The Last Nun Standing in Paradise Revisited

by Melannie Svoboda SND on August 12, 2013

My blog for July 23, 2012 was entitled “The Last Nun Standing in Paradise.” It featured Sister Margaret Moore (Maggie), a then 74-year-old Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, who ministered in Paradise, PA in a home and school for troubled boys. 

I wrote how Sister Maggie’s congregation had been at that location since 1911–when the place had been an orphanage. Over the past 100 years, 116 Sisters of St. Joseph had served there. Sister Maggie was sent there in 1975. She must have been good at what she did, for her stint lasted 38 years. She was the only Sister still there when I wrote my blog last year. But the other day she emailed me with the sad news: the home for boys in closedParadise is closing. Budget cuts. Dedicated and highly qualified people are losing their jobs–including Sister Maggie. A Familiar story. Unfortunately. And the boys who were still there? They have been “relocated” in other places.

Sister Maggie is being relocated too. After 38 years, the last nun standing in Paradise is no longer in Paradise. But guess what? She’s still standing! Only now she’s standing in Pottsville, PA. She’s living with another Sister in a place appropriately named “Phoenix Park.” Phoenix! The mythical bird that rises up from its own ashes! Phoenix: an ancient symbol of our Risen Jesus!

What will Sister Maggie be doing? She’ll be doing more than standing! She will be moving—a lot!—as she serves in a parish. She will be a volunteer there. Her congregation will support her so she can do this ministry. (Many congregations support a significant number of their members so they can volunteer in places not able to afford them.) Sister Maggie’s area of concentration will be visiting the sick. She should be good at that. Three bouts with cancer and several awful surgeries have given her an insiders’ view of illness.

I think the people of Pottsville need someone like Sister Maggie–just as the boys in coal and shovelParadise needed her. I googled Pottsville and learned it lies in the heart of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region. Coal was discovered there in 1790. Considering the current state of the coal industry in this country, I suspect Pottsville has seen better days economically. Sister Maggie is apt to meet people there with all kinds of needs. And, knowing her, she will serve them as she served all those boys for all those years: with warmth, generosity, faith, joy, and a sense of humor.

This change is not easy for Sister Maggie. On the phone the other day, her voice was chipper, but I sensed she was grieving. “What I’m gonna miss,” she said, and then she stopped speaking. I knew she was crying. Finally she spoke, this time through her tears. “I’m gonna miss my boys,” she said. When Sister Maggie made her vows many years ago, she promised she would obey God’s will. But she never promised she wouldn’t cry!

I admire Sister Maggie. She has two qualities I think we all need in life: faithfulness and flexibility. Sister Maggie was faithful. She served in Paradise for 38 years, showing up every day for work, interacting with those boys, working side by side with her colleagues, and facing the daily challenges that her ministry set before her. And she is flexible. She knows it’s time to go now, to let go, to change, to try something new, to be morphed from a teacher/nurse  into a pastoral minister. Sister Maggie’s story reminds me that the point in life is not where we serve. It’s whom, how, and why we serve. We serve the specific people God puts into our lives. And we serve them with love and joy. Why? Because in doing so we are loving and serving the God who loved us first! Please say a prayer for Maggie–and for all people who are undergoing serious changes in their lives and are grieving. Pray that, with God’s help, they may keep standing.

Do you show both faithfulness and flexibility in your life? If so, how?

PS: I will be directing a retreat at the Marie Joseph Retreat Center in Biddleford, Maine from August  17-24. They tell me it’s right on the ocean! Please pray for the retreatants–and me! Thank you very much! My blogs will be posted as usual.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Magiera August 12, 2013 at 5:13 am

Thank you for sharing Sister Maggie’s story of faithfulness and flexibity. 38 years is along time to stand strong.

The churches in our area finished a Bible Camp for our children last week with the theme of stand strong and be brave when facing hard times. Over and over as we prayed and shared with the campers about God’s love for them, I was reminded that God was with us no matter what happens.

As I face a new school year in a couple of weeks, there will be many changes. Jesus is calling me to trust him and stand strong no matter how things turn out. Faithfulness and flexibility in action.

Kathleen

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Mary Schneider August 12, 2013 at 10:35 am

Sr Melannie:

Thank you for sharing the beauty of Sr Maggie. (My only daughter’s name so I am biased). I know she will come to love her new ministry. In Nevada we had a sister from Ireland who came to stay with our Irish Sisters of Mercy of Longford, teaching sisters all. Her patroness’ feast day is today and I was thinking of her this morning; Sr. DeChantal. She stayed in Nevada until the convent closed, about 8 years.. I since visited her in Ireland and she remembered the name of every ailing or aging person she ever visited; she tested my memory and recall. She will be much blessed in Heaven for her good works.

Mary

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Suzanne Sayer August 12, 2013 at 11:25 am

Thank you for the inspiring story of Sister Maggie and the reminder of faithfulness and flexibility. I am certain that the Lord has a special job for Sister in Pottsville. The people there are lucky to have her.

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Sr. Kate Hine,SND August 12, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Thanks, Melannie, for sharing this beautiful story. It reminded me a bit of my Aunt Joan whom I helped move this weekend into a memory care unit. She had lived in her house for 56 years. We both cried as she kissed her little dog, “Good-bye” and we closed the door behind us. Her new home is beautiful and with a little tweaking of her meds, I think she too can find a way to bring God’s love to her “new neighbors.” Please keep her in prayer. Thanks!!

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Carolyn August 12, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Thank you for the reminder to remain flexible. It is hard, especially the older we get. But God knows what He is doing! We can relax and remind ourselves that He is always in charge, and looking out for us.

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marian August 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Hi Sr. Melanie
Faithfulness…thank God for His faithfulness to me! Flexibility is not always my first response…I am working on it!
Would you send a greeting along for me…bless you. Marian
DEAR SR. MAGGIE
GOD BLESS YOU…THINK OF ALL THE LIVES YOU HAVE TOUCHED…DON’T FORGET ALL OF THE NEW GENERATIONS…
WOW!
ON THIS FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION, I THANK GOD FOR YOU & ALL THE SISTERS WHO PROCLAIM ‘YES!’ AS MARY DID.
I PRAY GOD WILL FILL YOUR HEART TO OVERFLOWING WITH JOY AND PEACE IN YOUR NEW ASSIGNMENT.

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maggie moore,ssj August 17, 2013 at 8:40 am

DEAR MELANNIE,
I AM NOW LIVING IN THE VILLAGE OF PHOENIX PARK AND I AM AT PEACE. SISTER MARY JANE AND I WERE FRIENDS FROM HIGH SCHOOL AND LIVED AND TAUGHT TOGETHER 6 YEARS AT ST. PATRICK’S POTTSVILLE (1966-72) SO WE GO WAY BACK.
MY PLAN WAS TO BEGIN SOME MINISTRY IN SEPT. OR OCT.,
HOWEVER GOD IS PUTTING A “RUSH ON ME” IN THIS ONE.
I HAVE VISITED AN OLD NEIGHBOR IN ICU, AND COMMITTED TO TAKE AN 89 YEAR OLD NEIGHBOR TO THERAPY 2 DAYS A WEEK.
THE LAST READING IN OUR OFFICE BOOK FOR 1ST SUNDAY WAS…”I WILL TAKE FROM YOU YOUR STONY HEART AND GIVE YOU A HEART OF FLESH. THEN I WILL GIVE YOU THE LAND OF YOUR ANCESTORS”…AND HE DID. I GREW UP IN ST. CLAIR…
SCHUYLKILL CO. WHICH MAKES ME A “COAL CRACKER”TOO. IF I HAD WRITTEN A REQUEST THERE IS NOT ONE MORE THING I COULD HAVE DESIRED. GOD HAS TAKEN GOOD CARE OF ME IN THIS MOVE. OH YES, TELL SISTER KATE HINE SND THAT I WILL PRAY FOR AUNT JOAN! I WAS FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO BRING MY COCKER SPANIEL, A RESCUE DOG WHO WAS IN A CRATE IN A PUPPY MILL FOR SEVEN YEARS..SHE IS “MOLLY”. SHE ESPECIALLY LOVES SISTER MARY JANE’S KITCHEN.
GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR PRAYERS.
AND MELANNIE, GRACIOUS THANKS TO YOU FOR BEING A
GOOD FRIEND! MUCH LOVE, MAGGIE & (MOLLY)
AND MARY JANE

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kyran (daley) malarkey September 21, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Hi, Maggie!
Just read all about you and your work with the boys. Good on you that you were able to reach out to them. Hopefully you altered the direction of some lives. I have sent my best wishes to you a few times thru Pat Ash. Just wanted to stop by today and smile at you. tell Sr. MJ I said hi as well. Hugs and encouragement. Kyran

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Albert Thomas August 14, 2016 at 4:59 pm

I am the Paradise Boy with Sister Margaret Anthony. This is a Facebook Page I created for all of us to Reconnect. https://www.facebook.com/groups/828619660572628/ Albert Thomas 2532262576 or text me after 8/18/2016 Love You. Thank You for Everything.

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