Sister Marva Coakley OSB

Written by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

Sister Marva Coakley OSB Prioress of St Martin Monastery

Sister Marva Coakley is one of the youngest of the Sisters of Saint Martin Monastery. She was born into the Catholic faith in Nassau in 1955, baptized by Father Marc-Ian Peters, OSB at St Joseph Church and received her early schooling at the Parish school. However, her adoption at age seven by Talmadge and Matilda Bethel occasioned a move to Harbour Island.

While her early years were beset by movements between the home of her mother Mabel Bain and that of the Bethels, she avowed confidently that she had a Lot of security and a sense of being loved.

She was much exposed to religious life, interacting for many years with the Sisters of Charity and priests who served on Harbour Island. One of her aunts cooked for the Sisters and another for the priests. While she did not consciously view herself as having a vocation for religious life, she involved herself in religious organizations from early on. At Aquinas College, she joined the Christian Movement and joined the Legion of Mary at St Francis Cathedral.

When she left Aquinas, she went to work for Imperial Life (now incorporated in Colina imperial Insurance Co.) but spent almost every weekend at Martin’s Convent, joining the Sisters in their prayers and work. Eventually, after talks with her spiritual director Father George Wolf, OSB, and with Sister Clare Rolle, Formation Director, she enter the community, with three others, 10th April, 1977, but was obliged to continue at Imperial until July. Later that same year, she began working at Xavier Lower School as a teacher’s aid. Next,she moved to St Francis Pre-School where she spent two years.

Sister Marva entered the novtiate in 1979 and made first vows in 19 completing her entire formation at St Martin, which was by then a dependent priory of Saint Benedict Convent Minnesota. She went to the latter community to meet with counterparts from as far afield as Japan and declared it was wonderful to meet with people of “similar mission and values”. When she came to make her final vows, she saw no other community that she would rather be a part of than the Benedictines. She said that the “Sisters lived a balanced life, not cloistered and helped her to be focused on helping people and commune with God.” (Interview July 2007)

In 1988, the Bishop sent Sister Marva to Rome where she did catechesis. She increased her educational credentials with a Bachelor of Arts in pastoral work. While posted to Bimini, she completed studies in the summers for a Master of Arts degree in Administration at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an experience which taught her that education was more than book [earning—It was “a journey that gives meaning”.

Sister Marva’s missions have included pastoral work in Resurrection Parish in Nassau. By 2007, her career in education had spanned thirty years and included time at Xavier’s Lower School as Religious Coordinator and Vice Principal-In 2000, she was appointed to Holy Name School in Bimini, where she had taught earlier. She would spend five years there as Principal. The year 2007 found her as Principal of St Bede’s School in Nassau.

When she spoke of her life in July 2007, Sister Marva expressed the same sentiments as she did when she celebrated her silver anniversary of commitment in May of 2005. She was glad she had chosen the religious life and was convinced that she had made the right choice with the Lord. She said she was “blessed with so many loving and challenging events and people in my life. God has walked with me all the way and continues to be my light and guide.”