Sister Margaret Kim, MM

Born: April 18, 1906
Entered: May 22, 1922
Died: May 10, 1998

Sister Mary Margaret Kim, M.M. died peacefully in the Residential Care Unit at the Maryknoll Sisters Center on Sunday May 10, 1998. She was ninety-two years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for seventy-six years.

Magdalena Kim Kyo Im was born in Seoul, Korea to Peter and Maria Cho Kim on April 18, 1906, or according to the lunar calendar, on March 25, 1906 in the Year of the White Horse. She was the second child in a family of two sons and five daughters. She received her primary education in St. Joseph’s Parish School and attended Sookmyung Secondary School in Seoul for two years.

On May 22, 1922, Magdalena, age sixteen, entered the Maryknoll Sisters Convent in Seattle, WA. She was among the first applicants from Asia. That year, she applied to enter the Novitiate and arrived in August 1922 at the Motherhouse in NY. Her entrance was two years after the new foundation had received canonical approval from Rome. She later received the religious name of Sister Mary Margaret. made her First Profession March 30, 1925 at Maryknoll, New York and her Final Profession in Korea, April 30, 1931.

A remembrance of Sister Margaret in the novitiate reads as follows: “At Maryknoll on that day, Sister Mary Margaret…filled her water pitcher at the faucet in St. Teresa’s Lodge. Then she joined the chatting novices and trudged with them up the hill to their quarters in the farmhouse… The water pressure was rarely enough to get water up there. Every night they had to fill pitchers in the Professed Sisters’ quarters below and carry them up. It seemed to Sister Margaret that her pitcher was very very heavy, the road rough, the hill steep. Her legs were never as long as those of the big Irish and German girls. Her body was frail. Just to talk English all day took the energy out of her.”

But she came of an ‘old Christian family’: the blood of Korean martyrs was hers – that of Peter Kim and his companions. Could she do less? Small Sister Margaret laughed and talked with the big novices, took three steps for their two and carried her pitcher of water to the top of the hill. She even pushed herself to run the last few steps so as to get there before them and, turning around, chide their sloth.” (Dairen, pp. 3-4)

Struggle symbolized in the “rough road, the steep hill” seems to characterize Sr. Margaret’s efforts to “become holy and then to help my country people,” which was her response to the question on the application form: Why do you wish to become a religious?

Soon after her First Vows, Sister Margaret, along with Sister Agneta Chang, was assigned to work in Korea in 1925. Her first year she taught First and Second Grades in the parish school in Euiju. Between 1926 and 1933, she was involved in parish work in Yengyou and Euiju. From 1933 to 1937, she worked in the Vestment Department in Heijo.

During World War II, many Maryknoll Sisters with United States citizenship were deported from Korea and Sister Margaret lived with a Korean community for one year. In 1943, she went to Dairen, Manchuria where she and four other Sisters endured difficult times keeping the Maryknoll Academy open as long as they could. There were nights when they would “lay stretched on the sacristy floor of the mission church… trying to get some sleep before there dawned another day of dodging Russian soldiers…” “Around on the floor lay thirty-some women and girls: Chinese, Japanese, White Russian, German, Polish, Italian” who had taken refuge there. As time went on, the Sisters suffered more scarcities. “One cake of soap a month was rationed per family. They had no sugar for two months…” Cooking for the Sisters, Sister Margaret was so resourceful that Sister Sabina was known to have said: “Sister Margaret makes us all happy by feeding us nothing.”

In September 1947, Sister Margaret and two others were sent to Shanghai. From there, she and Sister Sabina went to Japan where she spent ten years. After her Renewal in 1957 in the United States, Sister Margaret returned to Pusan, Korea and spent the next eleven years serving in her native land. She started income-producing projects for women in the aftermath of the Korean War. In 1959, she went to Jeung Pyung where she did catechetical work in connection with a clinic there. In 1967, she received public recognition for the work she had done in teaching young women knitting, sewing and cultivation of flowers. In addition, she was working with the Office of Rural Development, proving unusually knowledgeable in both wet and dry methods of rice culture. The Korean community living in Japan contributed money for her profit-sharing projects to improve the breeding of domestic pigs and raising of angora rabbits. She also taught the young women traditional cultural ceremonies.

In 1968, Sister Margaret returned to the United States for Renewal and in 1969 she was assigned to work in Chinatown, New York City. She spent the next five years working with the Koreans in the area, doing catechetical work and providing social services. In 1975, she retired in Monrovia, CA. Sister Margaret became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1977. Failing health required her return to Maryknoll, NY in 1986 and in November 1991, she became a member of the Residential Care Facility at the Maryknoll Sisters Center.

During her last years at the Center, Sister Margaret was remembered as a person of innate dignity, a kind, generous and gracious woman. She was particularly appreciative of those who took care of her daily personal needs and would have candy or food on hand to give them to express her gratitude. Sister Margaret also retained her sense of humor, her love of clothes, and her love of life and fun. For all the restlessness and struggles of the previous years, Sister Margaret seemed to have found peace. Many felt her deep sense of quiet prayer and presence. Perhaps the words placed on her wheelchair capture best what was in her heart: “Lord, make my life a prayer for people everywhere.”

We offer our deepest sympathy to her family and many friends who are present with us today and we are deeply united with those who could not be with us.

We welcome Father Cornelius Chang, who will celebrate with us the Eucharist in thanksgiving for the life and death of our Sister Margaret Kim.