By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published May 30, 2019
ATLANTA— Chancery staff gathered on Thursday, May 23, to spend time with Sister Margaret McAnoy, IHM, as she prepared to retire after 50 years of ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
The afternoon felt like a family visit, as staff sat with Sister Margaret and listened to her stories following the noon Mass at the Chancery. There were flowers, cards, hugs and good wishes as she prepares for a new chapter in her life. She officially retired the following day, May 24.
Sister Margaret, age 85, has been an “extraordinary blessing to the archdiocese,” said Father John C. Kieran, a senior priest in Atlanta.
“She’s been a very strong religious sister and friend,” he said.
I have had the most wonderful religious life here, said Sister Margaret.
“I have never been unhappy in Atlanta,” she said.
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, the Sisters of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary made a great impression on Sister Margaret at an early age. The sisters were her teachers, and her older sister, JoAnn, joined the same order when Sister Margaret was in third grade. Her brother, Thomas, was a priest in the Detroit Archdiocese.
After encouragement from her mother, she applied to the religious community. And at age 18, she professed her vows and entered religious life.
“I just wanted to be a sister,” said Sister Margaret. This is her 67th year in religious life.
Atlanta memories shared
When she arrived in Atlanta in 1969, Sister Margaret started as a religion teacher at St. Pius X School, Atlanta. In 1974, Sister Margaret became principal of Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School, serving there for seven years. She enjoyed her experience at the elementary school.
“I just loved it. I have fond memories,” she said.
One of her favorite experiences was at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta. There, she spent more than seven years involved with Tuesday Evenings at the Shrine, a ministry for those living with AIDS. She speaks fondly of those she met and how many people it took to put a Tuesday evening event together.
“It was one of the most enriching ministries that I’ve ever had,” she said.
Father John Adamski, a retired priest of the archdiocese, recalled Sister Margaret’s dedication to the AIDS ministry.
“Each Tuesday, she directed the volunteer servers for this sit-down, candlelit meal feeding well over 100 persons each week. Her gracious hospitality created an atmosphere of welcome, kindness and compassion for all our guests and volunteers,” said Father Adamski in an email.
Since 1971, Sister Margaret has been involved in Atlanta’s Cursillo movement. She also served as spiritual director.
The Cursillo movement “is a renewal movement in the church that changes people’s lives,” she said. Cursillo’s mission is to bring Christ to others by teaching laypeople how to embrace their vocations and serve others.
Father Kieran remembers Sister Margaret working alongside his brother, the late Father Richard Kieran in Cursillo. Their ministry, along with the work of other great people, helped to encourage some of the first deacons in the Atlanta Archdiocese, he said.
Their ministry was “hugely successful,” said Father Kieran.
The Atlanta Catholic Cursillo ministry will have a farewell celebration for Sister Margaret on Saturday, July 13 from 3-5 p.m. at St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville.
Sister Margaret also served as chaplain of St. Joseph’s Hospital, worked in hospice care, taught Catholic spirituality in permanent diaconate formation classes and served on the annual Eucharistic Congress steering committee. She became the vicar for religious for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2008.
“It has been one of the joys of my life to get to know the sisters” as vicar for religious, she said.
A witness to God’s love
During her time in Atlanta, Sister Margaret built strong friendships, even during carpool rides. Maggie Rousseau, director of disabilities ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, started giving Sister Margaret rides to and from work when she decided to stop driving.
This was the beginning of a great friendship. On those rides, they learned a lot from one another, including that they had similar backgrounds, explained Rousseau.
“She really is a living witness to the love of God,” Rousseau said.
Father Kieran met Sister Margaret when she worked at St. Pius X School with his brother. Over the years, the three shared meals and attended meetings together. Sister Margaret is very dedicated, practical; someone you can have fun with and has a deep spirituality, he noted.
“She has enabled people to know their faith in a deeper way,” said Father Kieran.
As she begins packing her home, Sister Margaret knows it will be difficult to leave Atlanta. It’s “just a wonderful place to be,” she said. “The Catholic Church here is vibrant.”
She will return to her motherhouse in Monroe, Michigan over the summer and looks forward to being with her religious sisters. She would like to minister in her order’s healthcare center.
Before leaving for his new post in Washington, former Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, was able to recognize Sister Margaret’s years of faithful ministry in Georgia at a luncheon on April 30 with representatives of the consecrated communities. Sister Mary Priniski, OP, began serving as the new vicar for religious for the Atlanta Archdiocese on May 26.
Father Kieran hopes Sister Margaret can adjust well, as it is a huge transition to leave Georgia, he said.
Despite moving back to her motherhouse, Sister Margaret plans to return to Atlanta for visits.
I hope Sister Margaret “finds joy in the next phase of her life,” said Rousseau, and “comes back as a relaxed visitor.”
In a 2013 interview with The Georgia Bulletin on the occasion of her 60th jubilee, Sister Margaret shared a guiding quote for her ministry from her order’s co-founder, Father Louis Gillet: “I desire to be everywhere when I see so many needs.”