On this last day of 2013, I would like to remember a very important, influential person in my life. My aunt Marguerite who passed away on December 26 at the age of 89.
To her family, my aunt was known as Marguerite. Many more, including her Daughters of Wisdom family, knew her as Sister Margaret or Maggie. She entered the order and became Sister Margaret of the Incarnation on February 2, 1944, two months shy of her twentieth birthday. She would have taken her holy vow a year earlier, but my grandfather asked her to wait a year and attend college, to be certain of her choice.
After two years in Ottawa, Canada, where she “became a nun” (my words), Aunt Marguerite returned to her hometown of Ozone Park, New York. She taught math while also attending Saint John’s University. In a few years, she became the principal at Our Lady of Wisdom Academy. In time she became the Superior at her convent in Ozone Park. Aunt Marguerite also served as the Provincial (leader) of the Daughters of Wisdom’s U.S. province.
When I was three years old, the Daughters elected Aunt Marguerite to the Superior General’s Council. She shipped off to Rome, where she lived for six years. She returned to the states once or twice a year to visit the family and her sisters in the Congregation. I remember one of those visits was a surprise. I came home from school one afternoon and found Aunt Marguerite and a French-speaking nun in the house, talking with my mother. It’s a lovely memory now, but imagine an eight-year-old kid, after a day in Catholic school, coming home to find two nuns in her living room. Speaking another language. Yikes.
Aunt Marguerite was an intriguing figure in those years, a relative in a far-off land who brought us cool gifts from her travels, like beaded necklaces from Malawi and dolls made in Italy. What I knew about her I knew from stories told by my grandmother and father. My dad, the youngest of the four siblings, would tell tales of how Aunt Marguerite and their sister, Gen, mistreated him, whether by locking him in the china closet for hours or stuffing him in his snowsuit and tossing him down the basement stairs. I discount these stories. The only person to verify them was my uncle Marty, aka the other guy in the china closet.
One particular story my grandmother told has stuck in my memory. Aunt Marguerite was semi-cloistered for many years, until the changes of Vatican II. She was permitted to see her family just three times a year, though just a few blocks separated their homes. One afternoon my grandmother was sitting on her front steps when my aunt and two nuns walked by the house. Since it was not one of Aunt Marguerite’s allowed visiting times, she passed the house without acknowledgement. Not one word or gesture to her mother, sitting just feet away. That commitment to her vow, to Jesus Christ, is astounding. She kept it every day, for seventy years.
My grandmother, by the way, told that story with tremendous pride in her daughter. We are all proud of Aunt Marguerite’s life of commitment and service to God.
When Aunt Marguerite returned home after her six years in Rome, she became a P.C.N. (plain-clothes nun) and went to work in the migrant education program in eastern Long Island’s B.O.C.E.S. (Board of Cooperative Education Services). That was a perfect job for Aunt Marguerite. She could be everything she was: Teacher, Administrator, Servant of Jesus Christ. She did more than her job description required. She took her clients (friends, really) to the Motor Vehicle office and helped them fill out the driver’s license application forms. Aunt Marguerite would make sure their children were registered at school and in the correct grade. She distributed used clothing to those in need. During the summer, Aunt Marguerite would help the migrants’ children keep their English skills fresh by taking them to the library to read books and work on their writing. She also tutored adults preparing to take the high school equivalency exam. Aunt Marguerite devoted more than twenty years of her life to this work.
Aunt Marguerite is often in my thoughts. I even have a designated time when I think of her. Seven o’clock, Sunday nights. That is the start time of my aunt’s favorite show, 60 Minutes. A loyal viewer of the program, Aunt Marguerite would gripe when a sports event delayed the show’s start. “Why don’t they have their own channel?” she would ask when she turned on the television and, instead of seeing the iconic ticking watch of 60 Minutes, saw Peyton Manning throwing a football or Tiger Woods putting a golf ball. There have been many Sunday evenings when I’ve watched a Hail Mary pass, looked at the clock, and said, “Aunt Marguerite’s not happy about this.”
I thought about Aunt Marguerite this past Sunday as another football game delayed the start of 60 Minutes. I will think of her every Sunday at seven.
Some have said that it is sad that Aunt Marguerite passed during the Christmas season. I like to think of the celebration that took place when she arrived at the gates of heaven. I know the Holy Family of Jesus, Blessed Mother Mary, and Saint Joseph greeted her. Also her earthly family: her parents Martin and Elisabeth, and her siblings Elisabeth, Martin, and Robert. And her dear family of seventy years, her sisters of the Daughters of Wisdom. Plus many, many more souls.
I wish you all a very happy, healthy New Year. And I hope you all have an Aunt Marguerite.