Sister Margaret Ell, MM

Born: January 18, 1919
Entered: December 8, 1936
Died: January 19, 1988

“He has looked tenderly upon His servant in her lowliness. Wonderfully has He dealt with me; holy is His name.” (Luke 1:48-49)

January 23, a cold windy day at our Maryknoll Girls School in Yokkaichi, we gathered at 10:00 a.m. to pay our final love and respect to our dear Sister Mary Margaret Ell, who died January 19, 1988 at 3:30 p.m. at the Cancer Center in Nagoya, Japan. Bishop Kenichi Tanaka of the Diocese of Kyoto concelebrated with two Diocesan priests of Japan, five Piarist Fathers from the local parish and a Boys School in Yokkaichi and Maryknoll Fathers: James Jackson, James Gorman, Robert Nehrig, Donald Vittengl, Michael McKillop and Robert Zahn. Present also were Sisters of the Diocese, the School faculty, which includes two Buddhist Monks, the student body, alumni, former teachers, parents, the former Governor of Mie Ken, representatives from the Prefectural and local offices. The auditorium was full. There were very few Catholics among them, however the hymns, prayers and Scripture passages were printed and so were rendered with great volume, which must have pleased Sister Mary Margaret from her new heavenly mansion.

Sister Mary Margaret Ell was born January 18, 1919 to Joseph and Wilhelmina Leitz Ell in Karlsiihe, Germany and came to the United States June 5, 1925. She had an older brother. Sister attended St. Peter’s and Sacred Heart Grade Schools in Newark, New Jersey and graduated from St. Vincent’s Academy in Newark. She received a B.A. in 1942 from Mt. St. Vincent and a Master’s Degree in Education from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1961.

In her application form to Maryknoll, in answer to the question, “Why do you prefer the work of a foreign mission ccmnunity?” Margaret answered, “I feel that in doing this work I will be able to give Our Lord all I have.” And indeed she has given all in response to His call.

Sister’s first assignment in 1942 was to St.Anthony’s School on Maui, where she worked until 1958. In a letter to Mother Mary Joseph during that time she wrote, “My love for this mission doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind about one other place I’d rather be.” Here she was referring to her longing to join the Maryknoll Sisters Cloister. She continued, “I feel perfectly peaceful about any decision that may be made, being certain that God’s Will is being done, wherever I may be.” This attitude of total surrender was evident to us who witnessed her deep peace and gentle patience during this past year of suffering. In that same letter she wrote of her father’s illness, “I have been in a constant state of anxiety since then. I cannot bring myself to pray that God will not take him, although his going will leave me quite alone. I leave all that and Dad, too, in God’s loving care.” Sister’ s father died five years later.

In June 1961 when Sister was assigned as Directress of Junior Sisters at Maryknoll, she wrote to Sister Mercy, “I’m not even letting myself think of the implications in this reassignment, in fact I turn a deaf ear to those eager to brief me on my future duties! Rather, I commend it all to God and ask for His help for what lies ahead.” Sister remained in this post for four years. She perhaps received her greatest challenge when she was asked to be principal of Maryknoll Girls School in Yokkaichi, Japan. With the same faith that Sister exhibited in her other assignments and without language ability, Sister worked through an interpreter until she found time to tackle the Japanese language.

Just over a year ago Sister was diagnosed with an illness. Sister decided to undergo treatment. In January, however, Sister could see that her condition was not improving. Sister Margaret was patient and peaceful. She once said to us, “Jesus does everything out of love, even this is His love, I have no complaints.” As Sisters Stephanie Nakagawa and Maria Rosa Nakayama were reciting the “Nunc Dimitis” Sister Mary Margaret took her flight into Eternity in deep peace and without struggle.

Sister’s body was immediately prepared and at 5:00 p.m. Sister Maria Rosa accompanied sister’s body in the hearse, for her last trip to Maryknoll Girls School. With only herself and the driver, Sister Maria Rosa pondered how they would carry the body to the Chapel on the second floor. As they came in sight of the school, Sister could see that the offices and school were still lit up and as they drove into the driveway they were met by the teachers, office women and workers with Sister Eva Burke in the lead. A representative from each group held a lighted candle. It was 6:30 p.m. The men teachers immediately carried the body to the Chapel. The next evening the wake was held in our Chapel.

A private funeral for Sister was held in our Chapel on January 21 at 10:00 a.m. The Sisters from Otsu, Kyoto and Tokyo gathered for this Mass. However, when the faculty and employees heard of our plans they said that they, too, were a part of the Maryknoll Family and wanted to attend, and so they joined us along with a number of students whom Sister had taught. After this Mass we each put a flower in Sister’s coffin and so completely surrounded and covered with flowers we closed the coffin and took Sister’s body to the crematory. The faculty went with us and stayed until the end when they brought us back to the Convent. Sister Mary Margaret’s ashes will be buried in our Maryknoll plot in Kyoto.