Sister Stella Maris Kunihira, CSC
Birth: October 20, 1957
Profession: September 15, 1992
Death: November 12, 2017
In honor and celebration of Sister Stella Maris, we share her story.
This year was a very memorable year for Sister Stella Maris. In July, she celebrated her silver jubilee. On October 20, Stella Maris and I had a wonderful 60th birthday celebration for her at her favorite restaurant. Little did I know how precious that day was. Now, we come together to celebrate her life and give her body back to God.
Stella Maris was born at Katumba village near Fort Portal, Uganda. She was the first born with three siblings to follow. Her brother has already passed away. She was so proud of her father, Modesto Katalebabo, who was the head catechist in Virika Parish. Unfortunately, he died right before her final profession in 1998. That meant that her mother, Florence Kabajungu, was left to carry on without him. However, with her firm faith, even though she is frail, Florence has remained strong to this day and is able to be with us for this celebration of her daughter’s life.
Teaching was always sister’s love. After completing primary school at Kinyamasika Primary School in 1979, she joined the first level of teacher education at Kinyamasika Teacher Training College completing Grade III level in 1987. As she was teaching at Kinyamasika Primary School, she took the big step to join the Sisters of the Holy Cross in September 1988. She also to studied as a private candidate for secondary education with the assistance of her dear friend Sister Leonella, CSC, and Brother Jim Nichols, CSC. She often talked too about her prison ministry at Katojo Prison outside Fort Portal and how she and Sister Elizabeth Tusiime would assist the women prisoners who lived in very poor conditions.
Towards the end of her novitiate time in 1992, I came to live with her, Sister Elizabeth and their novice mistress, Sister Patricia Gantz. We lived first at a temporary novitiate in Ibanda then transfered to Wanyama Road in preparation for our new novitiate here at Wanyange. Thus, began many years of a special relationship between us as ministry needs brought us together from time to time.
After professing her first vows in September 1992, she continued her many years of education ministry. While she was teacher/headmistress at St. Andrew’s Primary School, I was headmistress at Holy Cross Lake View school. We spent many evenings sharing our joys and challenges as we worked to provide quality education in these schools. During this time, she was also able to receive her Grade V diploma from Kaliro Teacher Training College. Even though the living conditions were very challenging, Stella persevered.
In 2003, Sister Stella Maris was privileged to receive a scholarship to Saint Mary’s College in the United States. She first attended Holy Cross College for two years and then graduated in 2008 from Saint Mary’s College with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. After returning to Uganda, she took some time to transition back to life here, serving as headmistress at our own Moreau Primary School in Kirinda, Kyenjojo District for one year.
However, she had the desire to work with older students which brought her back to Jinja where she served at Holy Cross Lake View school as librarian and English teacher until earlier this year. When she left Lake View, she rested a bit and then Brother Ben Mugisa, CSC, invited her to assist him in coordinating the Holy Cross schools here. This is where I saw her filled with joy in being able to share her teaching experience and love with our Holy Cross teachers. She was thrilled to hear teachers say, “Sister, we are so happy you are here. Now we can get from the office what we need when brother is not around.” Little did I know that her strength was weakening, and this was the best way she could share her love.
Besides teaching, Sister Stella Maris had other congregational responsibilities, such as vocation director, director of our temporary professed sisters and Area of Africa councilor/secretary.
I think we Holy Cross Sisters are aware of her love for reading and watching videos—action ones. Can you believe that we found in her bag that she took to the hospital an exciting novel when she could hardly breathe? We also know how much she loved music—both singing and playing instruments. Even our choir directress Saint Mary’s wrote yesterday that she is teaching the choir the “Alleluia, Maranatha” which Sister Stella had taught her.
During these last few weeks when I noticed that her strength was decreasing, sister would always say to me, “I will be fine.” She always said to me, “I am Kunihira” which means a woman of hope.
Sister Brenda Cousins, our General Leadership Councilor said that Sister Stella Maris was “a person who gave steady, humble service to God’s people and said, ‘yes’ to whatever God called her to in the Congregation.” On Sunday, Jesus called her to himself, and as was her habit, she let go and said, yes.
Sister Stella Maris loved Jinja and ministering here, and that is why we chose to let her rest here among you, the people whom she had grown to know and love. Thank you for coming today to share with us this time of sorrow and joy. May Sister Stella Maris intercede for all of us so that we too may continually say, yes.
Written by Sister Mary Lou Wahler, CSC
Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of the Holy Cross Ministry With the Poor Fund, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, IN 46556