Sister Margaret Nau (formerly Sister Jude Ann)
A reading from the Gospel of Matthew
At that time Jesus said,
“I thank you, O God, Ruler of heaven and earth,
that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding
and revealed them to babes;
truly, O God, such was your gracious will.
All things have been delivered to me by you;
and no one knows me except you,
and no one knows you except me
and anyone to whom I choose to reveal you.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and lowly of heart,
and you will find rest for your souls,
for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Who are the “babes” Jesus chooses to reveal the hidden things of God? As we gather this morning to remember the life of our sister, Peggy Nau, we can learn a lot about God’s ways with us, said Sister Maureen Abbott in her commentary for Sister Margaret Nau, formerly Sister Jude Ann, who passed away on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 81 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 59 years.
Sister Maureen continued: Her uncle Mike certainly put his finger on the most elemental of God’s ways. On the occasion of Peggy’s 25th Jubilee, he wrote her a note of congratulations, telling her: “You have an extraordinary treasure that the Christ Child gave you many years ago, and that is the gift of love… you have always had this beautiful gift and you’ve always shared it so lovingly with everyone who has ever known you.”
Sister Peggy was born Margaret Mary Nau on November 7, 1939, in Hammond, Indiana, to Thomas Nau and Evelyn Helling Nau. She was their first child, gradually becoming “big sister” to Judy, Kathy, Tom, Sally, and Mary Ann. She and all her siblings received their early education from the Sisters of Providence at St. Joseph School in Hammond. After graduating from Bishop Noll High School she followed the example of three aunts by enrolling at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She enjoyed college life. Along with the involvements of her journalism major, she enjoyed the social aspects of playing cards, especially bridge, and earned a reputation as a wicked card player. Through her practice of after-dinner visits to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, she came to believe that God’s plan for her would be as a Sister of Providence.
After graduating in 1961, she entered the Congregation the following September as one of the largest band ever, 66 young women. Apparently they were a challenge to postulant director, Sister Isabel Storch, because Sister Mary Catherine Guiler recalls that just prior to reception she told them they were not worthy to receive the habit of the Sisters of Providence because they were still working on observance of the rule of silence for their particular examen. However, it would have been too embarrassing to tell the Archbishop there were no brides/new novices, so they would be allowed to be invested. Knowing Peggy helps us understand why the band as a whole never conquered silence.
These were the years of the Sister Formation Program, so after professing first vows on August 15, 1954, Peggy continued her studies at the college toward teacher certification. Her first assignments were in Terre Haute before she joined the faculty of Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville as both teacher and yearbook adviser. During the summers she pursued studies at Notre Dame University, earning a M.A. in Communication Arts in 1975. Her friend from those years, S. Ruth Ellen Doane tells us that students really loved Peggy, who was patient and caring with them. However, already by the time she professed final vows in 1969, she realized that she actually disliked teaching and as other ministry options became more common, she asked to look for something more suited to her natural talents.
In 1978, she responded to the unusual opportunity of serving as a pastoral minister at the Catholic Indian Mission in Fort Yates, North Dakota. It was in this remote setting that she became more adept at noticing God’s daily revelations. In an article she wrote for Spark, she tells us: “I’ve discovered that these people of Standing Rock are really ministering to me. Their stories are many and varied, each calling forth from me something I never knew I had. Sometimes this is an insight, a word, or an understanding which is not really my own. Some days I laugh a lot when inside I feel like crying. I find I pray continually because I am more aware that as I go out each day, I don’t go alone. I’ve discovered that these people of Standing Rock are really ministering to me.” Over her eight years there, other Sisters of Providence would come to sample or share this ministry.
Peggy’s yearning to supplement her practical on-the-job learnings with academic study led her to pursue a Master of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University of Chicago in 1987. For a short while after this, she briefly served at a rural parish in Appalachian Kentucky before settling in Owensboro as Pastoral Associate at Precious Blood Parish. Speaking of that time, she tells us she particularly loved “outreach to the elderly who had fallen through the cracks of church, connecting them to others, reminding them that they were part of the community.” Her co-worker at the time, Ursuline Sister Julia Head, has maintained contact over the years and comments: “She challenged me in a lot of ways. She was more in tune with social justice and her views drew me forward.” Julia’s memory of how Peggy carried the banner at the Cathedral’s celebration of religious’ jubilees reminds us of Peggy’s ability to live in the moment: “She didn’t just carry it, she waved it in grand gestures of celebration.”
Once again Peggy wanted to improve her professional competencies, so she applied for the clinical pastoral education program at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, site of the Mayo Clinic. Here she found a true match for her talents and continued for a second year to qualify for hospital chaplaincy certification, commenting: “This experience brought me into contact with people of all faiths, cultures, and sexual orientations from all over the world.” She then returned to Kentucky to serve at Lourdes Hospital in Paducah for seven years.
Peggy had a great love of the outdoors and was an enthusiastic participant in her friend Sister Jenny Howard’s famous boundary waters camping trips, even taking her sister Kathy along to help portage those canoes. We can appreciate her delight in nature through her description of another summer’s experience when she and Sister Rose Ann Eaton made a private retreat at a cabin in the Wisconsin woods. She describes her perch in the screened in porch where she could watch the birds in the day and the stars at night, as well as walking the trails and surveying the valley below. She quips, “Didn’t like the outhouse too much, but for the beauty available, I could manage.”
Over the years Peggy took on a special role in her family. Her uncle Mike called her “Sister Keystone,” telling her that, “as the first of the 30 grandchildren, you are “the part” on which all of your cousins, uncles and aunts, brother and sisters, and your mom, depend.” Her brother Tom and her sisters Mary Ann and Sally back up this assessment, relating incidents of how Peggy could so easily smooth over the initial awkwardness when someone introduced a new in-law to a large family gathering, or how “Auntie Peggy” would remember to bring small presents or send cards to delight the little ones. More recently Nick Nau updated this family viewpoint on our SP website: “Sister Peg was the quiet but strong spiritual matriarch of our 30 eclectic, diverse but close grandkids of Charles and Elizabeth Nau. There was always a close tie between our family and the tireless, loving Sisters of Providence at St Mary’s of the Woods.. She will be missed and forever fill a peaceful part in our hearts and minds.”
Likely being closer to family was a reason why Peggy moved to the Chicago area in 2001, taking the position of chaplain in the oncology and pulmonary departments of Advocate Christ Medical Center and Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn. On her Archives Ministry report she wrote: “This work affects me greatly. I have come to know more deeply how precious life is, that I must live each day as fully as I can. I know that I cannot be in this ministry without a deep belief in Providence and how each one of us has a part in others’ life journeys. We can’t do this as individuals but must realize we are part of a greater whole. I want my patients to know that their families, the nurses and other caregivers, and the doctors are each God’s face and hands supporting and caring for them.”
It was at Christ Hospital that Peggy herself came to experience God’s face and hands supporting and caring for her. It was unusual for her not to show up for her lunch date on her Monday day off, but when she didn’t show up for work on Tuesday, March 4, 2013, concerned co-workers broke into her apartment to find her on the floor of the shower. Medics were quickly on the scene and rushed her to the hospital to intensive care. Sister Jenny, her health care agent, got the call while in a council meeting at the Woods and headed to Chicago in a snowstorm, only making it to Kentland. Peggy’s sister Sally was nearer at hand and took up sentry duty by her bedside, watching for even flickering eyelid movements and not hesitating to make insistent interventions when she saw the need. For a week the situation was touch and go as the staff worked mightily to care for one of its own while, family, SPs, friends and colleagues kept watch. Sister Jenny noted that it was March 13, 2013, the day Pope Francis was elected, that Peggy opened her eyes and tried to talk. From then on, her love for life empowered an agonizingly slow rehabilitation which was so amazingly successful that she received an award from the hospital.
By May she was able to come to Providence Health Care for three more months of therapy in Mother Theodore before graduating to assisted living in Lourdes. These years provided new opportunities to endear her to her Sisters here at home through her ministry of presence. She was able to go up to Chicago to go shopping, see a play and visit with the grandkids. When frequent falls alerted her and her caregivers to the need for greater safety, it was a difficult decision to give up her hard-won independence and move to Mother Theodore Hall. Her sister Mary Ann notes the heartache that came with different setbacks, as when she felt that she was “kicked off” the bridge-playing group. However, even in recent days, nothing could diminish the joyful smile that greeted the casual visitor when she was alert.
Thanks, Peggy, for showing us “babes” that God’s yoke can be easy and our burdens can be light. We are ever grateful for you and rejoice that you have now indeed found rest for your ever-seeking soul.
Funeral services for Sister Margaret took place on Monday, November 16, 2020, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A Virtual Wake took place at 10:30 a.m., followed by Funeral Outside Mass at 11 a.m.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Margaret in the comment section below.
Memorial contributions may be made in Sister Margaret’s honor to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Margaret Nau (formerly Sister Jude Ann)
In Indiana: Teacher, Sacred Heart, Terre Haute (1966-67); Teacher, Terre Haute Schulte High School, Terre Haute (1967-69); Teacher, Our Lady of Providence High School, Clarksville (1969-78); Residential Service/Providence Spirituality & Conference Center volunteer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2014-17); Residential and Congregation Service, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2017); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2017-20).
In North Dakota: Pastoral Minister, Catholic Indian Mission, Fort Yates (1978-86).
In Kentucky: Pastoral Associate, Christ the Health Parish, Edmonton (1987); Pastoral Associate, Precious Blood Parish, Owensboro (1988-92); Chaplain, Lourdes Hospital, Paducah (1994-2001).
In Illinois: Chaplain, Advocate Christ Hospital and Hope Children’s Hospital, Oak Lawn (2001-13).
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