Biographies

Sister M. Amadeus McCallister, MM

Born: March 22, 1887
Entered: October 15, 1929
Died: March 4, 1974

At 5:40 a.m. on March 4, 1974, Sister M. Amadeus McCallister went home to God. She was the fourth oldest member of our Maryknoll Community and would have celebrated her 87th birthday this month.

On August 3, 1912, Margaret McCallister wrote to the Catholic Foreign Mission Society asking if there was anywhere in this country a Catholic Community that trained women for foreign missions. She was 25 years old at the time. In 1913 she visited Maryknoll and exhibited one of her most delightful characteristics: transparent straightforwardness. Observing that the “ladies” at Maryknoll worked as “secretaries in the offices” of the Catholic Mission Society, she offered what she thought a very practical and creative suggestion: hire lay people to work in the offices of the Society and free the Sisters for foreign missions. In retrospect, this unsolicited piece of advice seems almost ironic because while many who were secretaries lived to enjoy long years in fields afar, Sister Amadeus from her first assignment in 1932 until her retirement in 1972 never left the geographic confines of the United States and never worked in any other capacity at Maryknoll except that of an office worker!

From 1932 until 1946 Sister worked in the Field Afar Office. In 1946 she went to Monrovia as a bookkeeper and in 1960 she was sent to the Novitiate at Topsfield where she remained until 1969 when she joined the Purchasing Office at the Center until her retirement in 1972.

There is a discrepancy on the exact date of Margaret McCallister’s birth. Some say it was on March 22, 1887; others say it was March 5. We do know she was born in Fulton, New York, the second child of James and Elizabeth MacDowell McCallister, who had left Ireland in 1869 to come to New York to settle. Margaret graduated from the public grammar and high schools of Fulton and later graduated from Central City Business College in Syracuse, New York. Before coming to Maryknoll she worked as a bookkeeper and an office manager. When the United States entered the First World War, Margaret’s spirit of adventure coupled with patriotic enthusiasm led her to join a Red Cross unit where she served in the military canteens in the war zones of Europe. Later she was to describe her work with the military as: “Mostly what I did was hand out donuts and coffee.” After the Armistice was signed, she traveled rather extensively throughout Europe before returning home.

Although her work and experiences had removed her from the Maryknoll scene for a number of years, she could not quite silence the persistent voice within and so on June 15, 1929, seventeen years after her first contact with Maryknoll, she wrote Mother Mary Joseph: “You may remember the writer, who came to Maryknoll when it was young, with the intention of joining your community if accepted. I hesitated again and again to follow the inclination until now… I have never been able to forget those early aspirations, or cease to wish that I were giving my life to the missions.” On September 3, 1929, Mother Mary Joseph answered: “I am happy to be able to tell you that your application has been accepted…” Margaret McCallister was 42 years old.

What stands out in the mind of the Sisters who entered with her, all of whom were considerably younger than herself, was the ease with which she adapted to the ways of her younger companions and to the hardships which were the daily lot of a  Maryknoller’s life. She was quick, alert, enthusiastic and fun to be with; and not beyond starting considerable hilarity in the halls of Regina Coeli with her songs and skits. Her wit was always part of her very special charm. A few days before she died, a Sister approached her asking, “How are you, Sister Amadeus?” With the usual twinkle in her eye, she retorted, “I’m like the rest of the world – suffering from an energy crisis!”

Sister had a special gift of being distinctly herself while being at the same time a distinctive member of her Maryknoll Community. Throughout her long life she always looked outward to others, always interested in what was going on around her, throughout the Community and around the world. She was an avid reader of current magazines, periodicals and newspapers and loved to discuss the latest national and international happenings. This characteristic was with her to the end for on the eve of her death, after reading the New York Times, she discussed with her friends the Watergate indictments and expressed sympathy for the Hearst Family whose daughter is being held by terrorists.

The Mass of the Resurrection will take place on Wednesday, March 6, in the Center Chapel.