Proclaiming Jesus through education and Christian formation.

Sister in Ministry May 2012
Sister Margaret Marie Greenwell brings a giving heart to her ministry


Sister Margaret Marie poses with this picture of the Rev. Martin Luther King, just outside her reception desk at the Sister Visitor Center.

Update: Sister Margaret Marie retired in 2016 and now lives at the Motherhouse, where she helps as an information receptionist and is active in the Powerhouse of Prayer.

Ursuline Sister Margaret Marie Greenwell was an educator for 35 years when she heard a voice from the Holy Spirit telling her to go work with the poor.

For the past 19 years, she has done just that, serving as the receptionist for the Sister Visitor Center in Louisville, Ky., which provides emergency needs for some of the city’s poorest residents.

“It’s awesome,” Sister Margaret Marie said, now serving in her 57th year as an Ursuline. “I loved every year of my teaching, but you know when it’s time to move on. (Sister Visitor) is beautiful, but it’s challenging. A lot of people come in, I’m the first person they see. I pray I can have a cheerful spirit, and try to see Christ in everybody.

“The thing that impresses me is their spirit of humility to ask for help,” Sister Margaret Marie said. “The spirit of thankfulness of what they get. I know they are physically poor, but they are spiritually poor also.” She was particularly moved by a man who came in one day and said, “I just want you to pray with me.” Through the sliding glass window that separates her desk from the entryway, they prayed together.

“There are two quotes that mean a lot to me,” Sister Margaret Marie said. “The first is from Dorothy Day: ‘The closer you are to the poor, the closer you are to God’s love.’ These people have enriched my faith, my contact with the Lord. I hope my faith life has helped them too,” she said. “I love listening to them talk with each other. I know how blessed I am, and how spoiled I am. I am just in awe of these people in the simplicity of their lives.”

The second quote is from DeAnn Hollis: “The heart of a volunteer is not measured in size, but in the depth of our commitment to make a difference in the lives of others.”

“When I came here, I was asked if I were willing to give up a teacher’s salary?” Sister Margaret Marie said. “It’s not the money we make, it’s the service we give. There are so many poor people, I didn’t realize that until I came here. I receive more in my heart than anything we could ever give them.”

The four Ursuline Sisters who minister at the Sister Visitor Center, from left, Sisters Maureen O’Neill, Margaret Marie, Grace Simpson and Michele Ann Intravia.

A giving heart is a characteristic of Sister Margaret Marie, said some of the people who know her well.

“She is very outgoing to everyone who she meets, especially when it comes to the poor,” said Sister Clara Johnson, her long-time friend and former housemate and co-worker. “She’s very tender-hearted.”

“The words that come to mind about Margaret are thoughtful and hospitable,” said Sister Grace Simpson, who has ministered at Sister Visitor for 28 years. “She calls all the volunteers on their birthdays.”

Sister Margaret Marie answers three phone lines and schedules appointments for clients with case managers in what is typically called the “west end” of Louisville. The office sees an average of 35-40 people a day, and can help them with clothing, food, and money for rent, utilities and some prescription medications. Louisville has 16 emergency service areas, and the boundaries of those areas are enforced to make sure the most needs can be filled without unduly taxing one agency more than another. Still, there is room for a giving heart.

“If someone comes in for food and they are from out of our area, I try to give them something,” Sister Margaret Marie said. “I’ll send them where they need to go, but I’ll give them something for lunch.”

Sister Margaret Marie, left, with her supervisor, Sister Michele Ann Intravia, and Lucio Caruso, director of case management and family support services for Catholic Charities of Louisville.

Knowing the boundaries and which agency to send someone quickly is one of Sister Margaret Marie’s valuable assets, said Ursuline Sister Michele Ann Intravia, who took over as manager of operations at Sister Visitor in June 2011.

“She’s very resourceful, and her knowledge of the boundaries is wonderful,” Sister Michele said. “She’s a very kind person, and she wants things to be right. We couldn’t find someone who could come in with all that knowledge. When she’s out and we have to answer the phone, it’s unbelievable.”

Along with Sister Maureen O’Neill, there are four Ursuline Sisters ministering at Sister Visitor, making it the largest gathering of Ursulines ministering someplace other than the 11 sisters serving at Brescia University in Owensboro. The center began as a mission of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, but Ursulines are now the only sisters serving there.

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