Sister Mary Catherine Carroll was a storyteller. You know this if you’re in her family, growing up and socializing with her over the decades. It surely comes, in part, from her Irish heritage, and no doubt many of you share that skill, that interest, that gift.
You also know that Mary was a storyteller if you’ve been listening to her homilies and spiritual reflections at School Sister gatherings over the years. Mary loved to be asked to give those kinds of reflections, but she wasn’t happy until she had figured out a story-based angle to focus her talk.
For instance, she might give a retreat day meditating on the three women in the first two chapters of Luke – Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna – as archetypes of the woman responding to God in her youth, middle age, and older age. And you may remember Mary’s stellar performance as Teresa of Avila at an early Spirituality Conference.
Those of us who were privileged to call Mary a friend and colleague got the benefit of her stories and Irish wit day in and day out, at the supper table, around a bowl of popcorn, or on a lengthy walk through the neighborhood. Her joyous humor melded into her deep wisdom that enriched us all.
To back up a bit, Mary was born to Irish immigrants Thomas and Catherine Carroll on April 23, 1938. She was the first child of six. Her family settled on the north side of Chicago and belonged to St. Pascal Parish.
Mary grew up in a loving home and was always ready to care for each new baby. As a child, Mary already liked to take walks. Her first-grade teacher said, “She could never sit still.”
After grade school, Mary went to Alvernia High School, where she enjoyed every minute. She wanted to attend college, so she worked all summer for several years to earn money to go to Mundelein College.
Although she enjoyed an active social life and a romantic relationship or two, Mary felt the stirrings of a deeper “call.” When asked in recent months why she wanted to become a sister, she answered “It is up to each of us to search out where, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can best respond to the call. I am happy and grateful for the grace of a heart-choice that was free. With the words of Mary’s Magnificat, I can truly say: “He who is mighty has done great things for me.”
In the fall of 1959, Mary entered the School Sisters of St. Francis and was received on June 13, 1960. She received the name, Sister Margo. During the Novitiate she continued her studies at Alverno College, graduating in 1962.
Soon after Profession, her mission life began: one year in grade school followed by 17 years in high school at St. Joseph in Kenosha and Pius XI in Milwaukee, as a history teacher and later a religion teacher.
Mary continued her studies over the years, achieving Master’s degrees in History and in Spirituality, and a Doctorate in Ministry.
Mary was an active, participating community member. She served as U.S. Region vocation minister (1980-82) and on the International Team as Vice President (1992-96). She served a stint in campus ministry, where students would ask Mary how they could get a job like hers. “Apparently, they saw how much I enjoyed it.”
In 1989, she began what became her “favorite” ministry at Sacred Heart School of Theology, accompanying young men and older men on their journey to priesthood.
Mary’s work at Sacred Heart took on several different facets over her 29 years there. Often you could find her walking the beautiful grounds as she worked with individuals. She loved to hear the seminarians’ stories, and mined some of these for articles in theological journals.
In 2018, Mary retired from Sacred Heart School of Theology. For the next few years, she gave retreats and did spiritual direction. In 2021 she moved to Clement Manor and became a volunteer.
Early in 2023, she began to experience health issues. When she received her final diagnosis, she knew she needed to come to Sacred Heart for care. She made the decision to make her final journey with no treatment, in the company of her sisters and with the support of her loving family.
When God called her home on the evening of May 16, she went peacefully into the arms of God. We can only imagine what stories she is hearing and sharing around the banquet table of the Lord!
Sister Jane Russell and Sister Mary Louise Miller