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Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph

Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph

Loving God and neighbor without distinction: A pontifical institute of women religious of the Roman Catholic Church

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Eulogy for Sister Margaret Nacke

November 15, 1933 – March 30, 2024

by Sister Faye Huelsman

We reflect with gratitude on S. Margaret Nacke’s life among us as a Sister of St. Joseph, as well as her family and the many people she has influenced. Margaret’s life was one of creativity -in the widest sense. It was one of enthusiasm, energy, and a life lived” giving of self in a great act of love.” (As Maxim 16 says, and I paraphrase,” In everything and everywhere, have only God before your eyes”).

Margaret was born on November 15, 1933, in Hebron, Neb., and baptized in Sacred Heart Church.  Margaret wrote:” My mother, born in Seneca, KS, and my dad in West Point, IA, were great models to me and my four sisters, Mary, Annabelle, Elizabeth, and Geraldine, and two brothers, Charles (a pilot lost in Philippine waters during WW’11) and Albert J. (Fr. Xavier, a Benedictine priest). We had lively table discussions, often on politics.”
Margaret is survived by one sister, Betty Mahoney, and her brother, Fr. Xavier.

Margaret also wrote:” I wonder if most of my life has not been running – not from but to.”  She explains,” I lost an eye at the age of two because I was running with a sharp pencil in my hand.”  From then on, she has been a runner: running through school with” fun and laughter” (her prime words) and running through many ministries. But this simply means she entered into her ministries with pizazz, focus, creativity, and a never-ending search for a new horizon, always with a spirit fed by God from her earliest years.

Her first introduction to the Sisters of St. Joseph was when she and a sixth-grade friend visited Marymount College for a weekend.  She states that the gregariousness of the MM sisters was appealing to her. She contrasted them to the very discipline-expecting sisters who were teaching her in Hebron. Later, she reflected that grade school discipline was very different from college expectations.  It may also have been because Margaret’s name seemed permanently etched on the blackboards for’ talking.’ Later, she indicated that she had more appreciation for those teachers – as they were superb teachers. 

After graduating high school, Margaret attended MM College in Salina, Kansas. Prior to her junior year in college, in 1953, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph. 

Margaret had been in the community for perhaps eight months when this incident happened. The superior of her group often walked with this group, and one day, they walked by an open grave that had just been dug. Margaret evidently had an idea.  She dared S. Pat Lewter to jump in the grave.  Pat jumped in unbeknownst to her superior and the rest of the sisters.  The rest of the sisters continued their walk, leaving Pat in the grave. Later, the superior asked where S. Pat was and made them all return to the cemetery. There was S. Pat jumping up and down and yelling” Help” 6 feet down and unable to get out. The superior did not think it was funny and told the Sisters” to get her out of there.”  I think Margaret was guilty of other such activities. This is the Mischievous part of her.

After the initial years of formation,  Margaret was sent to Los Angeles to study silk screening with the famous artist S. Corita Kent. Margaret finished her BA in Art from MM and then was assigned to teach various grades from first to High School.

Later, she completed a master’s degree in Fine Arts in Sculpture at Catholic University. During the final months of securing the MFA, she says she would carve all day on her final project and study in the evenings. Her project was to carve a statue of St. Joseph made of paraqueeze wood from Brazil. She says the wood was a gift from God because a woman offered her and others a ride through the city and had told them about this Brazilian wood that had been left in the attic of her aunt. It had been brought to this country at the turn of the century. You can see the beautiful carving standing in our Heritage Room off the Chapel entrance.

Margaret taught art at MM from 1965 to 1976 and became chair of the Art Department. She also organized tours to Europe and throughout the US to study the art centers of European art. During those years, she also established and chaired the Division of Continuing Education. 

When Margaret wasn’t teaching during the summer months at MM, she spent time at a Benedictine Monastery. For three summers, she was director of Beacon Lodge Camp for the Blind in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mts, where many blind from PA and NY came for a two-week vacation. She states that being partially blind from the age of 2 years, she had a sensitivity for those who could not see.”

In the years after Vatican 11, there were many profuse changes in the Church and Community. This led Margaret and Mary Savoie to make a change in ministry and resign from MM.  They had become interested in how adults learn. Following this interest, they went to Canada and received Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Adult Life Transitions in Toronto, Canada.

Returning to Concordia, Margaret and  Mary Savoie established the Life Planning and Resource Center. They facilitated numerous workshops in North America for Sisters leaving teaching and nursing and looking for other ministry options. 

In 1984, Margaret and Mary moved to Kansas City to establish a Pallotti Center, which involved promoting volunteerism in a 
5 -state area and raising funds for the program.  

During these years, they served on many boards. They traveled to many parts of the world with the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, seeing firsthand the poverty situations and monitoring the work of volunteers.

Also, while in Kansas City, Margaret volunteered at a house for abused women, which gave her an insight into the victimization of women, and it moved her to write the book Interrupting Domestic Violence.

In 1992, Margaret learned that the US Bishops were asking for volunteers to help rebuild the church in Eastern Europe. This was after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She and Mary Savoie volunteered and were assigned to develop a curriculum of the first Catholic nursing school in Romania.  They raised considerable funds for Sisters who were returning to Romania and had lost all of their properties. 

She raised funds for Sisters to learn to use computers and the Internet. During the years that they worked with Sisters, they heard many stories from Sisters about life under communist rule.  This led them to research the issue in other Eastern European countries and ask those Sisters to interview other Sisters who lived under communism. The result was to produce a documentary, Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism. It has been seen in many parts of the world. Margaret also documents the oppression of Eastern European sisters in  Bearers of Faith: Undaunted Courage of Catholic Sisters. 

Research from this era and most of the countries where Margaret and Mary were involved is archived at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Margaret also created an exhibit of 15 photographs of Sisters who lived under communism, called Faces of Faith, that may be seen at CTU. This describes only a small part of the work that S. Margaret initiated throughout her life.

Margaret and Mary moved to Belleville, Kansas, in 2007 and ministered in Belleville, Cuba, and Munden parishes. They also became interested in Human Trafficking. After educating themselves in this criminal activity, Margaret gave many talks on the subject. She initiated a research project in 2013, Bakhita Initiative: US. Catholic Sisters United Against Human Trafficking – to create a database comprised of resources from Sisters working in this area. This group changed its name in 2023 to Alliance to End Human Trafficking. At a Gala on March 25, 2023, in Cleveland, Ohio,  Margaret received the Radical Abolitionist Liberator Award for her anti-trafficking work.

In 2018, Margaret and Mary moved to Hebron, NE, to take care of Margaret’s sister, Mary.  While in Hebron, Margaret gave many talks on Human Trafficking and organized a group of women from the three dioceses in the state who worked along the I-80 Corridor.

In 2021, Margaret and Mary moved to the Motherhouse.   Until the last few months, Margaret continued her work on human trafficking, making connections and continuously thinking up ways to get the word out.
She sent information to many parishes for their bulletins. She sent information pamphlets to women’s prisons on trafficking because this is a vulnerable group.

In Margaret’s last reflection, she sums up her life in this way:
” I spent time in the art world from early childhood through my years at Marymount, but I felt I used my gift of creativity in many ways during my lifetime, especially in initiating programs of systemic worth. My facilitation of workshops throughout the U.S., Canada, and Eastern Europe helped sisters in many parts of the world with their apostolic needs by teaching the art of grant writing and also insights into the Gospel Call to Servant Leadership.  A quotation from T.S. Eliot I like to reference:” Every age is a good age if you know what to do with it.”  

Perhaps Margaret knew what to do, whatever her age, and to do whatever God called her to do.

Sister Margaret Nacke died on Saturday, March 30, 2024.  We will miss her dearly.