In 1967, she began the first of 18 years at St. Thomas More School in Paducah, Ky. “I went as a second-grade teacher, and then became a full-time religion teacher. Different grades, different views, I loved it,” she said. “I still hear from some of those students.”
She recalls a young boy named Bud who was very taken with her story of how God was everywhere with us. He went home and told his mother, “God is in our kitchen.”
Shortly after returning from Christmas break in January 1968, Sister Margaret Marie’s mother died from a stroke.
“Mama was a very prayerful person,” she said. “Every evening we knelt around the bed and said the rosary. She’d say, ‘If any of you did anything to each other today, ask forgiveness before we go to bed.’ My prayer life came from my home life. My mother was a generous person, she tried to get us to give.”
Sister Nancy Murphy was principal at St. Thomas More from 1978-80, and said Sister Margaret Marie was an excellent teacher. “She had great rapport with the parents and students,” Sister Nancy said. “She was very dedicated and had a great interest in the kids bettering themselves.”
Sister Nancy still has a cookbook that Sister Margaret Marie instructed her second-graders to make one year. “They got the recipes from their mothers,” she said. “She always kept the kids interested.”
The two also lived together during those years, along with two other sisters who are now deceased. “She was a great lifeline for me,” Sister Nancy said. “We’d go have a piece of pie and coffee and talk about the trials and tribulations of school.”
When St. Thomas More needed a principal in 1983, Sister Margaret Marie agreed to take over, which she did for two years. “I missed the contact with the kids, but I loved working with the teachers,” she said.
It was in 1983 that Sister Clara came to Paducah to serve as librarian, and thus began a friendship the two have shared ever since.
Father Aloysius Powers was pastor at St. Thomas More in 1985, and he left to take over St. Ann Parish in Morganfield, Ky. “He said he could use two parish ministers and asked Sister Clara and I to come,” Sister Margaret Marie said.
They worked in the parish doing RCIA, faith formation and visiting the sick. Two Sisters of Charity taught in the school, but after a year, those sisters decided to leave, and Father Powers asked the two Ursulines to work in the school. Sister Clara became librarian and Sister Margaret Marie was principal the first year until a replacement could be found, then she taught religion from 1987-93.
After being in urban schools in Louisville and Paducah for 26 years, she did not have trouble adjusting to the rural school in Morganfield. “Children are children wherever they are,” she said.
Father Powers, who is retired in Owensboro, said he knew both sisters were excellent teachers, that’s why he wanted them to come to Morganfield. “Sister Margaret Marie was the principal for one year and did a fabulous job,” he said.
One of her strengths as a teacher was being a good disciplinarian, Father Powers said. He recalled when she took over teaching a second-grade class when the teacher took ill. The children were “climbing the walls” with the previous teacher, Father Powers said, but Sister Margaret Marie was quickly able to renew the children’s interest in learning. “They appreciated her,” he said.
In 1993, Sister Margaret Marie told Sister Clara she thought it was time for her to do something new, and Sister Clara said she had the same thought. “A sister who worked (at Sister Visitor) told me there was an opening,” Sister Margaret Marie said. “There were two jobs, receptionist and secretary. I said, ‘I know which one I want,’ and (Sister Clara) knew which one she wanted. I like to communicate with people, I wouldn’t want to be in an office and not see anybody,” Sister Margaret Marie said.
The two wanted to find their next ministry together after serving 10 years with each other. “We felt like we had jelling personalities that helped us work well together,” Sister Clara said. “Where I lack something, she complements me, and vice versa.”
Sister Clara is detail-oriented introvert with a good sense of humor, while Sister Margaret Marie is an extrovert. “You can always get a laugh out of her,” Sister Clara said.
The two lived and worked together until early 2011, when Sister Clara moved to the Mount as she battles health problems. The two still talk at least once a day. “I live alone now, but I have many friends,” Sister Margaret Marie said. “I love my computer at my home, I send emails on birthdays and feast days to the sisters, and I call or write our donors.”
In her free time, Sister Margaret Marie goes out to eat with friends, or goes to the movies. She is in a bonded group with eight Ursuline Sisters serving in Louisville, and they take turns hosting their monthly gatherings. “They have been a strength for me,” she said. She has two siblings in Bardstown, a short drive away.
How long she’ll remain at Sister Visitor is up to God, Sister Margaret Marie said. “I’ll be here until God directs me in another direction.”
By Dan Heckel