Sr. Martha Counihan, OSU

Sr. Martha Counihan, OSU entered the Ursuline Order in 1967 and made her first profession in 1968.  The facets of Martha Counihan’s Ursuline life reveal her interests and capabilities. Areas that define Martha’s ministries since she became an Ursuline are primarily art, teaching, and preserving history. Graduating from The College of New Rochelle in 1967 with a degree in art, Martha became an Ursuline and has used these interests in service to others. As an Ursuline with characteristic wit and humor, valuable in education, she has taught art at St. Joseph’s Academy in Malone, Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, and The College of New Rochelle. Following another call, she chose to serve with pastoral teams in Mexico and Peru. One of her tasks in her work was specifically to illustrate – and reinforce – religious instruction for the rural people both children and adults. When appropriate, Martha has enlivened what was happening at Ursuline gatherings with cartoons. These touches of humor were welcome light moments. Martha has worked in the CNR Library, notably 1976 to 1987 before one of her stints in Latin America. In 2001 CNR appointed her Archivist/Special Collections Librarian, a position she continues to fill. From this vantage point she has organized and catalogued the development of the institution. Through articles and physical displays, she has shared the history of the College and its various leaders since 1908. She likewise has published an account that contributes to the knowledge of Leland Castle, the original College building still in use today. Her contribution fills a niche in the City of New Rochelle’s historic development. Martha has undertaken the task of writing a book about a woman who is a Holocaust survivor from World War II. The woman of Jewish ancestry, now in her nineties, has given Martha her own account of being protected and sheltered by the nuns at the Ursuline Generalate in Rome during the war. Martha has studied the Generalate archives to complete the knowledge of that dangerous time and hopes to publish the story soon. Along the way, Martha has used the art of service in many forms for the enrichment of others.

This is Sr. Martha’s reflection on 50 years of service:

“As an Ursuline completing fifty years of commitment on a day when the corona virus pandemic  in New Rochelle made international news, March 13, 2020, a Friday, I knew change was coming. We have all lived with the changes and challenges that have upended so much globally.

Quarantined at home, I recall the many places I have called “home.” Large convents of 40+ Sisters, all older than I, a thatch roofed house with a cool dirt floor in rural Mexico, church sacristy homes in South America, houses in New Rochelle and the Bronx, a solo apartment. My ministries varied: education, parish ministry in Peru where the parish was the size of two counties and walking, horseback, or a lucky truck ride got me from here to there. I spent several years in chaplaincy ministry, and many years in college library and archival work. Meals in convent “refectories”  or cooked on a tiny kerosene stove, my own kitchen, or in a lunch bag. I slept in small convent bedrooms, protected in a great mosquito net, on a Beautyrest, foam, or straw mattress.

Beginning and ending each day, and throughout has been prayer. It was and is the sustenance and substance of my Ursuline life: prayer alone, with community members, celebrating the sacraments with my Ursuline Sisters and others. More recently, my mass attendance has been via UTube, often with my sister and brother in law. I have been privileged to baptize many children, celebrate para liturgies, bless the dying. I have been fortunate to have made regular retreats. Even the annual retreat is now prohibited.

A few years ago, I was doing research at our Generalate in  Rome and met a young Thai Ursuline who had come for her renewal. We talked about what had inspired us to become Ursulines. Out of my mouth (and soul), I said: “curiosity.” She agreed that she too had been curious. The life of prayer, the community that has continued to sustain Prayer as it has evolved in form, language, and place all over the Ursuline world holds and enlivens me still. In the stillness of a global quarantine that invites me to contemplate the mystery of God about Whom, I am very curious.”