Sister Ana Maria Marrero radiated warmth and inspired joy — even in the final, mostly silent years of the long life she devoted to the service of others.
Marrero was raised in Puerto Rico as part of an impoverished but close-knit family. She first met the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville on the island, where they traveled for missions.
Marrero took her vows at 20, joining the congregation where she would cook, nurse, teach and pray for nearly eight decades.
Those who knew her remembered her deeply religious nature, her always-ready smile, her culinary specialties such as arroz con gandules and her taste for whiskey sours.
Marrero died May 2. She was 98.
She battled dementia, and caregivers at the Maria Regina Residence in Brentwood cherished every interaction with her, however fleeting or small.
“If you came to her room, and she said, ‘Hello, darling,’ then you knew you could have a conversation,” Sister Anne Rodgers said in her eulogy.
Sister Marianne Miller recalled bringing Marrero in her wheelchair to the nurses’ station, where Marrero would delight everyone by responding confidently to questions about her care.
“She replied to everything so affirmatively,” Miller said. “Even in her senility, you could see her seize the moment.”
Marrero’s early years on a farm in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, shaped her life.
The family slept on banana leaves, picked avocados from trees in their yard and scooped up prawns from a nearby stream, Marrero’s niece Elizabeth Fox said. They would save up to buy 2 cents’ worth of rice at a time, Fox said.
“It definitely added to the character and the strength of the entire family, even generations later,” said Fox, 63, of Scottsdale, Arizona. “They were a happy family and a religiously devoted family, but a very poor family. Yet, they managed to write a very beautiful story of success that gave them all a better life.”
After Marrero moved to the mainland United States, she secured sponsorships for her four sisters and two brothers to follow her. The siblings flourished in the United States.
With the Amityville Dominicans, Marrero honed her English skills through work at Brooklyn High School and cooked at convents in Brooklyn and Queens. Her work also took her to Melville and then back to Puerto Rico, where she received a bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University and a master’s of science from the University of Puerto Rico. She later served as a nursing assistant and an elementary schoolteacher.
Marrero visited often with her sister Angie’s family in Richmond Hill, Queens. Fox fondly remembers love and laughter in the kitchen.
“Sister loved, absolutely loved whiskey sours,” Fox said. “She’d start cooking up a storm — she was a . . . [great] cook — and we’d ask, ‘Who’s going to make the whiskey sours for Sister today?’ ”
Later, the mention of a whiskey sour or a Coca-Cola would register with Marrero “like she was never asleep in dementia,” Fox said.
During the last several years of her life at Maria Regina Residence, Marrero was “noncommunicative, except with the Lord, of course,” Fox said. “I can imagine the conversations they had.”
Miller also said she believes Marrero was in constant prayer.
“Her silent times, I feel that she was just really enjoying God,” Miller said.
Marrero is survived by her sister, Felicita, and her many nieces and nephews.
Services were held at St. Albert’s Chapel at Queen of the Rosary Motherhouse in Amityville. Burial was in the cemetery on the Sisters of St. Dominic Motherhouse Complex.