Sister John Della Morta
Una Vida Inmolada por el amor
October 15, 1937
February 3, 2021
On February 3, 2021, Sister Margaret John Della Morte, known to all as “Sister John”, took the Lord’s hand and went with Him. When she learned the cancer had returned, she said “this is it”. She had served her Lord and his flock for at least sixty years.
Sister’s last days were spent with the holy rosary beads in her hands, praying for everyone. Her life had been one of prayer, sacrifice and total service to others without reservation. Her special love was for all the children she so loved who attended the Ecumenical Day Care which she founded. Everyone called it Sister John’s School. The teachers at the big school always knew which children had graduated from her Day Care as they were so well prepared. Parents and grandparents have commented that Sister “did wonders for their children". She drove children to religion classes and to the day care in her yellow bus and or van. She never turned anyone away from attending the Day Care for inability to pay. She would say “don’t worry I will take care of it.” In addition to running the Day Care, Sister worked at the former St. Jude/Trinity Hospital on weekends, in Brenham, as a nurse’s aide. Her ministry was all inclusive and extended to the entire community of Somerville. The City recognized this and on her 40th Anniversary of service, named the street that runs adjacent to the church and ending where the convent stands, Sister John’s Way. In the same spirit of appreciation, the City will issue a proclamation declaring March 17, 2021, “Sister John Remembrance Day.”
When Sister John arrived from Italy in 1964, as a twenty four year old nun, not knowing English, she immersed herself working in ministry at St. Ann’s Catholic Church. She talked with her hands and the language of love. Father Robert Mahoney, the pastor at the time, realized that he needed help to minister to the people. So the Ecumenical Sisters came to the rescue in the person of Sister John and Sister Agustina, known as Mother Augusta. Her ministry at the parish was very wide and included everything from preparing children to receive the Sacraments to working with the CYO, a ministry for young adults; working the rodeo, the Altar Society, and working in the kitchen, cleaning the church and setting up for the celebration of the weekend mass and selling tickets and playing on the baseball team. She worked alongside everyone to raise the funds to build the church and the other existing buildings on the grounds. She drove children to religion classes and to the Day Care in her yellow school bus and or van. Sister always encouraged the celebration of the people’s culture and headed up special feasts that are part of the Catholic faith. Those feasts included the Feast of St. Ann, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the live Christmas Nativity, and the Posadas among other ministries. If that was not enough, for eighteen years, Sister would go to the church in Old Washington, Blessed Virgen Mary, to minister to the people there. Her mode of transportation there was her moped. Today, people there give her credit for the faith she instilled in them and for nurturing that same faith.
Sister was born and raised in Campodolcino, Italy, a town in northern Italy near the Swiss alps. Growing up with eight siblings kept her busy and for fun they went to church and family celebrations. There was a young man who was attracted to her and whom she liked. But typical of Sister John, she told him he was wasting his time with her. She knew that she did not want to get married but wanted babies. Then at eighteen years old and having finished school, she was asked to take care of a wealthy elderly aunt and uncle in Rome. The aunt kept telling Sister she should go be a nun. She put it off and toyed with the idea. Then one summer and somewhat confused, a priest advised her to go work at an orphanage. She did and fell in love with the children. It was then that she decided she wanted to go to Africa as a missionary. She joined a community of nuns on February 11, 1960 in Riano, Italy. The group of nuns had scarce financial resources. As Sister told it, one day the cook went out to the fields to gather whatever she could to cook for everyone. She prepared some soup that was delicious. But after they all ate, they started falling asleep. It turned out the cook had gathered and cooked a bunch of poppies for the meal. Sister John said “the soup was still very good”. Sister was sent to Texas and told that was her Africa.
In Somerville, Sister never stopped serving others even in sickness. One of her favorite things to do was visit and chat with the elderly. Her rosary never left her hands, keeping in mind the needs of others to the very end. Her daily visits to the chapel after dinner were part of who she was. Early every morning she could be found praying in the chapel before the other Sisters joined her for morning prayer. She loved to knit and made baby blankets to donate for the church’s fundraising events. Her pasta sauce was always a big hit at the auctions. She loved to eat. One of her favorite dishes that she cooked was pasta shutta. And there always had to be iceberg lettuce on which she poured vinegar and olive oil with a big dash of seasoned salt. And how she loved that bread! She loved to read in her lounger by the window, listen to the singing of the birds and watch the squirrels as they scampered up and down the tree. The door to the welcoming convent was always open. You could walk in anytime and know which season of the year it was because she decorated accordingly.
Life was not always kind to Sister John, especially when her Day Care was closed in Somerville. That event was followed by her cancer diagnosis. During her excruciating times, Sister showed a great capacity to love and forgive. This valiant woman of the Gospel handled the dark days with prayer. She started a weekly prayer time at the convent that included fellowship. Sister never asked for anything in return. However, one request before she died was to see some of the children she had taken care of and Mia, the puppy she occasionally looked after. The children visited her, drew pictures for her and placed them on her bed. The day after, February 3, our pearl of great price, our humble faithful servant, peacefully finished her mission on earth with a smile. Sister Patricia and Sister Consuelo who lovingly cared for her, plus two close friends, were at her side.
Sister John is survived by her brother Carlo in Switzerland, sisters Maria Gusman also of Switzerland and Ricardina Massolini of Italy. Also Sister Patricia and Sister Consuelo in Somerville as well as her fellow Sisters in Italy, Mexico and Spain and her friends in the parish community of St Ann, Blessed Virgin Mary in Old Washington and the area.
Sister John’s service and dedication to the Somerville community is incalculable. Together we could fill volumes of “Sister John Stories.” Buon vaggio, Sister John.
Sister’s ashes will be in the convent chapel for those who wish to pay their respects. You may visit the Strickland Funeral Home website at www.stricklandfuneralhomes.com and sign the online register book.
Rosary will be recited at St. Ann’s on Tuesday, March 2nd at 6 pm.
Mass of Christian Burial will be at St. Ann’s on Wednesday, March 3rd, 9 am. The mass will be livestreamed.
Main celebrant of the mass will be Rev. Jim Olnhausen Concelebrants will be priest friends from the Austin Diocese.
Internment will be at Guadalupe Cemetery in Somerville.