Sister Laura Magallanes, MM

Born: July 22, 1927
Entered: October 14, 1948
Died: April 13, 2023

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,

to sent free the oppressed and announced that the time has come when the Lord will save His people.”

Luke 4, 18:19


For Sister Laura Magallanes, these words from the gospel of Luke embodies the Maryknoll Spirit as it engages with the open-hearted generosity of our foundress, Mother Mary Joseph (MMJ), her willingness to accept any challenge, her innate compassion, respect and love for people, especially people living in poverty, or as it is open expressed the “POOR”.

Today we gather to celebrate the life of our beloved Sister Laura Magallanes, M.M. who went home to God on April 13, 2023 at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, Maryknoll, New York.

This letter is mostly Laura’s reflections, in her own words.

Laura was born on July 22, 1927 in Los Angeles, CA. Her family were originally from Mexico. Her mother, Theresa Guerra, had the higher education that any woman of that era would have had and played the piano beautifully. Her father, Joseph was a land-owner and became a Senator in the Mexican government. Both came from very well to do families. Around 1920, it became dangerous for her father to remain in Mexico. He was advised by the Bishop to leave Mexico before anything could happen to him or his family, because he was a devout Catholic and the religious persecution of that time was at its height. Laura’s father sold his lands, then traveled by train to the USA with his wife, his mother, an unmarried sister and ten children. It was a journey of heroic proportions, from one way of life to another. Laura and her two sisters were later born in Los Angeles, CA where the family made their home.

Laura had 6 sisters and 6 brothers, and the tie was broken in favor of the girls when Laura was born. They were 13 children. She grew up happy and loved. It always amazed Laura that her parents never complained about leaving Mexico and settling in the United States. On the contrary, they loved the USA for the refuge it offered to them and the goodness they found here, and they instilled that love and gratitude in all of their children.

Laura went to Sacred Heart Parish School and received her high school diploma in 1946 from Sacred Heart Academy, where she followed her sisters and was known as the Magallanes baby. She loved her school and the Dominican Sisters who taught them.

After high school she worked at a printing house and was happy to contribute $10 a week to her family just like her older brothers and sisters.

In 1948, she entered the Maryknoll Sisters in Valley Park, MO, where she said she toed the line but learned a lot. There she met wonderful sisters including her novice mistress Sr. Jeanne Marie Lyons, M.M. She can’t say enough about how good and wonderful they were.  She also met Mother Mary Joseph. She felt proud and privileged to push her wheelchair. She always said she was fortunate to have known MMJ. She remembered being in awe of MMJ when she visited but also of MMJ’s being accessible, a person of joy, vitality, forgiveness, magnanimity and very motherly. When asked about MMJ’s influence in her life, she answered: “It is hard to say how Mother Mary Joseph influenced my life. It’s almost like explaining how my own mother, who gave me life, influenced my life, or how air and water influenced my life.”

Laura loved to remember when her parents came to Valley Park for her Profession of Vows on May 8, 1951. After the ceremony, everyone was invited to meet Mother Mary Joseph. She remembered feeling embarrassed at first when her father bent over, took Mother Mary Joseph’s hand and gently kissed it. Looking back, she thought he was just great, and remembered seeing the faces of the Professed sisters that were there, looking at her father with awe and respect.

Laura always felt very close to her parents and especially her mother. This closeness to her mother left her with a special regard for all mothers.

After the novitiate, in 1951, Laura was assigned to Chile. She went to the small town of Galvarino with 4 other Maryknoll Sisters where they taught primary school until the school year ended.  Then in 1952, Sr. Laura and Sister Henrietta Coppard, M.M. opened a parish school for children of families living in extreme urban poverty in Chillan, in the Central Valley. The Bishop of Chillan loved their children because they had taught the children to greet him and say, “Good Morning, Bishop,” whenever they would meet him on the street walking home from his office at the Chancery. He told the Sisters laughing, that they were the only kids who ever spoke to him. The children were too poor to have school uniforms, instead the sisters made beanies of the same color that they wore at parades, of which the school became known for. Laura is ever grateful that she started her mission life with such a wonderful person as Sister Henrietta who taught her so much about teaching that she learned to love it.

Laura made her Final Vows on May 8, 1954 in Chile.

Laura was assigned around Chile in the years 1958 to 1970. She taught 3rd and 4th grade at the San Juan de Dios Parish School in Santiago in 1958; she taught 1st and 2nd grade in the Parish School in Curepto in 1959-1960; she was Administrator of the Language Study House in Pucon and taught religion and English in Manuel Guinez Boy’s Campo School in 1961-1964. Laura was assistant principal and primary school teacher in Talca in 1965-1967; and was principal of Santo Tomas Boys School in Temuco in 1968. In 1969, she was a primary school teacher in Talcahuano until 1970.

Laura wrote this about teaching 6th grade of grammar school, “all boys, many of them were already teenagers and shaving. Though they looked very much like delinquents, they were always lively, had a good sense of humor, respectful and obedient most of the time. I enjoyed and respected them, too. We got along just fine.”

In all the years of teaching in schools, Laura loved visiting the homes of her students to understand them better, all of them families living in extreme poverty. She was amazed at their ingenuity and resilience. She admired their courage and spirit. She went back to the USA in 1970-71 for studies. She received her Bachelor of Science in Education from Mary Rogers College at Maryknoll, NY in 1971. As she finished her studies she realized gratefully how much she had learned from the Sisters in Chile, how much she loved and enjoyed teaching. She said “I may not have been the best teacher on the planet but I think I did a good job.”

Laura went back to Chile in 1972. At that time, the Chilean Church asked the religious to work closely with the people in marginalized communities. Laura, together with Sisters Peggy Lipsio, M.M.  and Maureen Hanahoe, M.M. responded. They lived and did pastoral work with the people living in extreme poverty, and who are alienated by the church due to lack of attention. Later, in 1976, Laura teamed up with Sister Jessie Poynton, M.M. who became her lifelong friend. They lived in a peripheral area of extreme urban poverty, with the poorest of the poor.

Laura mostly did pastoral work, also organized soup kitchen, trained catechists, visited homes, hospitals and prisons. She was in Talcahuano in 1972, in Talca from 1973 to 1989 and in Melipilla from 1990 to 1994. Laura wrote, “Our experience in the extremely poor area was hard work and extremely satisfying.”

Laura, first with Peggy and for a long time with Jessie, lived almost 20 years among the people under military dictatorship. Of this she wrote: “he imposed on Chile so much hurt, took away the joy and happiness in that country. We were there the whole time he was in power! There was more hunger and unemployment than ever during his regime. But I’ll stop writing about him because I don’t want to write bad words or think of the sadness that took over beautiful Chile.”

Laura lived 43 years in Chile and loved it though sometimes it was tough. She loved the Chilean people.

She loved teaching but her pastoral work topped it all. She had a great time living with Peggy Lipsio and for a long time with Jessie Poynton. She said the reason she and Jessie left pastoral work in Chile was because people were ready to take over on their own, they have helped them achieve the security and evangelization necessary to make their community a living and committed Church.

In 1994, Laura together with Jessie retired in San Diego, CA in the US, because she said she’s old and “beat-up”. She said she tried to be a neighbor to neighbors as Jesus was to his neighbors in Nazareth. There, she relaxed, enjoyed life, formed community with Jessie, and their old friends and neighbors Sisters Pat O’Meara, M. M. and Theresa Lisak, M.M.

Laura ended her letter with “Good grief, I wrote a lot! I hope I didn’t bore you. Much love to all and you are always in my prayers.” Laura Magallanes.

Laura returned to Maryknoll, NY in 2009 where she remained until her death.