Sister Martina Rockers: Still bringing teaching to life after 65 years

This spring break she went to Cincinnati, Ark., to help with tornado cleanup. “Sister Martina is a wonderful example of living faith,” said Mary Perrini, director of campus ministry at Bishop Miege, who organizes the trips through the National Relief Network. “I always dreamed of being able to follow her example. Having Sister Martina in our building allows us to see Christ through her. She is conscientious, kind, and service-minded,” Perrini said. “Sister Martina works harder than anyone I know and then takes her breaks to help with mission trips. She was definitely the shining star on this spring break trip. It inspired so many young people.”

Sister Martina takes a break from tornado relief efforts in Cincinnati, Ark., this spring break to “pan for gems” with the students.

One of those young people was senior Kelly Bolin. “Sister Martina is very well known around the school as a great teacher, but when I saw her in action on the trip, I was shocked,” Bolin said in an email. “Sister Martina was nonstop helping. Even when she sprained her ankle she kept walking on it picking up sticks. She did more work than all of us combined and she never complained.She is a truly inspiring presence on our trip and I am so glad I got to spend time with her.”

Scott Harding, founder and CEO of the National Relief Network, said Sister Martina became the most senior volunteer who has ever participated in one of the group’s disaster relief programs, surpassing an 83-year-old who helped after Sept. 11, 2001.

“One of the most incredible things I witnessed during our reflections meeting, which was held on our last night together, was when many of the student volunteers said they would feel tired and wanted to take a break,” Harding said. “Then they would look over and see Sister Martina still working away. At that point they would ask themselves, ‘How can I possibly want to take another break when Sister Martina is still working?’ They would find inspiration in her and keep working.She was an incredible inspiration to all of us.”

Travel and the arts

In her free time, Sister Martina enjoys the arts – symphonies, art museums, and the opera. She lives with Sister Angela Fitzpatrick, who received tickets for the Kansas City Repertory Theatre and the Lyric Opera, so the two go together. She likes to see plays and musicals at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., where she and Sister Angela volunteer in the summer. “I like live stage better than movies,” she said.

Sister Martina loves to travel, and here, on July 4, 2010, she joined Sister Mary Ellen Backes, center, and Sister Mary Angela Matthews at the culmination of the North American Ursuline Convocation in Cleveland.

Another of her great loves is traveling. For the celebration of her 50th year of religious life in 1992, she went to Australia for two weeks. In October 1994, through People to People International she traveled to Moscow, Russia, to attend a science and math conference with Russian teachers. On her 80th birthday in 2006, she visited Alaska. In 1971, she lived out a long promised dream of traveling for 10 weeks during the summer in Europe with her friend, former sister Mary Ann Mooney. “I had to tell the principal I would miss the first few weeks of school,” Sister Martina said.

The two became friends in their early days of the convent. “My father died and her little sister died, the mourning brought us closer together,” Sister Martina said. “We taught together at the Academy and at Miege.”

Mooney has lived in California and Texas, but moved back to Olathe, Kan., a year ago. “When we were in college at St. Mary’s, we’d kneel down by the bed and make a novena to the Infant of Prague. Our intention was to go to Europe someday,” Mooney said. “We knew our parents could never afford it. It just took awhile.”

Some of the highlights of the trip were seeing how Germany had been rebuilt following the war, and climbing the steps in Rome to see the statue of Saint Angela Merici, Sister Martina said.

Mooney calls Sister Martina “upbeat about everything,” and believes she inherited a Rockers gene that breeds stamina. “My first teaching assignment was in Greeley, Kan., her grandfather used to walk to Mass everyday, even when he was 99 years old,” Mooney said. “She is more like a sister to me than my blood sisters. We’ve laughed together and cried together.”

Sister Angela has lived with Sister Martina for 10 years and drives her where she needs to go. The two pray together, attend Ursuline Associate gatherings in the Kansas City area, and make sure to watch Sister Martina’s favorite TV show, “Wheel of Fortune.”

“She loves to attend the ball games at the high school and is usually where the action is,” Sister Angela said. “What impresses me is how active she is.She is 20 years my senior and she gets around more than I do.”

Surely, John Baptiste Miege would approve.

By Dan Heckel