By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 16, 2010
With her gentle spirit, enthusiasm for young people’s creativity and her deep faith, Sister Margaret Thomasine Grady was a mainstay at St. Thomas More parish and school.
A native of Pennsylvania, she spent more than three decades caring for students and parishioners here.
Sister Margaret Thomasine, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, passed away on Aug. 30. She was 87.
“She had such a beautiful spirit. She was gentle, she was kind, she was giving,” said Terry Collis, school principal.
Students last spring remembered her contributions to the school by sending flowers and cards to celebrate Sister Margaret’s 70 years as a sister. (She died before reaching the anniversary in September.) The first school Mass was celebrated in her memory.
“She really had a deep connection with St. Thomas More School,” Collis said.
Sister Margaret Thomasine came to St. Thomas More in 1950, the year the parish school opened. She worked in the classroom as a third-grade teacher.
She left after a year for Baltimore and a position as principal, but returned in 1954 as the principal-superior. In 1960, she again left and stayed away for 11 years teaching in Washington, another Baltimore school and one year in Philadelphia.
In 1971, she returned to Decatur. She organized student retreats, encouraged a sense of wonder in students, and opened the convent’s doors to support teachers.
Sister Margaret Thomasine was admired for her approach with children. She had students write and draw in “creativity notebooks.” The journals were to teach them to see “God in each other and in the beauty of nature … the wonders of the beauty of creation, especially in themselves,” she once said.
In 1973, she started a three-day retreat for eighth-graders to prepare them for high school. In fact, the school will mark its 37th annual eighth-grade retreat in January.
Collis said she was always amazed how Sister Margaret Thomasine could inspire young people to think hard about religion and discuss it so openly.
In 1994, Collis joined the school staff as a fifth-grade teacher and for a brief time they worked side by side.
Sister Margaret led the school faculty in a prayer before the students arrived, Collis said. “It was such a great way to get grounded,” she said.
Nancy Fleming, the assistant principal, remembered the dinners and the hospitality shown by Sister Margaret, along with her sharing classroom ideas.
Both Fleming and Sister Margaret in 1987 were middle school teachers. They’d brainstorm about what worked best with students.
“She was doing mentoring before anybody was talking about mentoring. She was a role model for others. She had a wonderful way of giving you ideas,” Fleming said.
During those long days of teacher-parent conferences, Sister Margaret would drape the convent’s dining room table with a nice tablecloth and use the china to serve dinner for the staff and give teachers a bit of wine.
“She was all about hospitality and gratitude. She made those dinners so special for us,” Fleming said. “She was just a real fun gal to be with.”
Fleming said she learned many things from Sister Margaret, from the classroom to life lessons.
“The first word out of my mouth to strangers is welcome. She taught me that,” Fleming said.
Even though she left the school close to 10 years ago, the spirit of Sister Margaret and other members of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur congregation live on.
Fleming said she goes out of her way to tell students about St. Julie Billiart, the 18th-century Frenchwoman who started the order, and the nuns who opened the school.
“Sister Margaret instilled gratitude,” she said.
A statue of the saint is in the school lobby, moved there from the former convent when in 2000 the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur said goodbye to the school community.
Sister Margaret at the time said she lived a ministry of presence, being available to students, parents and parishioners alike.
“Through the years, I think the parish has felt that we’d be glad to help with anything and we would—supporting the programs that are there and helping the children to get that idea of their obligation to assist the parish,” she said.
She is survived by her niece and nephews, Maureen, Michael and Timothy Grady. Her brother, Thomas, predeceased her.
Donations in memory of Sister Margaret Thomasine Grady, SND, may be made to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Development Program, 1531 Greenspring Valley Road, Stevenson, MD 21153.