Sister Margaret Earley


Sister Margaret Earley

Born to Life
June 7, 1929
Chicago, Illinois

June 13, 1948

Born to Eternal Life
January 31, 2024
Our Lady of the Angels
Greenfield, Wisconsin

Mt. Olivet Cemetery
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Margaret was born on Chicago’s northwestern side on June 7, 1929, to Robert Earley and Margaret McMullen, the oldest child in the family with Joan, Pat, and Robert to follow.

Margaret left for the Convent after high school at Alvernia. Her brother, at age 2 or 3, standing on a chair with a grandmother’s support was crying as he saw her going. She had been close to him. Margaret's father worked at the Merchandise Mart during the 2nd WW. That was the way he served in the war.

Margaret loved her family. She sent birthday cards to nieces and nephews over the years. Gail and Bob had a 90th surprise party for Margaret in a private room in a restaurant attended by Bob, Gail, nieces and nephews and their children. After the birthday celebration, young families gathered around and hugged Margaret as they had family pictures taken.

Margaret’s early years in the School Sister of St. Francis Congregation saw her teach both elementary (St. Anthony of Padua School and St. Therese Little Flower School both in Milwaukee) and high school students (at St. Joseph Convent) before being sent to Rome to study Theology at Regina Mundi College. She then returned to Milwaukee and continued her studies at Marquette University where she earned her PhD. While studying at Marquette she was also the Assistant Director of Postulants at the motherhouse where many of us came to know her as a kind and caring presence. After that, it was on to Alverno College in 1966 and many years of teaching and scholarship.  

1966 was a momentous year in the School Sister of St. Francis Congregation, a year that ushered in a new rule of life that was and is still called Response in Faith.  How many of us here today know that Margaret had a hand in writing that document, formulating the 6 Principles that organized the original version?  Beyond using her theological knowledge for the community and in teaching at Alverno, Margaret was actively involved in her discipline.  She took to heart profoundly some of the deeper calls of Vatican II that opened in 1963. Did you also know that Margaret organized the first national Conference of Women Theologians?  22 women from various denominations and academic institutions convened at Alverno College in June of 1971 to explore together the spiritual and religious experience of women. The work of these theologians was coordinated with an International Conference of Learned Societies that was held the next year in Los Angeles.

When Margaret retired from over 40 years of teaching Religious Studies at Alverno College, she wrote in her 2012 resignation letter to the president:  Over the course of these many years, Alverno has been a special place for me, integral to my identity as a School Sister of St. Francis.  Robert Greenleaf’s call to “care for the institution” has always rung true for me. The college’s mission and goal, centered as it is on the student and her development, is inherent in my vocation to education and to religious life. Margaret’s contributions at the College were not part of her “career” but a ministry, one that impacted hundreds if not thousands of students. One student said of her:  Her wisdom, humor and intellect made for a dynamic and interesting classroom experience. Yes, indeedMargaret’s students often experienced a rethinking of their childhood notions of faith and/or religion, which was both exciting and shocking. As one of her students remarked:  Margaret would literally knock our socks off with some of her statements.  For instance, one day she asked a class:  What if Mother Mary was not a virgin? Does it matter? Many others, including all the postulants and novices she taught in her early years of teaching, would come away from her classes energized with new insights that often stretched their “inner lives”. 

Margaret was an incredibly brilliant woman, but she was also incredibly humble.  Her everyday demeanor and interactions were marked by good humor and an infectious giggle. We younger School Sisters of St. Francis who worked with her at the college found her to be supportive and helpful, one who did not assume mentorship because of her seniority and expertise, but because she genuinely cared for her sisters.  In sharing stories about Margaret recently one sister-colleague said: When I think of Margaret Earley, I think of her smile. She was always eager to talk to young sisters, to listen to them and to encourage them.

Margaret’s care for our sisters lasted throughout her years. When our province was facing a move from Campbellsport, she brought her knowledge of the spiritual dimensions of loss and grieving to them in workshops she conducted with S. Judeen Schulte. Themes of journeying and growing permeated the reflection, sharing, and experience.

Margaret was also supportive and generous in sharing her teaching practice with faculty and staff at the College. In discussions with groups of faculty she was fully engaged and asked good questions, often moving the discussion to a deeper place.  The best way to understand her legacy, said one of her colleagues in the Religious Studies department, is to look around. We wouldn’t be here without her and the founding sisters of the curriculum. No one would be here without that kind of creativity and insight to create a place that really serves students’ needs.

 S. Kathleen O’Brien told this story about her early years of teaching at Alverno, and how she will never forget Margaret’s kindness. She had just begun studying leadership in organizations and was asked to write a piece in a journal called Chicago Studies, on women and leadership in pastoral ministry. Frankly she had no idea of how to turn her beginning understanding of leadership into a piece involving leadership in formal ministry positions.  She went to Margaret. Oh sure, she said, I will help you. Which really meant, she wrote it!! 

Bless you Margaret!  Bless you Margaret, for your keen intelligence that you used to serve others. Bless you for your engaging and insightful teaching, for your kindness, your good humor, your lilting Irish smile.   Bless you for a life lived in service to others.


Here is the article title.

O’Brien, K. and Earley, M. (August 1996) “Women: Leadership in Ministry”. Chicago Studies. Vol. 35, #2. pp. 156-166.

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