I first met Sister Marg in December 2005. I had just completed my semester abroad in Valdivia, Chile and had 10 days of open time before returning to the US. Some students were off for a hiking trip in Patagonia, others for the discotecas and beaches, and the rest straight home to spend the New Year in the US. As for me, I had a note from Sister Renata (Sister Ra-Ra, as I remember her calling herself once) with the phone number for the Sisters in Bogotá, Colombia. I called up and was warmly invited to visit for one week. “Mom, I’m going to Colombia!” “What?!” “Don’t worry, I’m staying in a Franciscan Convent!”
How could I forget Sister Marg? I remember her on that first visit just as I remember her on my last visit this past August: compassionate, piercing eyes; a smile that opened your heart; and…On The Move!
By the end of my week-long visit, Sister Marg had brought me all over Bogotá: her little apartment in Barrio Estrellita, CAFSA school, the office of Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace), and the inner-city schools of Jose Antonio. This was not a trip for sightseeing; it was a trip to learn and be of service—one of many Franciscan values that I would imbibe during my time with Sister Marg.
When I returned to the US, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people I had met and the amazing social justice work that was taking place. I knew I had to find a way to go back. The following summer, God opened a door and I received a human-rights fellowship to return to Bogotá and work with Justicia y Paz. Sister Marg agreed to me living with her and Lorena (who would also become a great friend) in Barrio Estrellita. Part of the agreement was that I would accompany and assist her on her barrio visits to families in need. The fellowship was originally for 3 months, but I ended up staying for 8 months.
During our time living and working together, Sister Marg became a dear friend, a spiritual mentor, and more than anything, a Love Teacher.
Our friendship would continue to grow over the next 12 years. I made 2 trips back to Bogota, we met at the Archbishop (now Saint) Oscar Romero memorial in El Salvador, and we stayed in touch through frequent emails. When Sister Marg moved back to Assisi Heights (the Motherhouse) in Rochester, I visited every time I was back at home. Our visits were always filled with laughter, joy, and often tears. Sister Marg is the one who taught me how to cry; how to feel and speak from the heart, and in so doing, how to be fully present and alive.
On what would be my last visit with Sister Marg this past August, my wife and I took her for a wheelchair ride in the courtyard at Assisi Heights. We sat in the shade and smelled flowers. By this time, the memories of our time together were difficult for her to recall, so there wasn’t much to say, but there was no need. We held hands, we smiled and we let our hearts do the talking. In this way, I said my final good-bye.
Sister Marg: friend, mentor, Love Teacher, embracer of life, pure-hearted, crusader for peace and justice. She truly lived and embodied all the Franciscan Values. May she be rewarded with the bliss of heaven and eternal life.
With exceeding gratitude,
John Van Rooy