Sister Margaret Turner

Written on: March 8, 2017

Sister Margaret TurnerSister Margaret Turner, GNSH, 89, formerly Sister St. George, died March 6, 2017 at St. Joseph’s Manor in the 71st year of her religious life.  Her ministry spanned fifty-six years in health related care in Kodiak, Alaska; Plattsburgh, Ogdensburg, and Buffalo, New York; and Yardley and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

During Sister Margaret’s funeral liturgy, the following words of remembrance were delivered by Sister Diane Bardol.

To a missionary, your professional work is almost secondary. What’s of primary importance is who you are while you deliver your service, or better still you, your service and the one you serve become one in a kind of dance, mutually sharing life, learning from each other.

This was Sister Margaret Turner or Sister St. George as she was lovingly known by her many good Kodiak friends. Margaret was down to earth, of the earth, sometimes short on patience, but quick to forgive and move on because she knew well the sacredness of the Earth of which we are made. She was an excellent amateur photographer who had an eye for capturing the spectacular beauty of Kodiak where she spent more than 21 years in three separate tours.

One of my favorite pictures is of Margaret holding up a huge king crab outside the old Griffin Memorial Hospital in Kodiak. There she was in her white nurse’s habit admiring that beautiful sea creature which, in a little while she would probably cook and butcher for a splendid dinner for many folks!

At other times you might find Margaret under the hospital fixing pipes either on her own or with the local plumber, or on the roof nailing down shingles in a wild wind storm. One of the patient’s at the hospital took that as Margaret’s hallmark greatness! Margaret’s growing up years in Gouverneur, NY prepared her well for not being afraid of tackling any kind of work.

Officially, however, Sister Margaret was a Cook, X-Ray and Laboratory Technician, Nurse and Home Maker. In her retiring years she drove for her Grey Nun Sisters and worked as Switchboard Operator and Receptionist.

Many of her active years were spent in colder climes, like Kodiak, Plattsburg, Ogdensburg and Buffalo. Her assignments included

  • Champlain Valley Hospital,
  • St Joseph’s Home,
  • A. Barton Hepburn Hospital and
  • Griffin Memorial Hospital in Kodiak.

Her first tour in Kodiak was in 1954 just ten years after the first Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart arrived. In Kodiak besides the usual causes for hospitalization, high on the list were accidents related to fishing and cannery work and alcoholism. Our Sisters, including Margaret, were among the first to recognize and treat alcoholism as a sickness, not a moral issue. Keeping in touch with those patients became a special sideline for Margaret. In her “pre-retirement” years, Margaret’s great joy was to return to Kodiak in the summer to fill in for vacationing staff at the Kodiak Senior Center. That was a great way to keep current with all the Kodiak comings and goings. By 2001 failing health and eye sight necessitated her retirement, to a ministry of prayer and receptionist at the Motherhouse for an additional 13 years.

Margaret entered the Grey Nuns in 1946 not only with her high school diploma, but thoroughly acquainted with running a household and doing the usual daily farm work – milking the cows, plowing fields and caring for the animals.

Margaret’s mother died when Margaret was about 10 and her sister, Diane, about 9 months old. A neighbor helped to care for Diane but eventually she was sent to live with an aunt and uncle who later adopted her. It was during those years that Margaret learned to cook and do the kitchen chores.

Margaret was baptized in the Methodist Church, but by a providential chain of events after her mother’s death, she found her way to the Catholic Church. One day when she was out driving with her father, he stopped to chat with someone and Margaret overheard the conversation which spoke ill of someone because she was Catholic. Margaret thought that’s an unfair judgement and determined not to be that way. Perhaps that was the first nudge that started Margaret on her mature faith journey.

Then listening to the Sacred Heart Hour every day in the summer while she was working around the house and on Sunday evenings listening to a radio program by the Graymoor Friars of Garrison, NY, she was becoming fertile soil for the seeds of faith to grow. She came into the Catholic Church as a high school student and asked the principal of the Morristown High School to be her confirmation sponsor because she recognized the genuineness of his faith.

A few days ago I called Dennis and Pat Murray who knew Sister Margaret in Kodiak to tell them of her death. Dennis said,

“She was so much a fabric of Kodiak. I feel privileged to have visited with her last spring”. 

Margaret and I had a special bond. It’s called Kodiak! Every visit with Margaret included going over the Kodiak Senior Citizens News Letter recalling the people and events we both knew. That was a very special time and I it miss already!

Remembering Margaret’s life, reveals the significance of every thread of life, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary. They all get woven together creating a wonder-filled tapestry of God’s providence and our cooperation.

Thanks, Margaret for weaving your life with ours.

Growing up in Northern New York, Sister Margaret attended Morristown Central High School for three years, but graduated from St. Mary’s Academy, Ogdensburg, NY in 1946 and entered the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart that year. She received an RN degree from Champlain Valley Hospital School of Nursing, Plattsburgh, NY in 1952, passing the State Boards that same year.

After earning her nursing degree, she worked at the Champlain Valley Hospital and at the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart Motherhouse Infirmary.  North Country assignments later included St Joseph’s Home and A. Barton Hepburn Hospital in Ogdensburg.

Second only to her love of the North Country, was her love of Kodiak, Alaska.   Missioned to Kodiak, Alaska for the first time in 1954 she served as cook, nurse, and laboratory and x-ray technician until 1967 at Griffin Memorial. After nursing for several years in Ogdensburg, NY and Yardley, PA, she returned to her beloved Kodiak in 1975.

A change in ministry in 1983 found her working as a Parish Visitor at St. Elizabeth Parish in Philadelphia, PA for a year and then as Assistant Resident Manager at the women’s halfway house operated by the Alcoholic Services of Erie County, in Buffalo, NY before returning once more to Kodiak in 1986. For two years she provided home care to senior citizens in Kodiak in a Catholic Charities Parish Ministry program.  Kodiak Senior Center employed her as home maker and home maker supervisor from 1988 until health considerations forced her to return to the Motherhouse in Yardley in 1991.

She took up service to her sisters, driving them to medical appointments or shopping trips, as well as serving as telephone operator and receptionist at the Motherhouse. During the next several years however, she returned to Alaska in the summers to fill in for vacationing staff at the Kodiak Senior Center.  By 2001 failing health necessitated her retirement, which included a ministry of prayer and receptionist for an additional 13 years. As her vision and cardiac problems increased, in 2015 she moved to St. Joseph Manor, Meadowbrook, PA for needed nursing care.

Margaret Jean Turner was born February 4, 1928 in Gouverneur, NY to Henry K and Julia Jones Turner.  In addition to her religious congregation she is survived by her sister, Diane L Ray and several cousins. Her parents and brother, Emmett K Turner, predeceased her.

The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 12:30 pm on Saturday March 11 at the Holy Redeemer Sisters Chapel, 521 Moredon Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Sister Margaret’s memory may be made online to the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, or by mail at the following address:14500 Bustleton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19116.

Funeral arrangements by Beck-Givnish Funeral Homes, Inc.

Sister shared her Memories of Ministry with us a few years ago. Read here

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