response to anyone who needed her help. Even though tired or very busy herself, once her assistance was needed, she would respond with care, diligence and patience.
Community was also important to her. She participated in every way possible in the life of the community. We remember her treks to Charlotte Street looking for bargains and her many Saturdays in the Central Market talking with vendors and getting the best prices possible.
She could not cook but at Christmas time she was sure to make the ponche a crème and help her sister Glenda make pastelles for the community. We all remembered how hilarious this gentle Sister looked trying to dramatise and sing the vigorous folk song, ‘Jonah, you take a bake?’ As well, we remember those times she would chime in with us to sing parang. We enjoyed her beautiful singing voice but we were amused by her distinctive way of clapping which was often out of rhythm!
Sr Anne Marie believed that the best way to live the Christian life was by example. It was not like her to make demands on others that she herself was not willing to keep. She became the good that she expected of others and was careful not to preach or judge others. In her Jerusalem Bible, we found a hand-written note which read, “Don’t criticise, complain and compare. Bring out the potential”.
Even though Sr Anne Marie was a shy and unassuming person, and found being in the limelight difficult, she embraced whatever the will of God asked of her. When she was asked to take early retirement as principal of St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph to assume the post of Novice Mistress, she did so willingly and with complete trust in God. She was a much-loved novice mistress as was evident by the devotion and attentiveness of her former novices many years later.
In 1992, she was elected Provincial Superior and, during her tenure, was known for her gentleness in dealing with the Sisters. After demitting the Office of Provincial, Sr Anne Marie had the unique distinction of being asked to serve the Archdiocese as the first Lady Chancellor.
The then Vicar of Clergy – now Bishop Clyde Harvey – upon her retirement in 2013 expressed his gratitude: “You came to the task with no previous experience, but with intelligence, diligence, and the humble heart of a true servant. Over the years you have endeared yourself to our hearts by the way you dealt with us priests, with the affection of Christ and that gentle firmness, which helped us to fulfil our own responsibilities to Christ and to his Church. As the first woman to hold this senior post in the archdiocese, you have set a standard which we will remember for years to come.”
In the twilight of her years, though frail in body, Sr Anne Marie continued to be a shining example for all who came in contact with her. She accepted her bodily limitations in all humility and simplicity, embracing a new way of life including manoeuvring the walker – her new vehicle.
Sr Anne Marie was a woman who operated from her heart and who embraced the poor, the rich, the destitute – no one was rejected. She lived the charism of our Foundress, Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey who often encouraged her sisters to live the Gospel by example. Found among Sr Anne Marie’s reflections were these words written in her own handwriting – “example preaches louder than words”.
Sr Anne Marie, we thank God for the great example of your life. May your soul rest in perfect peace.