Awanda Whitworth died on Palm Sunday,March 28,2010 from complications following open heart surgery. She was 70.
Awanda was truly an EARTH MOTHER. She gave birth to six children, all are married and successful and she died with 20 grandchildren. She was married for 49 years to Charles, whom she had met in college and told me that he was "the love of her life".
They raised their children in Jersey Village and took in Vietnamese children when many began arriving in the 1970's. When the empty nest reality occurred they sold their home and moved into a small simple home on Cheshire Rd.
They then purchased a piece of land in the country midway between Houston and Austin. They built a retreat house called "Santa Soledad". They put in a labyrinth in front of the house for "Centering" and being close to the earth. They had a tree house for the more contemplative. They stocked the pond with fish and opened the setting to numerous groups for their meetings and retreats free of charge.
A highlight of her year was "Peace Camp". She gathered her 20 grandchildren to learn about peaceful conflict resolution. They erected a "peace pole" and reflected on violence around the world and prayed for the victims.
They were in the offertory procession at the funeral mass bringing the bread and the wine and 1,000 peace cranes to offer at the altar.
She gave birth to a new missionary moment in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and in Texas. She began 40 years ago. She and Charles would take their six children in a station wagon to assist her brother, Fr. Robert Cumberland in the mountains of Mexico. She exposed them early to a life of service and sacrifice. When they brought a group of their grandchildren to Mexico two years ago they said "Grammie, if you got paid for what you do you would be a rich lady". She was enriched with her relationships with thousands of people there. She emphasized entering into relationships with the people and respecting their cultures and being transformed by these contacts.
She joined the Maryknoll Mission Team in Houston and began to expand the mission movement. She visited parishes and groups and got them excited about crossing frontiers. Thus was born the new missionary movement in which lay people go for short periods of time to share their faith experiences. She insisted on proper training and preparation. The mission teams from Epiphany of the Lord in Katy, St. Rose of lima, and Shrine of the True Cross in Dickenson would sing in chorus "Awanda" when she entered the room.
She brought this enthusiasm to the other 14 Dioceses of Texas. She was the secretary of the Texas Mission Council when she died. She had organized the annual conference in San Juan and it flowed smoothly even though she could not be present.
She saw God's face in everyone. She was a founder of the Inter Ethnic Forum to bring racial harmony to Houston. She initiated the Teen Summit for Race Relations. This brings together hundreds of high school students each year to bring about greater understanding. She had prepared the Conference this year but could not attend because of her illness.
Awanda had a great passion for social justice. She worked in the Social Ministries Office of the Archdioces for many years. She was at the birth of the Houston Peace and Justice Center. She was member of the Board at her death. She was at Fort Benning, Georgia protesting the School of the Americas,She promoted Fair Trade and living wages for workers.
She gave birth to the ecology committee of the Houston Peace and Justice Center. She organized the Conference in which she brought together the great Faith Traditions of Muslims, Hindus and Christians and their perspectives on the Care of Creation.
She was involved in Women's Rights. She was a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. They were responsible for organizing the remembrance of Hiroshima each August 6th at the Rothko Chapel.
Her energy could not be contained as she reached out around the world. Sr.Felicia Agibi called her "Auntie" because of her assistance to the Handmaids of the holy Child Jesus in Nigeria in their educational efforts.
Sr. Immaculada of the Vietnamese Dominican Sisters told of the bridge designed by Charles and funded by them to allow children to cross a river to study in Vietnam.
She was chairperson of the Board of Wildflower House in Thailand which enables abused women to be self sufficient. Michelle Nguyen told of the many women who have been given a new start and showed the arts and crafts they make now.
She sent computers to Brother Mark Gruenke in Northern Namibia. They are the first to have computer science offered in their Area.
There are many people in Panama who have potable water through her involvement with Waterworks.
Awanda was truly an "Earth Mother". May her death bring a new birth in our hearts to be more at peace within ourselves, to forget ourselves and be more life giving, to commit ourselves to a more just world order and to recognize the face of God in all the people we encounter.
Fr. Gerry Kelly