Former executive director of the Irish Pastoral Centre, Sr. Marguerite Kelly, retired on Friday, April 16 after fifty-five years of public servitude. The Galway missionary sister was the executive director of the well known Irish non-profit organization between the years of 2004 until 2011; and since then had remained on at the Dorchester based center as their pastoral associate.
“My community had wanted me to retire for the last few years and now the time has come,” said Sr. Marguerite about her decision. In her late 70’s, her career as a missionary sister has seen the Irish woman travel across Europe, America, and South America in her efforts to help those who need it most.
In a candid interview with Sr. Marguerite, the missionary nun opened up about her life and career.
Born Bridget Ita, the fifth child of Katie and Patrick Kelly, her life was forever changed, when as a teenager she attended the Missionary Franciscan Sisters boarding school in County West Meath. Whilst there, she felt a strong calling to join these nuns in their missionary endeavors. Recalling her parents reaction, she said “My parents were rather concerned that I was too young to make such a life choice but they were supportive once they felt it was God’s will for me."
Unbeknown to the young Bridget, her decision would mean leaving her family in Ireland to move to Italy so that she could enter the congregation. Recalling the journey she said “That whole experience seems like a blur in my mind as I look back now. It probably reflects a lonesomeness and a fear of the unknown that I didn't want touch.”
Her years of formation as a postulate and as a novice in this new country were “challenging ones” but as a sign of her commitment to her new life as a missionary sister, the young Galway girl took the name Marguerite. In 1957, having made her profession of first vows, Sr. Marguerite once again found herself trying to assimilate to a new country and a new culture when she began her career teaching fifty-four first graders at King of Peace School in Philadelphia. She says "I loved the children and took great delight in teaching them.
However, whilst her week days were spent teaching these young students, an eager learner herself, Sr. Marguerite spent her weekends and summers studying at the Villa Nova University where she eventually earned her bachelor’s degree. Laughing, Sr. Marguerite admits, “When I look back now I wonder how I managed to do all of that but then, youth was on my side.”
Although she was content, the young missionary had a strong desire to work in “real missions” where she could help those materially poor and most marginalized in society. Her prayers were answered in the late 60’s when she was sent to a mission in Coroico, Bolivia. She would spend a decade helping implement programs to enrich the lives of women in the province’s rural villages. “It was a delight to observe them learn to knit and sew and make clothes for themselves and for their children.” Other programs she helped develop in this period included health care and nutrition classes to ensure that families in the region could live their most optimal lives despite their material poverty. Sr. Marguerite found great joy in these ten years of servitude and says, “I learned so much from the people who were willing to share out of their own poverty.”
In 1980, Sr. Marguerite found herself back in Massachusetts where she enrolled in the Pastoral Ministry Program in Boston College and earned a Master’s Degree. An “enriching experience” that once again found the young woman heading in a different direction. She said, “When I graduated from Boston College, I had hoped to return to Bolivia, but my community had other ideas…….!” The other idea was her election to the community’s Provincial Leadership Team on the East Coast of America. A role she pursued with enthusiasm but Sr. Marguerite yearned to return to the Latin America missions. Her wishes came true a few years later as she found herself on a plane to Peru where she worked as the director of a formation program for the missionary. Another challenging time for the Irish women as she explained, “Formation for religious life tends to be difficult in any culture but I feel that it is doubly so in a cross cultural situation.”
Having returned to America, Sr. Marguerite, was in search of new opportunities, when she received a phone call in late 2003 from Sr. Veronica Dobson at the Irish Pastoral Centre who was seeking an individual to replace her as executive director. After some initial hesitation where she thought the role “was not really suitable [for me]”, Sr. Marguerite accepted the position.
Explaining the importance of the non profit organization which is located in Dorchester, she said “The Irish Pastoral Centre is a response of the Irish community and the Archdiocese of Boston to the spiritual and material needs of the Irish and other immigrants.”
Further adding “Our ministry is quite varied and includes welcoming and providing some orientation for new arrivals, giving advice and contacts regarding accommodation and employment, information on immigration laws and citizenship, hospital and prison ministry, arranging Pre-Cana courses [to name but a few]…….”
Since 2011, Sr. Marguerite has been the IPC’s Pastoral Associate and many of her responsibilities have included visiting home bound elderly people, patients in hospital or those confined to nursing homes. A role which she fully embraced, saying, “ I enjoy these roles because I know they are so important to people.” Another area of responsibility was visiting Irish prisoners in jail, to which she admits causes her to pause for thought and are “always a soul searching type of experience.”
Reflecting on her time at the Irish Pastoral Centre and a career that has spanned five decades, Sr. Marguerite has only fond memories, admitting whilst she is “sad” she is grateful for the kindness and moral support she has received. She said, “everyone helps, everyone pulls together, and you really appreciate the generosity and kindness.”
She hopes to use her retirement to do some reading, catch up on some knitting and as a lady whose personal mission has always been to help those who need it most, will spend her time helping her elderly sisters at the Mount Alvernia community in Chestnut Hill.
Her colleagues this week reacted to the announcement with both sadness and gratitude for her years of service.
Executive Director of the Irish Pastoral Centre, Megan E. Carroll, Esq. said "Sr. Marguerite welcomed me with open arms as the new Executive Director one year ago this week. It has been a joy to work with her and I have been blessed to have her as a mentor and true friend. Her work as Pastoral Associate has been exemplary and selfless, and she will be missed by all. We will never forget her thoughtfulness, generosity, and dedication to God's work."
Provincial Minister of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters, Sister Donna Driscoll, MFIC, said "On behalf of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters, we congratulate Sister Marguerite on the occasion of her retirement from the IPC. Sister has given generously and selflessly of her time and talent to this ministry. She has come to love the people and we know she has touched so many through her presence there. We ask God to bless her and all those she has ministered to throughout her years. Well done, Sister. We wish you peace and every happiness as you continue on the journey God has planned for you."