Vigil: Dec. 16, 2018 at the Nazareth Motherhouse
Eulogist: Sister Layla Kloeker
This evening we come together to honor and pay tribute to Sister Margaret Jilka: aunt, cousin, friend and Community member to all of us.
In 1999, at the time of her 50th Anniversary, Sister Margaret wrote that “We are not so virtuous as the angels, nor so beautiful nor so powerful, but we are much more interesting.”
Sister Margaret’s interesting life began on Feb. 17, 1930, as the youngest of five children to Jerome and Agnes Wearing Jilka. She was given the name of Margaret Mary. The family house was on the east edge of Salina, Kan. Today, we would call it at an acreage for they had a cow and other animals, chickens and ducks and a large garden. In our present time it is an area filled with beautiful homes and curvy streets south of Marymount and the cemeteries.
Margaret recalled that their house burned one night when she was about 3 years old. That house was followed by a brick house in the same location. Her Dad joined his brother Ed in the Jilka Furniture Store in downtown
Sister Margaret’s educational life began at Sacred Heart Grade School and High School in Salina. Her early years
were happy. As a teenager in high school she wrote in her life story that those years were happy but difficult.
“I had a lousy self-image and was very insecure.” She fell into the pressure of peers, joined the crowd and was wild and free! Margaret envied her sister Ruth because Ruth was good and beautiful. Also during high school an-
other girl came to live with the Jilka family. She was an orphan girl who was with the family through high school and college until her marriage.
During high school, Margaret confided to Sister Joseph Patricia her desire to enter the Community of the Sisters
of St. Joseph. Sister Joseph Patricia responded with, “The life may not always be easy, but oh, the Teacher!”
Sister Margaret entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on Sept. 8, 1948. She made First Profession on March 19, 1950
and was given the name Sister Mary Eugene. She made Final Profession on March 19, 1953. Living band members
are: Sisters Lucy Schneider, Mary Augustine and Doris Marie Flax. This year, 2019, was to be her 70th anniversary
as a Sister of St. Joseph.
Margaret recalls that her first introduction to Thomas Merton was when his newly published book, “Seven Story
Mountain” was read for table reading the year that she was a postulant. In the novitiate, Sister Margaret admired
Sister Therese Marie, her Novice Director, and was impressed with her spirituality. However, trying to articulate her
own struggles was difficult.
Around age 20, Sister Margaret was missioned to Chicago to teach kindergarten and first grade. With no training,
it was a difficult adjustment. So difficult that she thought of leaving the community. Her next mission was Monett, Mo. Again, five more years at the primary level. She became ill and needed an
A turning point in her life came at Cure of Ars, in Leawood Kan., where she had the courage to ask for a different grade level and was given grade four. After a year and a half she was transferred to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Concordia, and finished the semester with grade six.
While in New Almelo, Kan., she met Father Bill Killian who took an interest in the sisters. She also appreciated
the wide open spaces in which to walk, think and pray.
During the transitional years after Vatican II, she began a religious education degree. In the 1970s, another rural
setting was Cawker City. She and Sister Jean Befort traveled to a circuit of parishes to help with religious education programs. In 1973, during her time there, her mother came to live with her. Also, she would invite her cousin, Elea-
nor Wearing, a resident at Mount Joseph, to her place for a vacation.
The family had a pasture north of Salina. She spent many hours there and established a relationship with her
nieces and began picturing herself teaching high school religion. However, she began feeling restless and inadequate
again and visited her cousin who was a member of Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity. She also made a
workshop on journaling with Ira Progoff.
This was an interesting turn in her life. Her contemplative eyes were opened. She desired a simpler lifestyle
and she acquainted herself with Fordham University, the Greenwich Village where Thomas Merton had lived and
visited Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker House. Later, she returned to Fordham and completed a masters degree in
theology with a thesis on a portion of Thomas Merton’s writings.
Later, after we had become friends, she handed me a Thomas Merton holy card, “Thoughts in Solitude.” She
said, “That’s me over and over, in years past.”
The card reads: “I do not see the road ahead of me … the fact that I think that I am following your will does
not mean that I am actually doing so. But the desire to please you God, does in fact please me.”
In Margaret’s own words: “The spiritual writer, poet, social critic, contemplative … Thomas Merton has added a
unique design to my life. Because of my love for and interest in Merton’s life and writings, I believe he has made a
vital and irreplaceable contribution to my spirituality and prayer life. His method of writing, his journey and sharing
… the articulation of his faith story profoundly affected and challenged me.”
During her years in Grand Island she helped begin the Search Retreat for students out of high school. Her moth-
er lived there with her also, but when her mother’s health began to decline she moved back to Salina. She worked at Sacred Heart High School for one year. She missed the support of her previous years and took a part-time position
in pastoral care at St. John’s Hospital. This worked out well. Her mother passed in 1990.
Another new experience in the Church now was “Certification in Pastoral Care” and she applied for the CPE
program in Wichita. Later she wrote, “This pastoral care ministry has become very meaningful for me. I plan to
continue after the CPE Program in Wichita.”
Everywhere she went she had appreciation for nature which she called a gift. About her love for nature she
wrote: “The pasture is rich with hills, vast open spaces, bright and fragrant. The pasture is what my beloved is to
me. I walk alone. Solitude nourishes my spirit and gives me opportunity to be or rest in God’s love. I am alone with
God, the Creator of my being. In nature my heart is opened to His love. The presence of love within the ordinary
events of life, like a walk in the pasture fuels and energizes my spirit to spread His love.”
It was not unusual to see a dog accompanying her on these walks.
I think in these last years, if she had been able, she would be quoting Pope Francis, his book “Laudate Si” and his
love for all of creation much like she quoted Thomas Merton on Solitude.
Many people believe that eternal life begins at death. In reality it begins with our Baptism. In a reflection that
Margaret wrote on the occasion of her 50th Jubilee she says: “God calls us to be in touch with our center, the still point, the God within. We each hear that call within our lives. In that call we realize that our ministry is the expres-
sion of who we are. The journey of each of us is to find that depth … to find God at the center of our life.”
For nieces and nephews, and all of Margaret’s friends, you will find that Sister Margaret’s love for you will be a
deeper and fuller love that is enriched by God’s own love and direction for you. Death does not separate us but
deepens our union with God and with one another.
“Live out your life with one desire only:
to be always what God wants you to be,
In nature, grace and glory
for time and eternity.” Maxim 73
Memorials for Sister Margaret Jilka may be given to the Sisters of St. Joseph Health Care/ Retirement Fund or the Apostolic Works of the Sisters; P.O Box 279, Concordia, KS 66901.
To make an online donation in Sister Margaret Jilka’s memory, click on the button below: