In honor and celebration of Sister Marissa, we share her story.
Sister Marissa’s death came during the hour of sunset on Friday, February 16, 2018. As the word of Sister’s death reached family, friends, and her Holy Cross sisters, memories were spoken about this quiet, unassuming woman religious. One heard words such as good woman, trusting friend, faithful daughter, loving and caring aunt, understanding teacher, prayerful sister, kind person with an infectious smile.
Sister Marissa was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, September 24, 1929, and named Mary Martha Loringer. Her parents were Catherine Knadig Loringer from York, Pennsylvania, and Sylvester Chapman “Chip” Loringer from Baltimore, Maryland. Mary Martha also had a younger brother, Paul, and sister, Mary. Hers was a Navy family.
We do not know how long her father’s assignment kept them in Honolulu, but her biography says that she attended Our Lady of Peace elementary school and St. Didacus School in San Diego, another Navy port. It was at St. Didacus that Mary Martha first met the Sisters of the Holy Cross. When she completed 8th grade she went to Cathedral Girls’ High School, but at the end of her sophomore year, in 1945, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross at the age of 15. It was unusual for the Congregation to accept someone at that age, but it was not the first time. We do not know why she was so determined but her mother did support her and had given her permission.
She received the Holy Habit on August 15, 1946, and was given the name Sister Marissa. After professing her first vows on August 15, 1948, she began her ministry of teaching which lasted 35 years. She completed her secondary education, received her Bachelor of Arts in education from Portland University and her teaching credentials.
Sister Marissa loved to teach. She was an outstanding primary teacher and seemed to have a special understanding of the needs of young children in their formative years. Later, after she retired and became a substitute teacher and tutor, she showed a special gift for working with teenagers in those sensitive and sometimes troublesome years. Her assignments in the Congregation gave her the opportunity to teach in Holy Cross schools in Utah, Idaho and California.
She touched many lives of students and parents in those years. One dear friend of hers from California, Vicki Bonfadini, wrote that Sister Marissa was “my dearest friend, spiritual mentor, and second mother... . She followed me and mentored me through my 42 years of teaching. I emulated her in my teaching style, and she gave me sound advice through my teaching profession. My love for the Sisters of the Holy Cross was nurtured through Sister Marissa’s spiritual guidance, very firmly grounded in the Holy Cross tradition. She was a very quiet, reserved and fun-loving person; she lives on in me since she imprinted and influenced me from a tender young age.” There are many men and women who could speak those words of appreciation for Sister Marissa.
Sister Timothea tells about the time she was visiting Sister Marissa’s 1st grade class. Timothea went over early to meet with Marissa before school started and found her with a yardstick measuring the spaces between each student’s desk. She asked Marissa if she really expected “wiggly 1st grade boys” to keep their desks according to that space measurement all day! Timothea said, “I was so taken with the yardstick and the measuring that I missed Marissa’s message about respecting space, one’s own space and the space of others.”
Sister Marissa moved to Saint Mary’s in 1993. She retired from teaching, but not from serving others. When Sister M. Esther (Black) was asked what Marissa did here at the motherhouse, Esther filled a whole page with services she did for others until she was unable to serve.
Many of Sister’s peers are resting in Our Lady of Peace Cemetery or cemeteries in other states, so many Marissa stories are left unshared. We will close with some reflective thoughts about Marissa from Sister Joy O’Grady. “Sister Marissa was one of the first Holy Cross sisters I came to know when I entered 7th grade at Holy Cross School in Ventura, California. Marissa was teaching 2nd grade and I was given the special assignment to assist her with classroom monitoring and border decoration. This was very special for me as I had never been around any sisters. From the first, Marissa was a model to us kids, of what a good Holy Cross sister was—prayerful, understanding, friendly, excellent teacher and always had time for whoever needed her attention. She was gentle and had a smile that was infectious. After I graduated from Holy Cross and went to St. Catherine’s, Marissa continued to be a special person in my life. She never tried to talk me into religious life, though her words, her actions and modeling made it an attractive possibility for me.”
Marissa, rest now in peace with God.