November 9, 2016 – In the Catholic Church, November is traditionally a month to remember our loved ones who have gone before us and to pray for them. This month, in recognition of this tradition, we will post memorial reflections on our faithfully departed Sisters and Associates. If you would like to reflect on a Sister or Associate who has gone before us, please send your reflections – no more than 500 to 600 words – to Sister Barbara Kelley, OP, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Anthonita Porta, OP (1933-2009)
Reflection on my Beloved Mentor and Dearest Friend
By Sister Leonor Esnard, OP
Sister Mary Anthonita Porta, OP, was the founder and director of the Adrian Dominican Montessori Teacher Education Institute in Adrian, Michigan.
My most vivid memory of Sister Anthonita from the day we met was her joy for life. She did not just enjoy life; she savored it. Sister Anthonita so loved to laugh and laugh out loud. My theory is that she was born happy, and that characteristic never changed. Naturally, she experienced sad moments, but her faith was extremely strong and her psychological makeup sturdy.
Without a doubt, Sister Anthonita was a relentless optimist. She had a high level of self-esteem and always expected that whatever project she began would eventually succeed. Even if it didn’t, she was not shattered, but went on to something else.
She was a very resilient risk-taker. For example, when Sister Mary Therese McCarthy DeVault, OP, requested that she move to Orlando and convert St. James’ early childhood program into a Montessori program in 1988, Sister Anthonita happily agreed. While many in Michigan dream of moving to Florida, Sister Anthonita only did so to follow her passion: spreading the Montessori method of teaching.
Sister Mary Therese set the task before Anthonita: create and design the available space into a Montessori learning environment at St. James Cathedral School and then transform a group of unruly children into a normalized, self-motivated, and self-disciplined Montessori class. Finally, she was asked to educate the teachers to become Montessori directresses.
Initially, Sister Anthonita had her moments of frustration and irritation, but by October matters began to take shape. By the next summer, she had turned the classroom into a Montessori learning environment any fine Montessorian would have been proud to call her own. Sister Anthonita accomplished this daunting task with class. The children, parents, and teachers grew to love and respect her as they were transformed to the Montessori way of life.
Sister Anthonita had many endearing qualities. People were attracted to her because she was approachable, gentle, and amiable. In addition, she was an inspirational speaker, able to move people in ways they never considered before. She deservedly received tremendous affirmation during the many years we were friends and yet she always remained humble and modest.
God called her to the Adrian Dominican Sisters and once she fell in love with Montessori, the die had been cast. Sister Anthonita was centered on children’s advocacy. She worked tirelessly to offer scholarships for “at risk” children to our Montessori school at St. Joseph Academy. She made significant sacrifices for many years without any fanfare.
Sister Anthonita worked full time and was very active even at 76 years of age. On the day she died in the emergency room due to severe chest pain, what became the last words Anthonita uttered were: “I am feeling much better. I think I can go to Columbus tomorrow.”
Moments later, she died. Her last words indicated her dedication, commitment, and faithfulness to God’s call for her. She was an optimist to the end.