Remembrance of the life of Sister Margaret Fitzgerald SL
(Note: This remembrance draws heavily from the three autobiographies which Sister Margaret Fitzgerald contributed to her personnel file in the archive.)
Margaret was born in Sterling Ill., the fourth of 15 children of Earle Fitzgerald and Virginia Schiltz. Of her family Margaret wrote: “My father, who was born in Iowa and moved to South Dakota as a lad, went to school part time with my mother near Mitchell, South Dakota. My maternal grandparents were from Luxembourg. They had twelve children; my mother was the third youngest and the same age as my father who was the eldest of eight. My great-grandfather Jackson was in the Civil War. My grandmother was born while he was on leave. When he was ready to return to the battlefield, he said to his wife, ‘She will be your little comfort.’ So my grandmother Fitzgerald’s name was Comfort Elizabeth Jackson Fitzgerald.
“My father moved to Sterling where he and my uncle had a confectionery store. He returned to South Dakota long enough to marry my mother and take her back to Sterling. The first six of us were born in Sterling; then we moved back to South Dakota where [the family] farmed. We [children] were day students at a boarding school and had the German Franciscan Sisters from Milwaukee as teachers.
“As long as I can remember I wanted to be a Sister. I feel I would have joined the Franciscans in South Dakota had we not moved back to Illinois when I was ready to enter seventh grade. This was my first contact with the Sisters of Loretto; Sister Francis Ellen was my first teacher. Even as a child, I felt that in Sterling our nuns were the ‘cream of the crop’ as far as their being good religious and good teachers.
“It was the Depression when I went to Loretto. In looking back, I have sometimes had guilt feelings when I realize how my parents must have looked forward to my graduating from high school and getting a job to help out. However, they never even brought up the question. My sister, Agatha, also went with me [and was known as Sister Agatha Marie.] She had to leave the year we made Final Vows because of poor health. She never really ‘left’ Loretto. She was a holy soul and very conscientious.”
Margaret took the name Sister Gerald Ann at reception, in memory of a beloved brother. “My brother, Gerald, and I were in the same class in school and we were very close in age as well as in ideals. We walked to school together. We graduated together from St. Mary’s grade school in mid-June and on June 29th, Gerald drowned in the Rock River near our family home. The large funeral was on Monday, July 4th. Monsignor Burns had the funeral. He mentioned that Gerald had served the Mass the day he had drowned and that after Mass he told Monsignor that he wanted to be a priest.
“God blessed me with a natural talent for playing the piano. My mother told me that from about three years old onwards I was always pretending to play. She played, but did not have time to teach us. I used to spend a great deal of time playing the piano by ear, but somehow I managed the left hand, too, and the music always sounded all right. When I was about seven, my sister took lessons for a year or two from the Sisters. I sometimes put my sister’s music up before me while I was playing. One day I discovered that I was actually playing what was on the paper. From then on I was able to play all kinds of music regardless of the number of sharps and flats, and I ‘knew’ I was playing it correctly. I played with perfect abandon, not knowing the names of the lines, spaces, notes, etc. I haunted the public library when I discovered the Etude Music Magazine. One Christmas I found a subscription in my stocking.
“I was in the convent many years before I had a piano lesson. When I got my BA degree from Webster in 1947, I got a ‘bull’ telling me to go to the Heights to study music. I was elated. However, during the retreat after summer school, I had a letter from Reverend Mother asking me to go to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for one year instead. In the very next mail I had a letter from Mother Agnes Marie asking me to stay at Webster for one week to get help on the pipe organ (I had never touched one), since I would need to play it. When I arrived in E’town, I found that I had to play two Masses each Sunday, Requiem Masses three or four times weekly, weddings, funerals, Missions, etc. I still don’t know how I did it. I was there for six years. [Margaret did get a degree in music from the Heights in 1963.]
“After teaching regular classes for many years, [in various schools in Illinois, St. Louis, Denver and Los Angeles] I was put to teaching music. I had moderate success, I believe. Although I could not perform, I felt that I gave the pupils a good foundation. As for me — I lost something in my formal training. Never again could I play with same assurance and confidence, for I was always conscious of whether I was fingering correctly, etc. However, I have always enjoyed playing just to be playing.
“I have loved every bit of my religious life. I have lived with countless wonderful religious women who have been an inspiration to me. When I entered, I did not even think of teaching — I just wanted to be a Sister. Community has always meant much to me. I love praying together and working together. Many times I have felt a strong desire to take time out to be more contemplative … but I hesitated to make the desire known [out of] feelings of guilt that I had to ‘produce’ for the Congregation that did so much for me.”
Sister Margaret Fitzgerald did much for the Congregation through 50 years of classroom work, followed by more than 10 years at Loretto Center, St. Louis, where she worked in the staff office, began and managed the Circulating Tape Library and was in charge of finances. Margaret retired in 1994, and moved to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary in 2002. She died peacefully June 29th 2014, on the same date that her beloved brother Gerald died. One hundred years old, she lived 82 years, both giving and receiving as a Sister of Loretto.