Sister Mary Concetta Banez
“Then Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lost heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town who had neither respect for God nor respect for people. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, ‘I want justice from you against my enemy!’ For a long time he refused, but at least he said to himself, ‘Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for people, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just right, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.'”
—- Luke 18:1-5
Anyone who knows Concetta well understands why this reading was chosen. She packed a lot of determination into her small frame and was not easily deterred if she set her mind to doing something, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Mary Concetta Banez, who died on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2016, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 79 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 36 years.
While in the Holy Land, gun shots were fired at the bus she was on. Asked how she survived when shots were ringing all around her, she replied rather nonchalantly, “It was easy. You just lie flat on the floor of the bus.” She seized challenges and new opportunities with a tenacity that sometimes inspired others and at other times exasperated them. If she believed something was right – for herself or for others – she pursued it single-mindedly.
Maria Asuncion was born in the Philippines to Nemesio and Mauricia Aviles Banez on Aug. 27, 1937. Asuncion enjoyed being part of a large family of five sisters, Marlita, Josephine, Teresita, Lourdes and Maria; and three brothers, Jose, Luis and Serafin. All her siblings are still living except Serafin. Two live in the Philippines, one in Colombia, South America, three in New York and one in California. Concetta is also survived by several nieces and nephew, one of whom, Jose or J.P., has been with us for Concetta’s final journey back to God.
When Asuncion was in fifth-grade, the teacher summoned her parents to tell them that Asuncion was not studying and therefore not doing well in school. That one conversation ignited her determination and as a result, Asuncion made the honor roll from then on, was awarded a scholarship each year of high school and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila in 1958. In later years, she went on to earn a master’s degree in theology from Villanova University and a master’s degree in School Administration from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Asuncion became a candidate and postulant in a Benedictine community in the Philippines in 1958, but after two years, she informed her father that she wanted to try religious life in the United States. Thus, she came to enter the Benedictines of Saint Gertrude Priory in Ridgeley, Maryland, in September 1960. She professed first vows in 1962 and perpetual vows in 1967. As a Benedictine for 16 years, she ministered in education in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Arizona.
In Arizona, she met Sister Virginia Marie Cashion, provincial in the west, who invited her to consider the Sisters of Providence. She entered a three-year transfer process in 1976 and went to California where she was assigned to teach eighth-grade and be vice principal at St. Joseph School in Hawthorne.
During the third year of her transfer process, she came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and ministered as a driver. Concetta transferred her vows to our Congregation on June 29, 1980.
From 1980 to 2013, Sister Concetta had several teaching or administrative ministries, all at elementary or high schools in California. Not one to shy away from a challenge, these ministries were interspersed with responding to calls which took her to other countries. In 1980, she responded to Sister Loretta Schafer’s call for sisters to minister in Taiwan. After a year of intense study of Chinese, she spent two years as an English instructor at Providence College in Taichung. In 1992, she returned to the Philippines for a year to care for her sick mother. In 1996, a call came from the American Bishops for religious to go to Eastern Europe to revive the Catholic religion after the fall of Communism. She taught one year at a school in Slovakia.
When she returned to California in 1997, she began ministering in 1998 as Retreat Supervisor at Marywood Retreat Center in Orange, a position she had for 10 years. Sister Carol Nolan reached out to Concetta and asked if she would be interested in assisting her to establish a new ministry to migrant workers in the Coachella Valley, our current Providence in the Desert. Concetta said she was too old (71 at the time) which didn’t bear too much weight with Carol who was five years older than Concetta. As a compromise, Concetta volunteered at Providence in the Desert on a weekly basis for several years, using her days off at Marywood.
When Concetta retired from the Retreat Center in 2008, she asked to work at Providence in the Desert. She taught English in a number of places and coached a couple of priests on pronunciation, noticeably improving their command of English. According to Sister Carol, people really loved her and she made friends wherever she went. Carol continued, “She was a faithful Dodgers fan, and the announcer Vin Scully was her hero. When the Dodgers lost to the Cubs this year, I don’t think anybody had the heart to tell her. At home, Concetta was a faithful member of the community, sharing in the preparation of meals, prayers and celebrations. She loved Jeopardy! After the Holy Hour (Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy), she walked the upstairs hallway saying her rosary.”
When Concetta became ill with Parkinson’s Disease, she resisted mightily that she would have to leave her friends and the warm climate of California where she had ministered for 37 years. She returned to the Woods motherhouse in 2013 and was a resident in health care from then until her death. Her persistence and determination were evident as she tried to cope with her debilitating illness. She continued to write notes of support, gratitude or sympathy to others even after her shaky writing was barely legible. When writing failed her, she would send an email, maybe just a few words, which she hoped would convey enough to the readers to decipher her message.
She persisted valiantly to overcome the limitations the disease placed no her movements and her ability to speak and feed herself. In the end, she modeled for us the surrender that may be required when one prays the Suscipe – “Take, Lord, receive … You have given all to me … to You, O God, I return it.”
Funeral services for Sister Mary Concetta took place on Thursday, Nov. 17, and Friday, Nov. 18, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Thursday, Nov. 17, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Friday, Nov. 18.
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