Friday, September 18, 2020
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Sister Margaret McGrath: 70 years in ministry

Margaret McGrath entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in September 1939, the week that Canada entered World War II. For the first years her ministry was as a teacher then principal in the Catholic Schools of St. Catharines, East Kildonan MB, Prince Rupert BC, Mississauga and Thorold. One lesson she learned from her students was provided by a youngster who, when he saw that he had five x's on his spelling test, blurted out, "But Sister, I only got five wrong, twenty words were right." From then on she has focused on affirming positive results.

The natural beauty of her various missions touched her: prairie sunsets and the northern lights in East Kildonan; the mountains and ocean in Prince Rupert. But above all she appreciated the warm acceptance of the people she encountered along the way. Teaching was a joy, even when challenging.

In the years immediately after WWII, many displaced persons moved to St. Catharines. Because they had little or no facility in English, many children from these families landed in Sister Margaret's primary class until their language ability developed. The class swelled to 62 students. A couple of School Board members visited her classroom to consider the problem of seating arrangements. One suggested that with the removal of the piano, another row of seats could be added. Happily, the decision to locate additional students elsewhere solved this problem.

Meanwhile, through summer courses Sister Margaret obtained a B.A. degree. When an opportunity arose after Vatican II, Sister obtained a Master of Religious Education degree . She then joined the staff of St. Monica's Parish in Toronto, where she saw her role as enabling the laity to use their gifts in the service of the parish community by providing programmes that would upgrade their theology and develop useful pastoral skills. In response to requests for counselling, Sister obtained an M.A. in Pastoral Studies (Counselling) from Ottawa University through the University of St Paul. Her counselling skills were used in collaboration with the Catholic Family Services of Peel and Dufferin for more than a decade.

At 90, and after 70 years as a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Margaret leads an active life of ministry. She hosts two weekly study groups: one exploring writers on spirituality; the other on psychological issues with guided imagery. She joins two other weekly gatherings in St. Christopher's Parish in Clarkson where she lives : one on bible sharing; the other on Christian meditation. She acts as a spiritual companion for several individuals. Her wisdom is valued.

Sister Rosalie Siegler, who has lived with Sister Margaret for the past 23 years, attests that Margaret is a gift to live with, that she is very present, attentive, respectful of individual differences and cherishes creation.

At first, Sister Margaret had thought that she wanted to help people. Her long life-experience, the subject of much prayerful reflection, has shown her that she herself has benefited by being allowed to share in the lives of so many people. As a result her life is characterized by gratitude, positive thinking, acceptance, and a deep sense of the Spirit within.

By Mechtilde O'Mara CSJ


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