Sister Margaret Monroe, MM

Born: August 8, 1929
Entered: February 1, 1953
Died: April 21, 2008

We gather this morning to celebrate with our Sister Margaret Monroe her entrance into the fullness of life and to remember her 78 years of life among us. Margaret died at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, New York around 10:30 a.m. on April 21, 2008.

It was a picture of a Maryknoll priest on a horse, that sparked Margaret’s interest in mission. While in high school she was given a copy of the Maryknoll Magazine in which that picture appeared and Margaret decided she could live that kind of life. Years later she pondered wittingly, “I entered Maryknoll… and have not met up with a horse in 50 years. It just goes to show that God will use anything to catch our attention to Mission.” Margaret may not have met up with a horse, but during her 55 years as a Maryknoll Sister she did meet up with many other animals.

Margaret Helen Monroe was born in Dayton, Ohio on August 8, 1929, the youngest of three daughters of Maxwell M. and Rose Helen Southard Monroe. A graduate of Immaculata High School in Detroit, Michigan, Margaret earned a BA in English from the University of Dayton in 1951. She worked for two years before entering the Maryknoll Sisters, in Valley Park, Missouri, on February 1, 1953. At reception she received the name Sister Martin Marie. Margaret made her First Profession of Vows on September 8, 1955 at Valley Park and her Final Profession of Vows on the same date six years later at Maryknoll, New York.

Her first mission assignment, in 1956, was to Walterboro, South Carolina, where Margaret was involved in catechetical work. After teaching for three years at St. Anthony’s Grade School in the Bronx, New York she was assigned to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1963. Margaret taught at Isango Middle School, in Musoma Diocese before moving in 1969 to the ministry for which she is most renowned and remembered, the Family Center in Makoko.

The Makoko Family Center, a Maryknoll Society sponsored program, was an educational live-in center for Christian families, located on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria just outside the town of Musoma. Based on the belief that there is no development without total human development, the Center was committed to develop the Christian as a whole person and as a family. The courses for married couples and their children included seminars on scripture, child care, farming methods and animal husbandry, as well as leadership training. The Center raised rabbits, chickens and ducks, bred sows, and ran a pork processing plant. Margaret’s many interests and talents had found a home. She was equally enthusiastic about raising chickens as teaching liturgy.

Just down the road Margaret had her own income generating projects. She planted fruit trees in her yard, grew vegetables, raised hens, recorded egg production, and cleaned rabbit cages. She also loved dogs.

Except for one year when she served in Bariadi, in Shinyanga Diocese, Margaret lived at Makoko. She traveled to the secondary schools in the area to teach religion classes, and from 1994-97 taught biology at the Diocesan Junior Seminary.

Margaret loved life. Her eyes twinkled and her laugh was deep. She was seen as rough and tough, down to earth, with the inside of a marshmallow! When she became ill, Margaret resisted the idea of leaving Tanzania, but realized eventually that a return to New York was imperative.

In 1999 Margaret was assigned to the Center-Rogers Community. During this time she volunteered her services in the Promotion/Mission Education Office until 2006. Her Prayer Ministry was for the Congregation’s Mission Education/Promotion efforts.

Margaret wrote that her assignment to Tanzania was the fulfillment of a life-long dream. The 35 years she spent in mission there were the happiest of her life. The following poem by Margaret expresses well how Tanzania captured her heart.

Joy in Mission
One morning, as I prepared for the day’s activities,
I heard her knock.
Annoyed, I opened the door quickly.
She stood there in her rags,
a small basket in her hands,
trying to tell me something.
I asked a neighbor to translate into Swahili. [from the local language]
“She has brought you a gift.
You helped her very much when she didn’t have food
and now her hen is beginning to lay.
She wants you to have these eggs.

We extend our condolences to Margaret’s family. We welcome Maryknoll Father David Jones, Margaret’s partner at the Family Center, who will preside at our Liturgy of Christian Burial this morning.