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News article - Sr. Martha Sebesta (b. 1 Jan 1908, Shiner)

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  • Matt Cross
    Houston Chronicle, 2 Jan 2008 Houston nun marks 100th birthday Incarnate Word Convent marks a special day for a nun who has lived a life of humility, love and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2008
      Houston Chronicle, 2 Jan 2008

      Houston nun marks 100th birthday
      Incarnate Word Convent marks a special day for a nun who has lived a life of humility, love and service

      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

      New Year's Day, a Catholic holy day honoring Mary, had an extra meaning for the sisters at Houston's Incarnate Word Convent — it was the 100th birthday of Sister Martha Sebesta — the oldest member ever to live in that convent.

      The tiny woman wearing the traditional habit of her order was honored with a special blessing from Pope Benedict XVI, and a greeting from President George Bush, and mainly with the love and fond memories of her fellow sisters.

      Frail now and confined to the wheelchair she refers to as her "Model T," she can no longer cook, clean or do the laundry with special care as she did for decades. But retirement is not in her plans. She can still pray and does that with fervor.

      "The first thing she asks every morning is 'What time is Mass?' " said Sister Rosalia Purcell, the convent's superior general. "You'll find her in the chapel when nobody else is there. She has a lot of people she prays for."

      The Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament were teachers when they came to Texas in 1852 and to Houston in 1873.

      Since then, they have branched out into nursing, pastoral work and other duties.

      Sister Martha has spent her life in more humble pursuits, keeping the convent going so her fellow sisters could work outside of it.

      After being exposed to members of the order in her hometown of Shiner, she entered the convent in 1931 when it was downtown on Crawford. The convent moved to southwest Houston in 1983.

      "This is all I ever wanted to do," she said. "I wanted to serve the Lord.

      "I remember when I had the whole first floor," she said in a voice grown frail, but a smile that is still strong. "The kitchen, the laundry, I did it all."

      The other sisters agree, "She could get out any kind of stain," Sister Teresita Partin said. "It didn't make any difference what it was, she could get it out."

      Her special pride was making altar cloths and vestments look as perfect as they could in this world.

      "If you didn't fold the laundry just right she'd make you do it over again," Sister Teresita said. "She was a perfectionist."

      "She still is," said Sister Maria Eleanor Caisido, who is the youngest member of the convent. "If her place mat isn't just so she will straighten it," she said.

      Other sisters remember the apple dumplings her Czech immigrant mother taught her to make. She still converses in Czech with Sister Dorothea Maroul, who also has a Czech background.

      Her humility and love were an inspiration for the new members of the convent, said Sister Scholastica Schwarzbach.

      For years she also served as the convent's receptionist.

      "We feel like it was her prayers that have kept us all going," said niece Pauline Thompson, of Tehachapi, Calif.
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