Thursday, May 9, 2019

(225) Sr. Maria Colabella: From Papal Volunteer to Maryknoll Missionary..........An Instrument of God That Communicated His Love on Three Continents


Sister Maria Colabella - a life serving God, His Church, and His people.

       Today, May 9 is Sr. Maria Colabella’s birthday.  I couldn’t find a better way to celebrate my friend’s birthday and her life than to reflect, research, and write this article to share with you.  She is a great model for women.  Sr. Maria would have been 79 years old, but went to the Lord on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.  She could not have chosen a better day to die.  Before joining the Maryknoll Sisters, Maria was a lay missionary on two continents, first in Nigeria, training nurses, and later in Peru.  
       Maria Colabella has been my sister Papal Volunteer since 1968.  Once one becomes a Papal Volunteer (PAVLA, a lay missionary group), there remains a fraternal bond among us for the rest of our lives.  After our time as lay missioners, a certain missionary spirit also remains, whether we later follow the religious or the lay life, be it as a single person or raising a family while following a career in serving God and His people.  Maria chose a permanent commitment as a religious and entered the Maryknoll Sisters congregation in 1978 at the age of 38.  For a series on the Papal Volunteers for Latin America see blogs #61-65 of this same blog at
        At the Universidad Católica de Santa María in Arequipa, Perú Fr. William Morris, an American Marianist priest and the founder in 1962 despite leftist resistance, was still Rector before all American volunteers and religious were evicted in 1974 after a takeover by leftist students and professors.  Maria taught in the Nursing School (1968-1972) and I taught Chemistry to future Science teachers along with Economic Development and Marketing to the business students.  Once I got a deep cut in the lab.  Maria was in the next building and fixed me up; I was ready to go.

         Maria’s boss was Sister Cristóforos, a German nun who started the Nursing program.  She was really a go-getter, persuading the West German Government to finance the construction of the three story 15 room Nursing School and equipping it.  Sr. Cristóforos is the type who can go into an appliance store and come out with a donated refrigerator.  She ruled with a quiet but iron hand, putting out great nurses. We joking called the nursing school the “4th Reich”.  It was a joy teaching Nursing Statistics to a great group of nursing students.  One of them became a Maryknoll nun who is still active.

Maria’s personality can be best described by the virtue of kindness.  She was fun to be with and had a great sense of humor.  Sr. Maria loved people and communicated in good Spanish with a Brooklyn accent.  Her colleague on the Nursing Faculty, Virginia Mieghen Wessing spoke Spanish with a thick Boston accent.  She could have lived in a modest room in the middle class neighborhood near the University, but chose to live in a pueblo joven with the poor and commute to the University on two crowded buses.  Her social life was with her neighbors and occasional get-togethers with the American religious and Papal Volunteers.

       I left Peru in 1980 after my father’s death to teach at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and be closer to my widowed mother and ailing brother.  I went into Academia and Maria continued her work with the poor in medical and pastoral ministry, such as ecclesial communities while a Maryknoll missionary in Peru, Nicaragua, and in the vicinity of New York City doing home care when health problems brought her home.  See for details of her biography and a video.
      Even as a Papal Volunteer in Peru, Maria had a heart problem with the Mitral Valve.  As a Maryknoll Sister, she had at least three open heart surgeries.  Her faith and courage in confronting all of this was beautiful, offering it all up to the Lord as a prayer for the missions.  We had Sr. Maria on our prayer list at St. Louis Church in Gallipolis, Ohio.  She would not let a heart problem stop her from serving God and the poor in medical and pastoral ministry in Latin America, later home care and family health programs with the Dominican Sisters in the USA.

Papal Volunteer Maria Colabella and her ability to communicate Christian love which was so much a part of her. 
       On her deathbed Sr. Maria  made the effort to call and inform me that a colleague of ours in Peru, Sr. Catherine Schulyer or Sr. John Emanuel, a sister of St. Joseph, died at the age of 107.  May they both have a happy reunion at the feet of the Lord.  Let us pray for the repose of their souls.  Sr. Catherine was another character.  She taught literature with a great missionary spirit and enthusiasm……to teach Christian values.  She begged and borrowed gems of literature from the United States Information Service and went to the kid’s house if the student did not return the book.  We shared a shed on campus……half for my Chemistry lab and half for her English Lab.  We both taught in Spanish in a loud voice with enthusiasm.  Once my big mouth was a little too much for her and she then shouted in jest across the wall in English:  “Shut up, Paul”.  Because she was so unique and demanding, some students nicknamed her Juana la Loca and me as Zapatón because of my big feet.  Other great St Joseph nuns out of Albany, NY who worked with us include Sr. Mary Joseph who taught in the Nursing School as well as Sr. Estair, Sr. Dolores, Sr. Amelia, and Sr. Loyola, a cadre who taught English.
Over the years we kept in contact.  In 2011 Sr. Maria was working in home care programs in New Rochelle, NY.  My wife Jaga, daughter Stephanie, and son Joseph came for the 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of Fr. Joseph Kowalczyk, a Maryknoll priest who worked with us at the Universidad Católica as a Physics and Religion professor.  He’s a former electrical engineer for GE and had a ham radio station in Peru.  Besides helping out at the local Maryknoll Parish, El Pilar, he ran a House of Formation for seminarians.

   We stayed at a motel a half hour away since Maryknoll was also celebrating the 100th Anniversary of its founding (See  After informing Sr. Maria where we were, she visited and quickly told us that this cheap motel we found on-line is a dump, so to speak.  She got us out of there and the next night we found a great motel (50% off) for the same price.  

At Maryknoll Maria treated us like royalty with such warm hospitality; we had a marvelous time; what a great reunion!  Sr. Maria had the nuns invite us for dinner and it was such a joy meeting several nuns that I knew in Peru, including Sr. Elizabeth Roach, a former student of mine.  Sr. Elizabeth, 91 and supposedly retired, was director of the library and still writes children’s books about the missions......great for fostering mission awareness. She also makes author visits all over the world with classes to teachers and children over Skype.  Go to and search for Elizabeth V Roach.

It was also a great joy to meet a number of retired Maryknoll priests and nuns at the two center houses.  They are old, but still spry……unable to go back into the missions, but still able to live a life of prayer for the missions as St. Theresa, the Little Flower did from her convent.  We and the entire Church owe them a great debt of gratitude for 50, 60, 70 years serving God, His Church and His people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  Sr. Paulita Hoffman served for 85 years.  Maryknoll does a wonderful job in taking care of its veteran missionaries unable to continue abroad.  

      Thank you my Sister Maria for all that you have done.  Please pray that we have another joyful reunion in eternity.  A Dios y con Dios (to God and with God), Maria until we meet again.     


Our Sister Maria Colabella went home to God
today, March 19, 2019 at 11:53 a.m.
at The Maryknoll Sisters Center.
She was born on May 9, 1940
in Brooklyn, New York,
and entered Maryknoll on September 2, 1978.

We rejoice with our Sister Maria
in the new life she now enjoys.
She now knows, with all the saints,
what is the breadth and length and height
and depth of God’s Love that surpasses all knowledge.

January 28, 2014

Sr. Maria is a former Papal Vounteer who taught in the Nursing School of the Universidad Catolica de Santa  Maria in Arequipa and lived in a slum with the people. She will be undergoing open heart surgery.  Please pray for a successful operation.  She's described on and in the Blog #65 of  This is at least her third open heart surgery.  She's a joyful warm warrior for the Lord.  Thanks and God bless.

 ---- Forwarded Message -----
From: Greetings <>        
 Sent: Saturday, January 25, 2014 8:13 PM                                  
 Subject: Greetings

Dear Paul and Jaga,

Loving greetings to you and all in your lovely family.

It was so good to hear from you at Christmas, and catch up on all your news.
I send very belated Christmas and New Year's greetings now, apologizing for being so late.:-(
Hope this finds you all well........

Besides sending you this greeting, I write to request your prayers at this time.  On Monday, February 3rd, I will be undergoing another open heart surgery ---this time to replace my Mitral valve.  (In 2005, it was repaired).
Knowing that you and other dear family and friends are praying for me, and the Medical team, means a lot.
Thanks so much......

I think of you often, and the time you were at Maryknoll.  It was great. 
Hopefully, my new mitral valve will also get to meet you soon...................:-)
Much love abrazitos

Sister Maria Colabella
"For me one of the greatest joys of this ministry is the opportunity to work and share with people of many different cultures and races. As a missioner who has been so graciously received in other cultures, I now welcome the opportunity to be a welcoming presence to people from other lands."
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Maria Colabella began three years of nursing studies at Long Island Hospital School of Nursing; obtained her B.S. in Nursing from St. John’s University; was Head Nurse and Instructor at Long Island College Hospital for six years, and served as a Public Health Nurse for the Visiting Nurse Association.

She worked with the Catholic Mission Board in Ado Ekiti Nigeria and joined the Papal Volunteers, teaching Nursing at Universidad Santa Maria in Arequipa, Peru. In association with the Dominican Sisters from Columbus, OH, she worked in Chimbote, Peru.  It was in Peru that she met Maryknoll Sisters and realized she wanted to make a life-long commitment to serve the poor in religious life.

Entering Maryknoll in 1978, Sister Maria was assigned to work in Ocotal, Nicaragua where she spent five years as a nurse in government health programs. She was involved in formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities and home visiting of the sick. Upon her return from Nicaragua she completed her studies at Maryknoll School of Theology, receiving an MA in theology.

After another year in Lima, Peru again in medical and pastoral ministries, Sister Maria has found mission in her own backyard. As a member of the Maryknoll Sisters Eastern U.S. Region, she worked in a home care program in Brooklyn for eight years, meeting people from all over the world, both homebound patients and their attendants. In the Bronx she worked at Siena House, a shelter for homeless young families. Presently she lives in New Rochelle, NY and works with the Dominican Sisters Family Health Services, Ossining, visiting patients from Latin America in their homes who are in need of maternal and child care. In 2009 she received Recognition for ten years of Nursing Service with Dominican Sisters Family Health Services.

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