Arsenault dies short of 90th birthday, remembered for her gift for teaching

Sister Marie Agnese Arsenault had a gift for teaching, whether it was with young children or adults, retired Father Gary Colton remembered this week.

“Her love of children was just exemplary,” Colton said of Arsenault, who died March 21 at Carondelet Village in St. Paul, Minn. She served 16 years on Maui, beginning in 1986 at Christ the King Church in Kahului.

Arsenault was a month short of her 90th birthday, and two days before her passing she had celebrated the 70th anniversary of her vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, according to the Hawaii Catholic Herald.

At noon Saturday at Christ the King Church, Colton will celebrate Mass during a memorial service for Arsenault.

Colton remembered meeting Arsenault in the late 1960s or early ’70s at Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa. She taught at the school there and watching her work with children was “really inspiring,” he said.

“She would just hold their attention, with so much love and attention for each child,” he said.

Later, Colton would serve with Arsenault at Christ the King when he was pastor for six years there. She directed the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, served in campus ministry at then-Maui Community College and was involved in Engaged Encounter, the Catholic marriage preparation program, the Catholic Herald reported.

“She was always accommodating to the needs of the people she served,” Colton said. “And she did it with a smile on her face.”

Many Christ the King parishioners have fond memories of Arsenault, Colton said.

She was born Edna Marie Arsenault into a French-speaking household in Rumford, Maine, on April 26, 1923, according to the Catholic Herald. She attended a French-language Catholic grade school and boarded for one year of high school in Coaticook, Quebec.

At 16 years old, she left Maine to enter religious training for novice nuns in St. Paul on Aug. 14, 1940. She learned English and completed her high school education at the College of St. Catherine.

She professed her vows on March 19, 1943, taking the name Sister Marie Agnese.

She taught primary grades at Catholic schools in Minnesota and North Dakota before being assigned to Hawaii in 1953. She taught on Oahu for nine years as a kindergarten and grade school teacher until in 1962 she returned to Minnesota to care for a maternal aunt, Sister Devota Doucette, who was in failing health. She died in 1966.

Arsenault then returned to Hawaii to teach kindergarten from 1966 to 1986 at St. Joseph School in Waipahu and St. Theresa School in Honolulu.

She also taught weekly parish religious education classes, earning the St. Pius X catechist medal.