February 18, 1918 – July 16, 2013
We gather in this chapel this morning as family, coworkers, friends and Sisters of St. Joseph to celebrate the life of Sister Margaret Garballey. whom so many of us knew as Sister Mary Thomas. She was an extraordinary religious woman… a woman who Dared to Dream. As a woman of prayer, Sister Margaret listened attentively to God’s word. She enfleshed the words of our Constitution – Spirit and Purpose. “Responsive to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in our midst, we move into the future through rhythms of prayerful reflection, discernment, and action”. These words appear to outline the life of Sister Margaret Garballey.
Margaret Garballey was a Brighton girl. She was born in 1918, raised by her loving parents with her brother and sisters and educated at St. Columkille Parish schools in Brighton. She entered the Congregation in 1936. Sister spent her early years as a Sister of St Joseph teaching as a primary grade teacher, while studying and obtaining degrees in Chemistry to become the proficient high school Chemistry teacher.
It was at Cathedral High School that Margaret became aware of the diversity of her students’ heritage, noticing that many of their parents were immigrants who did not speak English. This led her to become involved with the Urban Sisters in Roxbury and assist them to organize lessons in speaking and reading English as their Educational Coordinator. Always an educator, but conscious of the changes in urban populations, Sister Thomas (as Margaret was known) instituted innovative educational curricula as the Principal at St. Thomas High School in Jamaica Plain.
In subsequent years, the Congregation called Sister Margaret to be trained with five other Sisters to become members of a Renewal Team for the Congregation. Their mission was to cooperate with members of the Congregation in an effort to further our spiritual development using the process we called ERCA – Experience, Reflection, Choice and Action. This process Sister Margaret and her team did extraordinary well! How many of us remember the newsprint paper being placed on the walls during our Community meetings!!! Perceiving Sister Margaret’s skills, the Archdiocese of Boston also beckoned... asking Sister to become a member of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Development Team. What a picture to behold – Sister Margaret making a presentation to the local pastors in 1982, regarding resources for ministry, in planning long range goals and objectives!
Then words of our Constitution:“We stand with the poor in the struggle for justice, incarnating hope, by seeking to improve the quality of life” began to seed within Sister Margaret’s heart… She went into action! Her attendance with three other Sisters of St. Joseph at a meeting in Brighton impacted her heart. She learned about immigrants living in Brighton, and their need for English as a second language. Sister Margaret met with the Leadership Team and convinced them that there could be a solution to this problem! With space provided in the Motherhouse the Literacy Connection was born! Margaret became the first Director…in her words, “the goal of the Literacy Connection is to teach English to adults in order to ensure effective communication of their basic needs: housing, food medical services, employment and education.”Sister saw the need to provide these services, and she was able to bring other Sisters as teachers with her.Today the Literacy Connection still bears the fruits of Sister Margaret’s legacy, and we have her successors – Sister Helen and Sister Pat to attest to Sister Margaret’s initiative.
In 1972 Sister Margaret had joined the Rerum Novarum Revisited group, also known as R and R.Their goal was to educate the Congregation on social justice issues.( Interestingly, this goal is still alive through our existing Office of Peace and Justice.) 1992 R and R honored eight Boston area people for their outstanding commitment to justice.Sister Margaret Garballey was one of the Honorees.To quote, in part, their award to Sister,” Blessed are those like Margaret Garballey, a native of Brighton, a Sister of St. Joseph, an educator, who see the need to be with those of enduring injustices of bigotry, illiteracy, lack of communication, not as spectators, but as participants in the life of these people”……especially those in the city, functioning as member, worker, leader….. for you shall be treasured now and in the coming age.”
In later years prayer and discernment enabled Sister Margaret to move to other residences as her age and health changed course. Her days at the Motherhouse and Fontbonne Hall witnessed to the Sisters living there a continued spirit of her generosity and wisdom. Sister’s time in her early years at Bethany was spent enjoying the activities, especially her love of painting, as well as keeping abreast of the needs of the immigrant neighbor and social justice issues.In these past few years many nurses, staff, Sisters, family and visitors have had the pleasure of beholding Sister’s gentle smile, her sparkling eyes and pondering her soft words.
“Sister Margaret was a catalyst who knew how to make things happen”. This was a statement expressed by Sister Pat Lambert, a contemporary of Sister Margaret. Truly this encompasses Sister Margaret Garballey! She allowed God to take root in her soul – She engaged in spiritual and corporal works of mercy, so that justice and peace, freedom and dignity could prevail.
All of us have wonderful memories of Sister Margaret. These are gifts to us. I invite anyone who wishes to share a memory or a thought on how Sister Margaret touched your life, or perhaps raised your awareness, to the plight of the immigrant or the poor, to come to the microphone now.
Sister Margaret, we celebrate and honor your life as a Sister of St. Joseph. We thank you for the vision and daring to dream the dreams you brought into our lives. For this we are most grateful.May you now rest in peace.
Gail Donahue CSJ