May 2-8, 2002
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Sister Margaret Miller’s second career as a Sister of St. Joseph brings joy
An ordinary person trying to do God’s work is how Sister Margaret Miller, recipient of the 2002 Dorothy Day Award, described her life of ministry. However, those who have been touched by her compassion and love know that there is certainly nothing ordinary about her. Extraordinary would be more like it.
Sister Margaret, a sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, joined the convent in September, 1942. She began her work as a teacher and principal at St. Anthony’s in Troy, where she remained for 39 years. Although she loved children, she knew that it was a different ministry, serving the elderly, to which she was called.
“Working with the elderly is my second life,” Sister Margaret explained. “There are so many who need help, spiritually, physically, and mentally. I try to minister to everyone that I can.”
Sister Margaret began serving the elderly in 1979 at St. Lucy’s parish in Syracuse, a home that she is obviously very fond of. St. Lucy’s is like “a big family,” with parishioners who support and care for one another, she explained with a smile. Sister Margaret works with the residents of Loretto at James Geddes, a small, poor nursing home behind the church, and also visits elderly residents in other apartments and nursing homes nearby. She brings them Holy Communion and prays with them, but perhaps most importantly, she offers them desperately needed companionship and love.
Following Sister Margaret around for a short afternoon makes it easy to see just how she embodies the life and spirit of Dorothy Day. To the elderly in these homes, she is a ray of light in what can be at times a cold, lonely world. She often brings little gifts to residents to brighten their day. Whether it is a treat from the donut shop or a handmade present, all come from her heart and bring a big smile.
As she walked into Loretto at James Geddes, her presence transformed the atmosphere. It was obvious that the people love her just as much as she loves them. It was impossible to walk around the room without hearing a story about how she has touched each of their lives. Upon hearing that Sister Margaret has been given this year’s Dorothy Day Award, one elderly woman shared a personal account of how Sister Margaret has helped her. Previous to her entering Loretto at James Geddes, this woman, similar to most residents, had nothing — not even a place to call home. She explained how Sister Margaret set her up with an apartment, which she also furnished for her.
“Sister Margaret gave me everything I have,” she said. “She is an angel without wings.” Sister Margaret is notorious for selfless acts such as these, on occasions even taking furniture from her own home to give to the needy. It seemed as if stories of her uplifting attitude and kind spirit could have carried on into the late night hours. However, Sister Margaret’s humble demeanor was quick to take the spotlight away from herself and shine it in another.
One might think that it is hard for Sister Margaret to become so close to people who are nearing death. She noted that while this part of her ministry may seem disheartening, being with people as they pass away can actually be quite a magnificent experience.
“It is beautiful to be with people who have died,” Sister explained. “They are so close to God. Everything they wanted they have and are all ready.”
Obviously Sister Margaret’s ministry to those who need her help reaches far beyond what one might expect. Even seemingly “little things,” yield fantastic results. For example, Sister Margaret coordinates a mass for residents each Saturday morning. What makes this Mass so beautiful is that it is interdenominational and, as Sister shared, everyone, regardless of religion, is welcome to attend. “In heaven it won’t matter if you are a Protestant, Catholic, or another religion,” Sister Margaret explained. “All religions all come to sing and worship. It is beautiful to see everyone together.” Although Sister Margaret primarily ministers to the elderly, she extends herself to anyone who needs support, pointed out Josie Geer, longtime friend and helpmate of Sister Margaret.
“Sister ministers to all those in need,” she said. “She certainly walks the talk.”
Geer described just one of many examples of Sister Margaret’s boundless compassion. One evening, Sister Margaret was getting ready to eat dinner, a meal that she was particularly looking forward to, when there was a knock at her door. A man entered who was in desperate need of something to eat. She gave him her meal.
Geer recalled these words of Jesus, “I was hungry and you fed me.” Although Sister Margaret once commented that she was “just a little nun,” there is so much more to this beautiful woman. She genuinely loves what she does and the people she works with. No doubt she has left an indelible image on all those whom she has touched, and continues to touch, through her tremendous devotion and service.
The Dorothy Day Award is given annually to a person or persons who best exemplify the work of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. Day (1897-1980) worked endlessly to spread the word of social justice, making it her life’s mission to help the poor.
“What I would like to do is change the world, make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe and shelter themselves as God intended them to do,” Day once said. And with people like Sister Margaret Miller to carry on her ministry of love, changing the world doesn’t seem all that impossible.