Sister Margaret Fitzgerald, MM

Born: September 9, 1920
Entered: October 5, 1946
Died: March 24, 2016

We celebrate the life of Margaret Fitzgerald who so beautifully brought spirit into her seventy years as a Maryknoll Sister. While Margaret journeyed into eternal life on March 24, 2016, she will always be with us in spirit.

Margaret Fitzgerald was born in Somerville, Massachusetts on September 9, 1920 to Catherine Leahy Fitzgerald and William Fitzgerald; both had immigrated to the states from Limerick, Ireland. She was the first born of the couple’s five children.

From 1925 through 1938, Margaret attended Saint John Evangelist grammar and high school. On completion of her studies she attended the Higgins Commercial Machine School and Fay Evening School in Boston. Margaret’s father, William, had died in an accident when she was thirteen years old, so Margaret helped to raise her brothers and for six years before entering Maryknoll, worked as a stenographer and traffic manager for Nicholson and Company in Cambridge and in Filene’s Department Store to help support the family financially.

Margaret came to know Maryknoll, through her brother Jim who had entered the Maryknoll Novitiate, which was close to her home and where she often visited him. It was when visiting Jim that she encountered the Maryknoll spirit and wrote: “I was so inspired by their marvelous spirit and I thought if the Sisters were anything like that I’d take a chance on them. So I wrote to the Maryknoll Sisters and that was the beginning of my journey to Maryknoll.”

Margaret entered Maryknoll on October 5, 1946 and at Reception received the religious name, Sister William Karen. Following the changes of Vatican II, she returned to her baptismal name, Margaret. She made her First Profession of Vows on April 6, 1949 and pronounced her Final Vows on that same date in 1952. From 1950 to 1951, she was assigned first to The Field Afar (now the Maryknoll Magazine), and in 1952, to the Maryknoll Post Office. In 1956, Sister Margaret was named Postmistress and held that position until 1973. The Regional Post Office Director commented: “The distinction between postmaster and her workers is not so great at Maryknoll as it is in other Westchester Post offices, at least, we never before found a postmaster sorting mail!”

Reflecting on her time in the Post Office Margaret wrote: “I used to go over to the post office to pick up mail and I’d look at it and think, “I’d never want to work here. Well, that’s where I got assigned! I was in the post office for 21 years. It was never a job I would have chosen but, you know, you make yourself content.” In a letter to the Treasurer after her retirement Margaret described the work “as back-breaking, boring service,” but stated: “My life was in the Motherhouse itself, not in the Post Office.”

Some of the newly professed Sisters were assigned to work for two years in the Post Office. Margaret not only befriended these Sisters, who were much younger than she, but became a role model for them. She listened to their stories, supported them when the changes of Vatican II came and the community faced difficulties. She was what we would call today a mentor to the younger Sisters.

After retiring from the Post Office, Margaret studied “Core Theology” at the Maryknoll Seminary in 1973 and also served as interim writer and editor of the Communications Department. Margaret then took time for some renewal. On her renewal request form, she was asked the date of her last renewal and she answered: “I never had a renewal.” and she had been in the community twenty-seven years!

In 1975 she was named the Director of the Maryknoll Sisters Personnel Office, a position she held until 1980. While Margaret was at the Center, she was also involved in several other community ministries. She was a Center Group Leader, the Congregational Due Process Moderator, and a delegate to the 1964 Chapter. She shared her musical talents with all as she played the piano for many of our community celebrations. If one could hum the tune, Margaret could play it!

Although she was not a delegate to the 1968 Chapter, due to the high esteem with which she was held in the community, she was elected to the nine member expanded General Council which was renamed the Central Governing Board and which we now call the Congregational Leadership Team.

On January 6, 1946 when Margaret wrote to Mother Mary Joseph asking for information about the requirements for entrance she asked: “While I realize one must cheerfully accept any post assigned, are the odds in favor of assignment to the mission field providing the applicant is found to have the necessary qualifications?” It took some thirty-four years before those odds were in Margaret’s favor and she was assigned to Bolivia in 1981 at the age of sixty-one.

Margaret first worked in Montero, Santa Cruz employing her skills in craft making to teach young women those marketable skills. Then she accepted the invitation of the Bishop of the Pando Vicariate to serve as his Administrative Assistant. This assignment enabled Margaret to be close to her brother, Jim, who also worked in the Vicariate. Margaret once referred to this time in the Pando Vicariate as the highlight of her years with Maryknoll. She was grateful to be able to witness and share in the struggle of the impoverished peoples of this region. Margaret’s heart went out to the “little people,” as she called them, who came to the door to see the Bishop. Besides being the Bishop’s Administrative Assistant, Margaret was a member of the Vicariate Finance Commission, wrote the Vicariate Bulletin and was the Bishop’s confidant in so many ways. Margaret once remarked: “The move here to the Pando Vicariate has given me the best years of my life. I regard these years, really, as part of my hundredfold.”

Margaret always put her skills at the service of the community and while in Bolivia she was a member of the Bolivia Regional Governing Board and usually took the notes at the Bolivian meetings since she was so proficient in stenography.

In 2005, Margaret returned to the Center where she put her writing talents at the service of the Development Department as a Special Donor Acknowledgement Clerk until her retirement.

In 2007, at the request of Bishop Casey, Margaret returned to the Pando Vicariate to assist the Bishop since his English-speaking office assistant had to take emergency leave. Permission was granted and at the age of 87 Margaret returned to the Pando Vicariate for three months.

In 2009, Margaret retired and became part of the Chi Rho community and then later the Eden Community, where she continued to participate in all activities, especially being the one who played the piano for all parties and birthday celebrations. Margaret never lost her dry sense of humor and often gave the Home Health Care Aides and Nurses a good laugh with her pithy comments about life. While she was in the Eden community she was always grateful for all that was done for her and was often heard thanking those around her for their kind care and attention.

On Margaret’s sixty-fifth anniversary as a Maryknoll Sister she wrote: “As a young boy my brother Jim heard a talk on Maryknoll and from then on that was where he was going. When my own day came to make a decision, Maryknoll was my choice also and it has been home ever since, a haven of peace, growth, and development for sixty-five years. I know what Maryknoll has done for me and trust I have made some small contribution to Maryknoll’s growth and development during those years.

Today, in this liturgy, we celebrate Margaret’s life and thank her for her contribution to Maryknoll’s growth and development and her commitment to Maryknoll and mission. We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father John Gorski, who will preside at this liturgy of Christian Burial.