Sister Margaret Kehoe, MM

Born: October 30, 1921
Entered: July 2, 1940
Died: June 25, 2013

We gather today to remember and to celebrate the life of our Sister Margaret Dolores Kehoe, who died peacefully on the evening of June 25, 2013 in Maryknoll Sisters Residential Care IV.  Sister Margaret, affectionately known as Marge, was 91 years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 72 years.

Marge Kehoe was born on October 30, 1921 in Cleveland, Ohio to Peter and Catherine Malloy Kehoe, who were immigrants from Ireland.  She was the eighth child in a family of nine children.  She later reflected that her social consciousness was rooted in a home atmosphere permeated with social justice issues.  During the Depression, before the creation of Labor Unions, her dad became a volunteer organizer and her mother opened her home and her heart to recently arrived immigrants, guiding them through the integration process.

Marge attended St. Clement’s Grammar School and Lourdes Academy, both in Cleveland, graduating in 1939. It was during her high school years that she became aware of the plight of the poor and became a volunteer at the first Catholic Worker House in Cleveland. Through these experiences, Marge was attracted to the Maryknoll Sisters’ Congregation.  In Marge’s words, “It was in Maryknoll that I found my culminating model of what my life was to be about.”

Following a year at Ursuline College in Cleveland, Marge entered Maryknoll on July 2, 1940.  She made her First Vows at the Motherhouse on March 7, 1943 and her Final Vows in San Antonio, Texas, on March 7, 1946.  After receiving a Bachelor in Education at the Maryknoll Teacher Training College in 1945, she was sent to study Social Work at Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio, Texas.  She then obtained a Masters Degree in Social Work at the Catholic University in Washington, DC in 1947.

In 1947, she was assigned to Honolulu Hawaii, where she worked for Catholic Social Service. She then continued her ministry as a social worker in Chicago and later in San Francisco.  Her gifts of an analytical mind, a wide perspective, her non-judgmental listening enabled her to bring creative approaches in dealing with social issues.

In 1961, Marge was assigned to the Bolivia/Peru Region.  Following language study in Cochabamba, Bolivia, she was sent to Peru, where she taught Social Work in the University of Puno.   As she supervised social work students, she became keenly aware of the oppression of women due to the unjust structures in society.  “It was these women, both in Peru and in the United States, who trusted me with the revelations of their woundedness and vulnerability. These women evangelized me, as I ministered to them.”

In 1969, Marge responded to a request from the Congregation to be Director of Pre-Retirement Planning.  At this time, the Bishop of Gallup, New Mexico requested the presence of both the Maryknoll Sisters’ Contemplative Community and those in pre-retirement to work for his diocese.  Marge went to Albuquerque in 1973.  It was here that she met and mentored Maggie Sierra, who was discerning a call to mission through Maryknoll.  Maggie described Marge as “Pan de Dios” or “Bread of God” to reflect Marge’s nurturing and compassionate guidance.

In 1979, Marge returned to Peru to work as Director of Social Services in the Parish of Nino Jesus, in Ciudad de Dios on the outskirts of Lima.  At this time, Peru was wracked by the violence of terrorism and many were migrating from the rural areas to the city.  As the parish of Nino Jesus grew, Marge moved into the surrounding desert hills to live among the poor in Ollantay, one of the new parish settlements.  Her home was an open door of hospitality and availability.   Her love was effective, as she initiated a “soup kitchen” for the elderly and organized women to petition for light and water in this new community.  Marge’s passion was for the liberation of women. She sought to enable each one to discover her personal dignity and give birth to her hidden capabilities. She was convinced that together they had the resources to find solutions to their problems.

In 1993, during her pre-retirement years, Marge went to Grant, New Mexico where she served as chaplain in a women’s prison.  Through Scripture Study, Reflection Groups and accompaniment, she encouraged women to unburden the pain of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, initiating an inner journey toward healing and wholeness.  This ministry later extended to their families as well as to women recently released from prison. In retirement, she took as her prayer ministry Peru-Ecuador and prisoners.

In 2000, Marge moved to Monrovia, California.  Convinced that “Mission is a total way of life”, she continued her frontier spirit through her outreach to others.  During those years, she volunteered at the Phoenix House for released women prisoners; taught English as a Second Language; participated in Californians of Faith against the Death Penalty; and worked as a volunteer at the Foothills Unity Center, providing services for low-income families. Throughout her life, Marge was a community builder both in society and among her sisters.  Her love for life was expressed daily in her openness to friendship; her positive attitudes; her gentleness; her love for dance; and the “saving grace of a sense of humor.”

In a reflection on her life, Marge revealed a deep faith at the core of her call to mission. She wrote: “Because I experience the incomprehensible Presence of the Divine in the ordinary, unspectacular human existence, I thank you God for being so humanly present in the humble folks of Cleveland, Chicago, Honolulu, New Mexico and Peru.  Thank you for the learning and loving, I have received in and through them.”

As we give thanks for Sister Marge Kehoe’s life and the grace that she was for all of us, we welcome Maryknoll Father William Madden, who will preside at this Eucharistic Liturgy of Christian Burial.