Sister Mary Margaret Quinn (formerly Sister Charles Agnes)
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Romans 12: 11-13
Mary Margaret Quinn was born on May 27, 1935, into the loving family of Agnes (Donahue) and Charles Quinn. Here her tender heart was encouraged to flourish. She was often seen walking hand-in-hand with her mother. Her only sibling, Michael, “my little brother” as she called him, was very important to her. Sister Mary was so excited to hear that her nephew named his son Charlie Quinn after her father. It’s been said that the only time she took a day off work was to babysit the children in the family, said the three sisters who prepared the commentary for Sister Mary Margaret Quinn, who died Nov. 29, 2013, at age 78.
If you were playing on a girl’s kickball team in Indianapolis around 1949, you would have dreaded to play the fierce Mary Quinn from Holy Cross School. She was registered for freshman year for St. Mary’s High School in Indianapolis until the girls in her 8th grade class visited Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She knew immediately that the Woods Juniorate was for her. That was probably the fastest decision she ever made.
Mary was one of our Providence Juniorate scholars—one year taking Spanish, French, German and Latin altogether. During our one-hour study hour we would be slaving away to finish all the homework and she would be finished and reading a book from the library.
Mary entered the Sisters of Providence Congregation in 1953 and was given the name Sister Charles Agnes. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music and taught music in Indiana at Sacred Heart in Evansville and St. Joseph in Brownsburg and St. Andrew and St. Thomas in Indianapolis. In Illinois she taught at St. Mel and St. David both in Chicago. She also taught at St. John in Robstown, Tex.
Sister Mary dedicated 36 years of her life to serving the African-American community at Holy Angels Church in Indianapolis with Father Clarence Walden.
Sister Mary was Father Walden’s right-hand “man.” She certainly was the power behind the throne … making sure that all activities would be successful. Sister Mary made numerous phone calls and home visits in the parish, inviting parishioners to become more active in the parish. She and Father Walden taught the Inquiry Classes which were held Sunday afternoons. She visited parishioners in the hospital, prepared and played the music at the Saturday evening Masses and, perhaps not known to most, she took attendance at every single Mass. If a parishioner missed more than three Sundays, she had Father Walden sign “Missing You” cards and she dropped them into the mail.
Sister Mary was so compassionate and caring. When someone rang the Rectory doorbell with a need, she responded as best she could with many bags of food and invitations to attend Mass at Holy Angels. She was the contact person for the Choir and was so proud of them and their achievements. She delighted in hearing them both at practice and at the liturgical celebrations; when she was able she attended their concerts away from the parish. Father Walden could be active in various organizations and be gone preaching Revivals because he knew the parish was in “good hands” with Sister Mary being there. She took care of everything… arranged for priests to come in and celebrate the liturgy; supervised the volunteers in the Rectory; spent hours recording valuable information on the computer. It was her job to record all the baptisms, First Holy Communions, Confirmations, weddings and deaths. She was very exacting knowing these records were so important.
Sister Mary saw the parish grow; she wanted the parishioners to grow as black Catholics; she was concerned that parishioners resonate with Pope Paul’s quote, “enrich the Church with your gift of blackness.” For many years either she or the volunteers she recruited wrote the Black History Worship Service which was proclaimed at the beginning of Sunday Morning Mass.
It’s as if this was always where she was meant to be; this place and these people were the love of her life. Her personality melded with their culture—their music and their spirituality became her own. When studying for a special master’s degree for pastoral associates serving black parishes, Sister Mary was so grateful to have her dearly loved Sister Thea Bowman as her spiritual director. With her, Sister Mary was able to give voice to her passion for the poor, her passion for justice issues, and her passion for the needs of children. These passions fired her untiring energy at Holy Angels.
In a deeply mystic way, Mary was in awe of the wonder of God’s merciful love, the beauty of the people she came to know in the parish, the immensity of the universe, the beauty of the night sky, and the dearness of the animals. Years earlier, reflecting upon her own life, Sister Mary Margaret wrote:
“I sense deep peace and gratitude with the insight that while I have been working to create my idea of me, which keeps crumbling apart at regular intervals, God has been at work creating the real me, who appears especially when I’m not looking and astonishes me whenever I do get a glance or see her reflected in the eyes of others. The real me is a strong, loving, thoughtful, responsible, balanced woman, blessed by God’s Holy Spirit in countless ways; in prayer, nature, the goodness of others, music, etc., especially God’s tender loving care and attention.”
In 2006 Sister Mary retired to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to be able to spend time taking care of herself, a concept that had been foreign to her for 36 years. There she volunteered as a receptionist at Woods Day Care, in residential services and in prayer.
She retired to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods with the parishioners and the culture of Holy Angels forever in her heart. She is up there now with her God, her Mother and Father, Father Walden, Saint Mother Theodore and her Sisters of Providence, concluded those giving her commentary.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Mary Margaret Quinn was Dec. 7, 2013, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She had lived 60 years as a Sister of Providence.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Mary Margaret in the comments section below.
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