“It’s been a great experience. I consider the Marshall Islands more home than the United States.”
Sister Rose Patrick St. Aubin (pictured left in the center) is honored to be the Maryknoll Sister who has lived the longest in the Marshall Islands.
After more than half a century serving the people of Likiep Atoll and the Outer Marshall Islands in the South Pacific, the Appleton,WI-born educator is happy to consider herself finally fluent in Marshallese. It wasn’t easy to accomplish! Sister Rose Patrick and other Maryknoll Sisters had to pick up the language and the customs as they could since there was no language school as such. Mail came irregularly by a boat from Kwajalein every four to six weeks, sometimes longer. With no refrigeration , the boat brought mainly canned food.
Sister Rose Patrick, who entered Maryknoll in 1946 and made her Final Vows in 1952, arrived in the Marshalls in 1950. There, her first assignment was on Likiep, where she taught first graders for ten years. She enjoyed teaching because the children wanted to learn. They studied hard. Graduates went on to high school and became leaders in government, education, church and other walks of life.
Later, Sister Rose Patrick taught at Assumption School in the capital of Majuro. She taught first and second grades, with about 50 children in the morning and 50 more in the afternoon. While teaching, Sister Rose Patrick also was training young women to be teachers.
A polio epidemic in the early 1960s left many children crippled. Sister Rose Patrick had ten of these children in her first grade class, two in wheelchairs, the rest in braces. One child could not use his hands at all, so she told him, “You can learn to write with your foot. Put the paper on the floor and the pencil between your toes.” When he succeeded in writing his name, the class clapped. He completed all twelve grades.
In 1968, Sister Rose Patrick spent a week on the outer island of Arno, traveling by motor boat, transferring to a smaller boat, and finally wading through the last part of their safari. From then on, she took every opportunity to visit Arno on school holidays and summer vacations.
In 1972, her Majuro school duties ceased, and Sister Rose Patrick began serving the outer islands full-time. The Marshall Islands’ population of 61,000 is scattered over five single islands and 29 atolls, coral growth tops of underwater volcanoes. These small islands are scattered over 70 square miles of land amidst 750,000 square miles of ocean. In most cases, the people don’t have electricity, though some now have solar power and generators.
In the Marshall Islands, Sister Rose Patrick helped supervise three Catholic schools and give teacher training in public and private schools. Their priority was the development of teaching skills among Marshallese teachers and catechists. We also worked with prayer leaders, encouraging the Marshallese local church with annual conferences on Majuro for continuing education for all these leaders.
Sister Rose Patrick currently resides at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, Ossining, NY, where she volunteers at the Sisters library, assists other Sisters with small sewing services and participates in a crochet group.