Sister Margaret Kelly (formerly Sister Bernard Maureen)
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
—– Colossians 3:12
Margaret Kelly, our sister and our friend, was born on June 1, 1936, to a very loving and very fortunate couple, Bernard Kelly and Marion Mullins Kelly. Margaret was the only little Kelly for less than a year when her Irish twin for exactly one day, Bernard, entered the family, said Sister Patty Fillenwarth in her commentary for Sister Margaret Kelly, who died on Sunday, Jan. 15, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 80 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 59 years.
Bernard was followed by five more boys: Ed, Tom, Pat, Mike and Jimmy. Finally, God remembered how to make girls and Marian was born. The Kelly family, as did many large families of the 40s and 50s, experienced ups and downs as they struggled together to keep the family close and supportive to each other. Margaret had a big role in all of this, keeping the boys in line and helping her mom and dad as best she could.
They all attended Our Lady of Sorrows School but they also attended the novenas and the sodalities and all the rest of the events of the parish. After Sorrows, Margaret attended Providence High School and then she worked some time before entering the Sisters of Providence on Feb. 2, 1957.
Although she wanted to enter the Sisters of Providence at this time, Margaret struggled mightily with homesickness, especially leaving her little sister, Marian. But enter she did and she stayed for the long haul.
Ironically, it was after Margaret’s retirement, we all know that she “recycled” into a caregiver for her ailing sister and her family. In her family, Margaret had shared chores and fun times, joys and sorrows and much love that kept the family close and supportive to one another until now. Yes, Margaret has always been a Sister of Providence through and through, but she never stopped being a Kelly.
Margaret’s professional career started with her graduation from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1961, followed by a master’s degree from Ball State in 1974. Always a teacher in the primary grades, Margaret taught at Saint Joan of Arc in Indianapolis, Saint Therese in Wilson, North Carolina, Saint Francis Xavier in Wilmette, Illinois, Our Lady of Providence in St. Louis, Mo., and Saint Angela, Immaculate Conception and Maternity BVM Schools in Chicago. I was privileged to serve as principal in her last teaching assignment at BVM. I would walk into her classroom at any time and I might be treated to their latest Advent project, to a celebration of a new reader, or my favorite – some child explaining how he or she showed how they were kind for just today. Margaret was able to bring issues of justice from the newspaper, the television, or the neighborhood right into her classroom and help the children learn how to create a more just society there in Room 101 at Maternity BVM School.
Frequently, I would see two little people standing in the hallway talking and talking. I soon learned that was Margaret’s way of teaching her students how to solve their differences. They had to go and talk to each other until they could agree on one story and then they came back with their one version. They ended with a handshake or a hug and all was well. Maybe we should all try that technique.
Margaret taught the ABC’s and the 123’s very well. Her students learned the vowels, long and short, the numbers, odd and even. February and March was miracle time when non-reading children who came in September were reading books, and were learning all about time and money. But more important, Margaret also taught the children to live and love and to be kind and just. They gathered for religion class and they always had a time after the class to pray and to remember all those who needed their prayers.
She also taught them the arts. Her children loved to sing and they learned the Irish Jig, line dancing, square dancing and the Mexican Hat Dance. They colored and painted and cut and pasted – real paper – and they always learned to work together with kindness and fairness.
Always a private person, Margaret was not one to stand up to orate either at a large or a small gathering. But still waters run deep and Margaret was that. She had many things figured out as she listened and she could come out with some “zingers.” She never gave herself credit and she was always ready to applaud someone else’s achievements.
A very important group that she became a part of later in life was the Chicago Providence Women (CPW). Margaret became its coordinator in 2002 and they were called the Associates until our present day Associates came into being. They took the name of CPW and they met monthly with a speaker and time for prayer. Margaret worked very hard to help to coordinate speakers with a variety of justice related backgrounds, and the friendships that developed from these meetings have been very important in her life and in the lives of those women who were and are involved.
Living with Margaret was a gift. She was always faithful in her responsibilities and always generous in fulfilling them. She added poignant and meaningful stories to our conversations from her meetings with people on the city buses she traveled or the people she met on the street. People were important to her and their stories became important to all of us because of her. Margaret had a way of speaking heart to heart to people because she felt things so deeply.
We all know stories about Margaret, and she knew us. Indeed, to talk to Margaret about something was like writing it in a book. When a new baby was born into your family, Margaret would remember not only the child’s name, but who the parents were and which of your brothers or sisters the grandparents were. She even remembered what else was going on at that time. And that is not an exaggeration! Margaret remembered birthdays and anniversaries, sicknesses and deaths, and achievements of all kinds with a card, a note or a call – or all three – and many times the card came with a scratch-off lottery card.
She made the telephone and the postage stamp a means of extending her love and her genuine kindness to many people in her life and in her acquaintance. In our house, Margaret addressed the cards we sent out together and they were always on time. Now, we just buy belated ones.
In the last eight months of her life, Margaret’s world turned upside down – every part of it. Always private, always organized, always controlled, Margaret underwent a 180-degree change in her life. The only thing that didn’t change in her life was her kindness. Even when she would ring the buzzer for help from a nurse or an aide, those of us who were there with her would be pacing and stomping around, and she would simply say “Well, they have a lot of things to do.”
During her last trip to the hospital, Margaret said to me, “Everyone here has been so kind – everyone at the other hospital and at our Infirmary – they are always kind and patient.”
My answer to her was, “Margaret, you have always paid it forward with kindness to others. And it has come back to you.”
You earned it.
Not one person who witnessed the dedication and kindness that Margaret’s three remaining brothers (as well as her nieces and nephews) showed for her as they spent hours and days tending to her and caring for her with love and with kindness. Indeed, we all saw it as a Kelly trait – being there for one another – one which their parents taught them and their sister Margaret has practiced all her life with them all. We sincerely thank you and we hope that you know of our prayerful support for you all.
And so, dear Margaret, we bid you God Speed and eternal rest, perpetual light and peace with all the saints of which you are a part. And in the words of a group of folks who may be there waiting for you – May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and ranis fall soft upon your fields. Blessings, dear friend. God be with you.
Funeral services for Sister Margaret took place on Wednesday, Jan. 18, and Thursday, Jan. 19, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A Wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Jan. 18, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Thursday, Jan. 19.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Margaret in the comment section below.
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Sister Margaret Kelly was my first grade teacher at Our Lady of Providence in St. Louis. So sad to just now find out about her passing.
Sister Bernard Maureen taught me in the first and second grade at St. Therese school in Wilson NC and she was a true gift from God. And that is coming from someone to whom the catechism lessons never stuck. I was very very fortunate to have had such a gentle and caring soul as my very first teacher.