The Last Nun Standing in Paradise

Sister Margaret Moore, a 74-year-old Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, is the last nun standing in Paradise. Let me explain.

I first met Sister “Maggie” several years ago when she made one of my retreats in Colombia, PA. We “clicked” instantly. I liked her upbeat spirit and sense of humor. She told me she was working in a home for troubled boys in Paradise, PA. The name of the place caught my fancy. How many of us can say we live in Paradise?

Sister’s congregation first came to Paradise in 1911 to start an orphanage. Over the past 100 years, 116 Sisters of St. Joseph have served there. When Sister Maggie was sent there in 1975, the place had evolved into a school and residence for troubled boys. At that time there were 8 sisters and several lay people serving 52 live-in boys. For 25 years Sister Maggie was in charge of the infirmary. But with recent government cut backs, the school had to downsize. Today it has only 20 live-in boys. In years past the boys stayed for one or two years. Today the county pays for only six to nine months. Sister Maggie is the only sister left. Last year she too became a victim of downsizing. She no longer receives a salary, but her congregation supports her so she can continue to work there.

In 1979 Sister Maggie learned she had colon cancer. She had surgery. The cancer returned in 1999 and 2000. It was stage four. Again she had extensive surgery. She was so sick she had to reside in her congregations’ health care center for eight months. One day as she tossed and turned in pain in bed she asked God, “What am I doing here?” She “heard” God say, “You’re marinating.” “Marinating?” she wondered. Slowly the word began to make sense to her. “I was being marinated in the Lord,” she explains.

Later she said to God, “I’m yours. But if you want me to go back and work with your boys, you’ve got to cure me.” She said it only once. “I guess God had on his listening ears that day,” she says, “because I recovered and went back to Paradise and to the boys.”

During her 38 years in Paradise, Sister Maggie has seen 1,560 boys come and go. “I’ve laughed with the boys and cried with them,” she says. She’s realistic about her ministry. Although there are success stories, she says, “I know many of these boys will end up in prison or dead. But while they’re here, I try to plant a ‘God-seed’ in their hearts and then I pray for them.” She adds, “I don’t get discouraged, because I really love these kids. And the staff here is wonderful too!”

Sister Maggie knows she’ll be the last Sister of St. Joseph at Paradise School for Boys. There’s a sadness in knowing this. It’s an end of an era, you can say. But Sister is far from glum. Her joy and good humor are still very much alive. She obviously loves what she’s doing. And she considers herself very lucky to be living and working in Paradise.

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  1. Dion on July 23, 2012 at 9:20 am

    This is so touching. How beautiful is the image of “marinating in the Lord.” And how true this is for so many sisters nowadays…if they have the eyes to see it.

  2. Carol Dikovitsky on July 23, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Dear Melannie,
    I reall enjoyed this column, and can resonate with the idea of “marinating” as I watch my mother slowly decline.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      And prayers for your dear mother, Carol…It is hard to watch the gradual decline of a loved one. But I always remember what my cousin, Sr. Margarget Mach, said as she watched her father’s gradual decline. She said, “It was like watching a sunset.”….Melannie

  3. Ellen Svette Huntsman on July 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    A beautiful and inspiring story. I’ll keep Sr Maggie in my prayers. Funny that the sermon yesterday was about serving others.

    Thank you & I look forward to next week.

    Peace my Sister!

  4. pjnoga on July 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Melannie, I just love
    your “marinating in the Lord”. I have been doing that for preparation
    For jubilee, but can hardly wait to slow down a bit and marinate in full
    time ministry. Sr Maggie seems really neat. I too would like to meet her.
    Thank you for these Sunflower Seeds of love.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 30, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      I think you’d love Maggie!….Once again, Happy 40th Jubilee! Melannie

  5. Frances Wood on July 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Marinating adds flavor and “juiciness.” It also prepares us for the fire. In this case, the Good Shepherd is the Good Chef. In his hands he knows what is good for us and good for those to whom he sends us

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      Dear Frances, I liked your comment about adding “Flavor and juciness.” And Jesus as “the Good Chef.” Great! Thanks for sharing that with all of us! Melannie

  6. Wanda Davidson, SSJ on July 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Melanie, i know Maggie very well. What a great story! Still talking about your great retreat here. You definitely made an impact. God bless. Wanda

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Wanda, How nice to hear from you! Thank you for all you did to make my stay at Cape May such a pleasant experience! I loved my room with the ocean view! Melannie

  7. S. Pat Newhouse on July 24, 2012 at 7:22 am

    What a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing it with us.
    I anxiously await every Monday’s Sunflower Seeds.
    It’s like a continuation of my retreat with you in June.
    Be assured of my prayers for you and your “life giving”
    ministry. Thanks again.

  8. Judy Cooper on July 24, 2012 at 8:38 am

    I am Sr. Maggie’s cousin. We are very close. She is an inspiration to my family. My Dad loved her. She is one of a kind.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 30, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      A cousin of Maggie’s is a friend of mine! Thanks so much for your response, Judy! You come from a good family! Melannie

  9. Ann Clawson (former SSJ, Phila) on July 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    I lived and worked with Maggie 52 years ago in Ambler, Pa., and she was just as cheerful, charitable, loving and loveable then as she is today. We share many happy memories and continue to communicate often. I am so glad the community values their work with ‘her boys’.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      Dear Ann,
      Thank you so much for writing. It’s good to know Maggie’s joyfulness and love go back many years! Melannie

  10. Paul Daily on July 29, 2012 at 9:16 am

    I met Sister through mutual friends,in fact the last time I saw her was at her 50th jubilee mass. She is a wonderful person, very devoted to her congregation , its mission and the boys. The state is very lucky to have her, and all the prior 116 SSJ’s. May God bless her and ALL of our nuns

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Dear Paul, How nice that you personally know Sr. Maggie. Thank you for your comment–and for your blessing for “ALL of our nuns.” We nuns appreciate that! Melannie

  11. Maureen Redmond on July 30, 2012 at 10:17 am

    In 1952 I first started writing to Margy when we were both in school. I live in Ireland and Margy was my first penpal and to this date we still write to each other. Over these many years I have come to know, love and admire Margy. I had the privilege to visit her in Paradise over 30 years ago when my children got to see the wonderful work Sr. Margy and all the others nuns were doing for the boys. It really is a shame to think that because of cutbacks this wonderful home is being downsized and with it Sr. Margy. However knowing Sr. Margy as I do, I know this will not deter her from continuing to give the boys and everybody she comes in contact with a true sense of the meaning spirituality and faith as Sr. Margy has these in abundance. Love from all the family here in Ireland to Sr. Margy – keep up the good work – everything will be GRAND.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm

      Dear Maureen, How nice it was to hear from you all the way in Ireland! Thank you for your personal remembrances of Sr. Maggie and the good work she and the other SSJ’s have done at Paradise School for Boys. It was good hearing from you! Melannie

  12. liz tilton on July 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    upon returning home from retreat weekend w/you today, and checking email — there it was — the BBC video of ‘i believe.’ 😉 lovely weekend, messages, sharing, marinade. God bless – liz tilton

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 15, 2013 at 7:06 am

      Dear Liz, It was good meeting you! I’m glad you found the video “I Believe.” It is beautiful! Thanks again! Melannie

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