Sister Marjorie McGrath, OSB
January 19, 1926 - January 7, 2013
Sister Marjorie (Rosella) McGrath, OSB, 86, a Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kans., died January 7, 2013, at the monastery. The vigil will be in the monastery chapel on Wednesday, January 9, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. and the Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated there on Thursday, January 10, at 10:30 a.m.
Born in Atchison, Kansas, to John and Rose Mary Falk McGrath on January 19, 1926, Sister Marjorie attended St. Benedict's Grade School and graduated from Mount St. Scholastica Academy in Atchison. She entered the monastery in 1943 and made monastic profession in 1945.
She studied music, as well as drama and music literature/history, receiving a master's degree from the University of Notre Dame and teaching elementary and high school music for 24 years. From 1969 to 1975, she served as a missionary in Peru. Returning for further education in pastoral ministry, she returned to South America, working in Brazil from 1980 to 1995. Since her return from mission work, she has offered her Benedictine presence in rural communities, most recently in Alma, Kansas, and within the monastery.
Sister Marjorie was preceded in death by her parents, by her brothers Jack, Robert and Dick, and by her sisters Rosemary Holland and Frances Osborne. She is survived by a sister-in-law, Mrs. Lillian McGrath, by nieces and nephews, and by her monastic family.
"All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory."
2 Cor. 3:17-18
Sister Marjorie (Rosella) McGrath, OSB, an Atchison native, was born to John and Rose Mary Falk McGrath and attended St. Benedict’s Grade School and Mount St. Scholastica Academy in Atchison. She made monastic profession in 1945.
Gifted with her voice and love of music, she studied music, as well as drama and music literature/history, receiving a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame. After teaching elementary and high school music for 24 years, she embarked on a new and unique path. Her passion, and the period of her life for which she most wanted to be remembered, was being a missionary to South America. She lived among the poor of Capachica, Peru, from 1969 to 1975. After a time in the U.S. for further education in pastoral ministry, she returned to South America, working in Itaberaba, Brazil, from 1980 to 1995.
Since her return from mission work, she has continued her lifelong commitment to live simply among the people of God, offering her smiling and welcoming Benedictine presence in rural communities and within the monastery. Let us remember her in grateful prayer.
Reflection given at the Funeral Vigil Service
by Mary Collins, OSB
"God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end" (Eccl 3: 1-11). Still, we reflect, hoping to discover God’s ways with us.
We are confident that the mystery of God’s love for Marjorie and her love for God and God’s people has been unfolding in the times and places that have been Sister Marjorie’s lifetime. A Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica for almost 70 years, her stability has always been in Atchison. Yet she was sent out from here, to rural Missouri, and then most unexpectedly to be present to the poor in rural Peru, to be present among the native American people in Taos, New Mexico, to be with the rural poor in northeastern Brazil, and then in her later years to be present to the people of Alma, Kansas. She went to these places with the blessing of her prioresses and of her sisters, for they trusted that she had been alert to Paul’s exhortation to the church at Ephesus. In her discernment, she did indeed "try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord." For she believed that "the fruit of the light is in all that is good and right and true."
"Each thing in its time." This is the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. And Marjorie’s times were the years of of the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath. This we recall as the time when the Holy Spirit stirred the People of God through the gift of Pope John XXIII. It was the time when successive popes summoned the Church, both laity and clergy, to greater openness to the whole world and all God’s peoples. The call to "love one another as God loves us" and "to lay down our lives for our friends" became a summons from the pope to religious communities and the bishops of prosperous churches in the North Atlantic region. Could we not send ten percent of our membership to the people of Latin America? And Sister Marjorie was caught up in that summons to be present to the poorest of the poor, joining the people serving in the Jefferson City Diocese on their mission to Peru.
The Mount had many monastic missionary hearts stirred at the time of the Council; some of you sitting in this chapel tonight know well Marjorie’s readiness to follow the unexpected unfolding of her monastic life, know well her readiness to lay down her life for others. Some of you were among the collaborators of our community mission to Brazil, whether to Mineiros or to Ruy Barbosa in the impoverished northeast. Others here among us responded to the cries of other peoples in the developing world, typically assisting in education projects. Sister Paula established a presence among the Palestinian people in Bethlehem, accompanied at times by Regina and Laura. Regina went also to Egypt, and Helen Sullivan to India. Stories of their missionary journeys effectively broadened our midwestern rural American sensibilities. These expanded sensibilities have connected us in the past decades to the peoples of Vietnam and Cambodia in Asia, to Africans and to Haitians. We have been learning together to be “at home” among the poor everywhere and anywhere in God’s world. And we are learning to see with new eyes the poor who are all around us at home.
As the biblical sage explained it, “God has made each thing suitable for its time --and we cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end,” Yet it seems the case that the mystery of 150 years of monastic stability at the Mount is grounded in a missionary monastic heart, to which Marjorie’s life bears witness. In this jubilee year, we readily connect our sister’s story to our own larger story and see that it is not any anomaly. Boniface left his home in England to bring the gospel to the pagan Germanic tribes; the nun Lioba was among those who responded to his appeal to the convents and monasteries of England to join him in Germany . In due time, Benedicta Riepp and her sisters --children of Boniface and Lioba’s mission to Germany centuries earlier left her homeland for Pennsylvania and Minnesota, and a next generation set out to Atchison. In due time Atchison Sisters moved on to Mexico City and from there on took up the mission to Torreon. All the time, wherever they found themselves, these generations of monastic women were "singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in their hearts, giving thanks at all times for everything in the name of Christ."
On a personal note my early recollection of Sister Marjorie, when the community numbered 600, is tied to the time when she was a music teacher in the Academy. I knew her as a vigorous and energetic woman with a large voice able to fill a great space. As the years went on, Sister Marjorie left behind her role as a music teacher, but she never stopped "making melody in her heart." In her final years as a resident of Dooley Center, when she struggled with loss of vigor and shortness of breath, she still had energy for one final daily song. She and Sister Bettina walked, on days when they could, to St. Scholastica Chapel, prayed together for a short time and then sang a daily Suscipe. Now God has received her, as he promised--and will receive each of us in turn.