From Chemist to Homeless Shelter Founder, Sister Peggy was a Blessing to All

sandra-and-peggyBy Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB

The first blessing of God Margaret experienced was her birth almost 82 years ago to John Peter Suerth and Eleanor Marie McCabe.

Peggy was one of the 5 children in the family. She grew up surrounded by a loving environment both at home and at school.

She attended Catholic grade school and Providence High School in Chicago.

An early influence in Peggy’s life was her aunt, Sister Agnes McCabe, a Benedictine Sister of St. Mary Monastery in Nauvoo. Peggy was attracted to Sister and the life she lived, and felt drawn early on to choose this path for herself.

Thus it was that in 1950 after high school graduation she entered this Benedictine community in Nauvoo. She made final profession of vows in 1955 and celebrated her 60th year of profession in 2012. Her commitment to Benedictine life, especially its focus on prayer and hospitality, was consistently expressed in her words and actions.

How might we describe Sister Margaret?

First I would say she was a TEACHER. Sister spent over 40 years of teaching at the grade school, high school, and college levels. And, closely related to that, she served as an Academic Advisor at the University of Notre Dame for 5 years. Through these years Sister received numerous awards and recognition for her dedication and excellence.

Sister’s identity as teacher was built in her bones and was evident even as her mind began to fail.   Until very recently we would meet her walking around the monastery with pad of paper and pencils in hand preparing for her next class.

In tandem with being a teacher, Sister was also a life-long LEARNER. Her Master’s Degree at Notre Dame was followed by post-graduate work at many universitys including The Universitys of Iowa, Wyoming, Illinois, Michigan Tech, Princeton, and the Catholic Theological Union. After she returned to the monastery in 2004, Peggy joined the first JustFaith group that was offered at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Coal Valley. She was a student—we might say a scholar—all her life!

Sister was also a CHEMIST. She had a great love for science, for teaching it and for helping people recognize its usefulness. Many of the sisters remember her work at the Nauvoo Blue Cheese factory while she was teaching at the Academy in the 70s. Every day she monitored the wastewater being generated by the factory and allowed it to manage to consistently stay within federal guidelines and thus maintain a positive relationship with the residents of Nauvoo. This work was recognized as so valuable that she was invited to present a paper on it at an International Symposium on Environmental Engineering in Istanbul Turkey.

I imagine that Sister Peggy would hope that we remember her most of all as a woman with a HEART FOR THE HOMELESS. She was instrumental in developing a homeless shelter (PADS) for the LaSalle-Peru and Ottawa areas.

While Sister was on sabbatical at CTU she wrote a paper for a sacramental theology class titled, “A Sacramental Symbol to the Homeless.” The symbol she was referring to was the Logo for the Illinois Valley Pads Program. Her professor Father Keenan Osborne commented on the paper: “Margaret, when our liturgical sacraments begin to lose meaning, return to the IV Pads Logo and all that the logo stands for. Here one finds SACRAMENT-IN-ACTION! Here one finds people-to-people sacraments.”

There is no doubt that Peggy found the presence of God in her ministry with the homeless and she helped others do the same. She became a living sacrament, letting the love of Christ radiate through her to those most in need.

And, finally, I will remember Peggy as a WOMAN WITH A READY SMILE. Her other gifts and abilities failed her over time, but this is one she never lost! Speaking about how laughter expands the soul, Bishop Robert Morneau comments that even a diminished laugh, the smile, might well be an instrument of grace. In these last weeks and months, I do believe Peggy’s smile was this: an instrument of grace for those who received it.

And so we thank God for Sister Margaret, our sister whose heart overflowed with love for God, for all of us and all God’s people.

One thought on “From Chemist to Homeless Shelter Founder, Sister Peggy was a Blessing to All

  1. […] Stories of Sr. Peggy’s ministry include her founding of a homeless shelter in LaSalle/Peru, Illinois, and her work at a local food pantry. Read Sister Sandra’s reflection on Sr. Peggy’s life. […]

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