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.