|Catherine Arata was born on October 27, 1941 in Passaic, New Jersey and was baptized on November 30, 1941 at St. Nicholas Church in Jersey City, NJ. She was the daughter of John Anthony and Vivian Neilley Arata. Her only sibling, a brother named George, was born a few years later. Shortly after his birth, their father was sent overseas for two years during World War II. Cathy attended Sacred Heart School and was confirmed as a sixth grader.
In 1955, Cathy’s parents were asked by her uncle to manage the Martha Washington Motel in Waldorf, Maryland, of which he was part owner. The family moved to Waldorf in January 1955, while Cathy remained in New Jersey to complete her grammar school education.
In September, Cathy entered Notre Dame High School in Bryantown, MD, taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. During her high school years, Cathy felt “the desire to be a religious become more intense.” Though Cathy “would try to forget about it by dating and going to parties,” she said, “I always seemed to hear the call, Come, follow Me.”
Cathy received the postulant’s veil in St. Mary’s Church, Bryantown on September 8, 1959. As Sister Mary John Vianney, she entered the Novitiate on July 15, 1960 and professed her first vows on July 29, 1961 at Villa Assumpta in Baltimore.
Cathy’s first mission was teaching fourth grade at Notre Dame Academy in Libertytown, MD. She later worked in religious education, then in ministry to the poor through emergency services.
Cathy experienced God’s call to serve most keenly as she became aware of the urgent concerns of those who are most vulnerable and in need. For example, in 1975, “This Land is Home to Me: A Pastoral Letter on Powerlessness in Appalachia by the Catholic Bishops of the Region” called for a bold response: listen to the people to learn their needs and then find effective ways to serve. Cathy’s listening led to 11 years (1976-87) in western Maryland’s Garrett County at St. Peter the Apostle parish in Oakland, founding the House of Hope, providing emergency services, and helping to establish the local Habitat for Humanity. Both continue to serve the community to the present day.
In 1987, Baltimore Provincial Patricia Flynn met with Cathy to discuss her desire to go to El Salvador. Pat quickly learned that Cathy had a sense of urgency about her call to go there, even in the midst of the ongoing civil war. She counseled Cathy not to go alone. Cathy’s strong conviction of that call led her to declare that “alone or not” she was going… and she did, going “alone” and serving there for 11 years, offering pastoral ministry and services to women. While there, she shared the faith, hope and challenges of the Salvadoran people, including hunger, daily bombing of villages, and the narrow escapes from gunfire that were a way of life.
Cathy next served eight years (1999 – 2007) as the SSND Coordinator of the International Shalom Office in Rome. In 2008, after completing this service to SSND, Cathy’s global awareness led her to join other religious in southern Sudan, in response to a request from the local bishops’ conference following the country’s 22-year civil war. She became a founding leader and member of Solidarity with South Sudan, which trains teachers, healthcare professionals and farmers. Building on her experiences in El Salvador, Cathy helped create the Healing from Trauma Ministry, which prepares pastoral workers for the ministry of accompaniment. In 2010, she was inspired to initiate what became an ecumenical effort of “101 Days of Prayer for a Peaceful Referendum in Sudan.” The referendum vote led to the creation of South Sudan as a new nation in 2011. Cathy remained in South Sudan until 2015, then returned to Villa Assumpta, where her ministry became “prayer and presence.”
One hallmark of Cathy’s personality was her unwavering sense of humor. When the SSND Milwaukee province had a gathering in June 2007, Cathy, as the international SSND Shalom Coordinator, was one of the presenters. No one can forget Cathy coming out on stage pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt/compost, a great way to get attention and make a point that has been remembered—even to this day!
Cathy also delighted in teasing and pulling good natured pranks on her companions. It was customary for Cathy to declare about her age, for instance, “I’m 59. I should be 60 but I was sick one year.”
In reflecting on her ministry experiences, Cathy said, “It is a real privilege to be doing this kind of work and to be with the people who are such an inspiration to me. I continue to receive more than I could ever give.” She concluded with a quote from the Robert Bolt play A Man for All Seasons, “In the end, it is only a matter of love.”
Cathy’s education included a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland (now Notre Dame of Maryland University) in Baltimore in 1970 and a Master of Religious Education from the University of San Francisco in California in 1975.
Cathy died on December 21, 2021 at Stella Maris Nursing Center in Timonium, Maryland. She donated her body to science. A celebration of her life will be held at a future date.
Cathy is survived by her brother, George Arata, and sister-in-law, Judy; niece Lauren (Christopher) Slattery and her children John Michael and Ainsley; and niece Suzanne Arata (Angela Kroll).
Jeanne Hildenbrand, SSND, Susan Plews, SSND, and Sharon Kanis, SSND
26 Gen 2022
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