By Tony DeGol
The Catholic Register
No one could top Sister Margie Monahan when it came to Back to School shopping.
Father Matt Baum, administrator of Saint Stephen Parish in McConnellsburg, Fulton County, will never forget the time Sister recruited him to join her and Sister Martha Burbulla for a trip to the Walmart in Hagerstown, Maryland.
As director of the Fulton County Mission, Sister Margie was stocking up for the Mission’s annual backpack/school supplies distribution, and she had determined that the Hagerstown Walmart had the best prices.
“So there we were, a priest and two nuns cleaning out all the shelves in the Walmart with about four large carts of school supplies,” Father Baum remembered fondly. “I’m pretty sure it took half-a-dozen cashiers to get us rung up!”
That story is just one of many that illustrates the exuberance with which Sister Margie approached her ministry in Fulton County and, indeed, carried out her vocation.
A member of the Carmelite Community of the Word, a diocesan community of religious sisters, Sister Margie passed on Monday, October 8 at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown following a brief illness. She was 66 years old.
Sister Margie served as director of the Fulton County Mission for 29 years.
The Mission was established to be a Catholic presence in a region of the diocese where there was much need. Thanks to Sister’s leadership and vision, that goal was realized.
Sister Martha, also a member of the Carmelite Community of the Word, served alongside Sister Margie for the past 20 years. She credits Sister Margie with working with various agencies to secure key collaborations and funding to assist residents – regardless of their faith tradition.
“Sister was a good one for seeing the needs and seeing what we can do to help,” recalled Sister Martha. “She was always busy. We have a very significant number of volunteers. She was the one who knew everybody. Everybody knew Sister Margie.”
Besides the school supplies distribution, another wildly successful outreach launched by Sister Margie was the Christmas gift program. Each year, countless people or groups from throughout the diocese donated toys, clothes, and other items for children and families. Just like Santa’s elves, volunteers joined the sisters to wrap the gifts every December.
Sister Margie’s generous spirit extended further.
“She had such a reputation in town for helping that she would regularly get calls from the public school asking for help for a needy student,” Father Baum mentioned. “I remember one time she told about getting a call for a boy who didn’t have a pair of shoes to wear without holes in them, and countless little ones who were lacking winter coats. Everyone knew you came to Sister Margie to get help with those things.”
Besides her ministry with the Fulton County Mission, Sister Margie was very active at Saint Stephen Parish – the only Catholic Church in the county.
“At the parish, she had a heart for the sick, and always kept good track of everyone who was sick, what their health issue was, and how they were doing,” said Father Baum. “She knew who was in rehab for what and who had what illness. She made sure that they all got cards and knew how she cared.”
Saint Stephen parishioner Debbie Leese enjoyed a beautiful friendship with Sister Margie.
“We talked frequently,” Leese recalled. “She was a big part of my life and my spiritual life.”
Leese is especially grateful for the support Sister Margie offered after Leese’s mother passed more than a decade ago.
Sister Margie’s unexpected passing has been especially hard on her fellow CCW sisters.
Sister Marilyn Welch, administrator general of the community, recalled special memories of Sister Margie.
“She was very proud of being a sister,” Sister Marilyn stressed. “That was her identity.”
She also had a remarkable memory for dates, anniversaries, and events, and she always brought flowers for the sisters when the community gathered for holiday celebrations.
“She was just always giving something – flowers, prayer cards, or special books,” added Sister Marilyn.
Prior to beginning her ministry in Fulton County, Sister Margie served as a chaplain at the former Laurel Crest Nursing Home in Ebensburg.
“She organized pastoral care services at that institution like it had never been organized before,” emphasized Sister Marilyn. “She loved to sit with the dying. If there was no family there, she would stay all night. She felt it was very important that no one die alone.”
Angie Zinobile volunteers with the Fulton County Mission. She, too, has fond memories of Sister Margie such as her “iconic” brown Chevy S-10 motoring around town, her love of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and, of course, her devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots.
“She really loved this county and the people in it,” Zinobile commented. “We not only lost a person who was caring and kind, but we also lost a friend. I know that when I walk down the steps of the social hall and she’s not there saying, ‘Hey, Angie!,’ my heart will be heavy for me but happy for her that she’s with her Lord.”