Sister Margaret (Peggy) Nichols, CSJ

(Sister Jean Matthew)

February 11, 1938  – November 9, 2023

We Remember Her
In the rustling of the leaves
And in the beauty of autumn

 

Our first reading from Isaiah reminds us that God takes us by the hand and makes a covenant with each one of us. Through the years, Sister Peggy Nichols ministered in a great variety of ways and places, but she always was confident that God was leading her in these varied pathways. She knew so well that God held her hand during all those years of ministry, and especially during these past few years as she waited patiently for her time to join her God!

Margaret Ann Nichols was born on February 1, 1938, to Charles and Alice McMahon Nichols. I always knew that Peggy was born in Maine, but I was stunned to realize that it was in Lewiston that she was born. I’ll bet she is offering comfort to those who died in the recent tragedy in Lewiston.

Jack was the oldest in the family, then Peggy, Mary Lou, and Charles, and several years later, her brother Henry. After some years in Portland, Maine, the family moved to Milton. They were a close family who grew up very involved and committed to their church and their faith.

After graduation from St. Gregory High School, Peggy chose to attend Regis College, where she met the Sisters of St. Joseph. During these high school and college years, Peggy began her ministry “to be a light to others, to open eyes and to free those who live in darkness,” a paraphrase of our first reading. By the age of 20, Peggy had written a book, entitled, “Teenager to Teenager.” She also wrote a weekly article in the Pilot, entitled, “Youth Speaks…” and she received the Outstanding Catholic Youth of America Award given by the National Conference of Catholic Youth. She was a member of her parish Youth Council, as well as the Archdiocesan Youth Council. Obviously, Leadership came naturally to Peggy.

In 1959, soon after graduation from Regis College, Margaret Ann entered the Sisters of St. Joseph and received the religious name, Sister Jean Matthew. While teaching at St. Catherine School in Norwood and Matignon, Peggy received her master’s degree in counseling. This degree, combined with other studies in Theology and Psychology, prepared her for the extremely varied ministries that she undertook in the next 37 years. These ministries included: Guidance Counselor at Cardinal Spellman High School, Director of Academics and Field Education for the African Missionary Fathers, Executive Director of the Religious Formation Conference in Washington D.C., Executive Director of the Ministry Development Center in Newton, and Chaplain of Spiritual Life Center at Bentley College. When called to Congregation Leadership as Area Councilor in 2000, Peggy responded as always with a generous heart and total commitment.  Following that, she was director of our associates until she needed to transition to Framingham, first to St. Joseph Hall, and then to Bethany Health Care Center. As a Sister of St. Joseph, Peggy believed that relationship was at the heart of the mission. All of these ministries called forth Sister Peggy’s commitment to helping people, her willingness to give of her time and energy to make things easier for others, to build these relationships, and to be a mentor for others.  Strengthened by her personal prayer life, Peggy knew herself to be Chosen by God, to be a covenant with all people, to be a Light for the Nations, a call that you will hear in our first reading.

She brought her skills to everything that she did. She was a gifted writer and made use of this gift writing articles, proofreading, assembling our Associate Formation manual, and assisting sisters with resumés. Peggy was a woman who believed strongly in the giftedness of others, thus enabling those with whom she worked, whether it was an associate, a college student, a priest from the African Missionaries, or a sister in our congregation to develop their own gifts and talents.  Her vision and wisdom enabled her to plan effectively and competently for the future.

Peggy was willing to step up to new experiences in life and address the challenges that she faced. During her days with the African Missionaries, she went to Africa, opening up a whole new world for her. Her experience with the Sister Formation Conference brought her around the country, listening and supporting the religious communities in the 1980s, a critical time for formation of Religious Congregations.  And of course, many of you will remember her fall in the early 2000s when she badly damaged her right arm. New to the Congregation Leadership Team, she responded with courage and perseverance – teaching herself to write with her left hand, never letting this interfere with her responsibilities to individual sisters or to the Congregation.  She continued to be a listening and caring presence to all whom she met, both while she was Area Councilor and then when she went on to be the Director of Associates. Both ministries called her to journey with others, deepening their relationship with God and with one another.   She valued her vocation and was grateful each day for those with whom she shared this commitment.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, blessed are those who have needs, blessed are those who are less fortunate. The words of our Gospel today were very much a part of Sister Peggy’s life. Her desire was to make life better for others. Perhaps, it was using her writing skills, her ability to help someone get a job because she helped with their resume, her vision as Director of programs, her dedication to the Gospel message, or her presence in the lives of others. Whatever it was, Peggy truly believed:

• It’s not what you do – but how you do it.

• It’s not what you see, but how you see it.

• It’s not what you say, or what you achieve,

• But it is the presence, the presence that you are, the way you share God’s presence.

Beyond her ministry, Peggy cherished her family. How often she told stories of them, her parents, her two brothers and their lives as priests, her married sister and brother, and their families! Peggy was devoted to them and loved to hear stories of their lives and to spend time with them. Many pictures of their lives filled her room. And Peggy loved to travel, with her friend Regina, with her brothers, with friends. It was a time to be enriched in order to enrich the lives of others.

The quote from our constitution on the front of your program says that “We fulfill our mission of unity through a diversity of ministries called forth by the ever-changing needs of the Church and the world.  Thank you, Sister Margaret Ann – Sister Peggy Nichols for the ways that you lived our mission of unity, amidst all types of diversity, every day of your life.

Given By Mary Ellen O’Connell, CSJ
November 15, 2023