Sister Margaret Mary and the Heart of Jesus – 60 years later

by Kristina Lahr | New Earth


Bishop Folda congrats Sister Margaret Mary of the Sacred Heart, O.Carm on June 23 at Carmel of Mary Monastery. Sister Margaret Mary celebrated her 60th jubilee as a consecrated sister. (Kristina Lahr | New Earth)

“We need nothing but God. We need nothing but to lose ourselves in the Heart of Jesus.”

These words from Bishop John Folda’s homily on June 23 captured the spirit of the day’s celebration at Carmel of Mary Monastery near Wahpeton. Sister Margaret Mary of the Sacred Heart, O.Carm. celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for her 60th jubilee.

The faithful gathered in the Monastery’s chapel for Mass on that breezy day while birds sang through the open windows. While the congregation couldn’t see the cloistered sisters, they could hear their voices lead each of the Mass parts blending with familiarity.

While Sister Margaret Mary professed her final vows on Feb. 11, 1957, she choose June 23 to celebrate because it was Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion that she carries in her very name. Her patron saint is St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who was also a cloistered sister. In 1673, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus invited her to receive this revelation of love and share it with the world.

“He could have chosen someone in the world,” said Bishop Folda, “someone more able to go out and spread the word, but instead he chose one who was already deeply devoted to him, who had a heart burning with love.”

For 60 years, Sister Margaret Mary has carried this name, spreading the love and devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the same way that St. Margaret Mary did in a monastery. Only God knows how the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has spread through Sister Margaret Mary’s prayer and witness.

“For 60 years, Sister Margaret Mary has prayed for us, and we hope she’ll keep those prayers coming,” Bishop Folda said.

At the end of her life, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque said, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

Sister Margaret Mary’s life and vocation carry that same message today. Congratulations, Sister Margaret Mary and the Carmelite community! Thank you for your great witness and prayers for us here in the diocese and around the world. Thank you for teaching us that we need nothing but God and to lose ourselves in the Heart of Jesus.

Sister Margaret Mary’s family, friends recollect

By Roxane B. Salonen

The recent diamond jubilee honoring Sister Margaret Mary offered loved ones a chance to share memories.

Two of her nieces, who helped with Mass music, talked of annual visits to the cloister as children. “We’d come see her, then go on to Minneapolis for a baseball game,” noted Arvy Smith, Bismarck. “That was our summer vacation.”

Danita Sticka, Buffalo, Minn., remembered her aunt and godmother’s face. “The peacefulness I would see in her eyes was just amazing to me.”

Family friend Theresa Huber said she was always struck by “how warm and inclusive she always was, and welcoming…she’s such a gentle soul.”

As a little girl, Smith said, she’d study photographs of the nuns behind the iron “grille,” or what she thought were cages or bars. “I thought maybe she wasn’t really a cloistered nun but was in prison, and they just didn’t want to tell me.”

Sticka and Smith, daughters of Sister Margaret Mary’s brother Ignatius – one of 11 siblings in the family from New England, N.D. – even slipped up a few times, calling her “Tillie,” for her birth name, Ottilia.

They mentioned how much “Tillie” enjoys tending the monastery flowers, as shared earlier by the prioress, Mother Madonna, who told them that even with bad knees, she “gets a stool out there” anyway.

Sister Joseph Marie arrived at the cloister just a year after Sister Margaret Mary, and said the two, who are very close, live a joyous life, often laughing “at things others might not find funny,” like “Ma and Pa Kettle” comic-film episodes.

In the earliest years, while helping build walls for the first monastery in Wahpeton, the aluminum nails kept bending as they hammered away. “We got so many nails wrong, and knew the inspector would not be impressed.”

While picking long, wieldy weeds once, she said, they tried to pile and transport them by wheelbarrow, only to have them topple over, prompting an explosion of giggles.

The Reverend Peter Anderl, who serves as the Carmelites’ confessor, marveled at how Sister Margaret Mary was “the first vocation from our state,” entering the monastery nearly at its founding, and has been a leader within.

“She’s borne her share of the cross…but you would never know it, because she exudes such joy and peace,” he said. “She just radiates, always, and has such a great love of wanting to pray for others.”