Sister Margaret Gannon, IHM

Sister Margaret Gannon, IHM, (formerly known as Sister M. Anina) of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary died on Friday, October 14, 2022 at Our Lady of Peace Residence in Scranton, PA.

Sister Margaret was born on June 2, 1937, in Brooklyn, NY, and given the name Margaret Philomena. She was the daughter of the late John and Josephine Cassidy Gannon. Sister entered the IHM Congregation on February 2, 1956 and made her temporary profession of vows on August 5, 1958 and her final profession of vows on August 15, 1963.  Sister Margaret received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history/English from Marywood College, a Master of Arts degree in history and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in history, both from St. John’s University.

Sister Margaret served as a teacher at the following schools: Holy Angels Elementary School in Pittsburgh, PA from 1958 to 1959; Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Elementary School in Forest Hills, NY from 1959 to 1964; and St. Joseph’s High School in Williamsport, PA from 1964 to 1965. 

Sister served on the faculty in the Department of Social Sciences at Marywood University for forty-seven years, retiring in 2014. During her tenure she was professor of history; coordinator of diversity efforts; visiting professor at the Takasaki Art Centre College in Takasaki, Japan; dean of the Undergraduate School for Women; chair of the Social Science Department; and founder of Marywood’s Women’s Studies Minor.

She was a member of the University’s distinguished order, Cor Mariae-Pro Fide et Cultura, a distinction of esteem and appreciation awarded for her faithful, full-time faculty service.

Sister Margaret has served as teacher, consultant, and member of the board of directors for ASEC (African Sisters Education Collaborative) from 1999 until 2021. She also served as historian for the IHM Congregation, having published several books on congregation history.

Since 1967 Sister Margaret has educated countless students, empowered women religious in Africa, promoted cultural diversity, global justice, and world peace, and actively advocated for solutions to world hunger and the prevention of human trafficking. She was a champion of the poor, the marginalized, and the forgotten. The key to a successful society, she believed, is to educate as many students as possible with a values-based liberal arts education grounded in responsible social action and service.

Following her retirement from Marywood, Sister Margaret served as a refugee resettlement volunteer at Catholic Social Services in Scranton, PA from 2014 to 2017. In addition, she was member of the board of directors of the United Neighborhood Center of Lackawanna County and was also the founder and former director of the Theresa Maxis Center for Justice and Peace.

From 2021 until the time of her death, Sister Margaret was a prayer minister at Our Lady of Peace Residence in Scranton.     

She is preceded in death by two brothers, John and James; and a sister, Eileen.

She is survived by two brothers, Gerard of Florham Park, NJ; and Robert of Bradenton, FL; nieces and nephews; grandnieces and grandnephews. She is also survived by the members of the IHM Congregation.

A prayer of remembrance will be held Wednesday, October 19 at 1:00 p.m. with a memorial mass following at 2:00 p.m. at the IHM Center, 1512 University Avenue, Dunmore, PA 18509. Interment will be at a later date at St. Catherine’s Cemetery in Moscow, PA.

Memorial contributions may be made to support the retired IHM Sisters c/o the IHM Sisters Retirement Fund, IHM Center, 2300 Adams Avenue, Scranton, PA 18509.

Prayer of remembrance and memorial mass:

Sister Margaret Gannon, IHM,  Memorial Mass - Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Reflection given by Sister Mary Persico, IHM,  Marywood University President

It was Saturday, May 13, 1967, at about 2:00 in the afternoon. I was on the second floor of the Marywood College Library, which was located in the Liberal Arts Building off the Rotunda. There was one other person in the vicinity, who was quick to ask me my name and tell me hers, Sister Anina. She was doing research for her doctoral dissertation, which was entitled The influence of the Permanent Mandates Commission in the administration of the class A mandate. I still don’t know what that means. We began to talk until we were shushed by the librarian, and so we moved to Sister Nazarene’s office, which was on a landing of that same building. Today that office location would be considered a serious fire hazard. We talked for four hours until dinner time and promised to meet again. That afternoon changed the trajectory of my life.

And that conversation – alternately light-hearted, prayerful, thoughtful, searing, personal, and caring - continued for 55 years and five months to the day. Throughout decades of ministry, congregation events, personal and family experiences, and all that goes into a lifetime, at each encounter, the conversation picked up where it left off, and on last Thursday, October 13, at about 9:30 in the evening, it came to its conclusion. All those words of that first encounter many years ago were no longer necessary. This time it was a brief, loving exchange. Words, superfluous, were few, but they were enough.

I tell you this story knowing full well that many people here and elsewhere have a similar story about the person whose life we celebrate today. Margaret’s love for people was all encompassing. Sheryl Sochoka, an Associate and a member of the Marywood staff, in a posting on Facebook, referred to Margaret as fierce. She was fierce, fierce in her loyalty to her dear friend, Dorothy, to her family – her mother and her sister, Eileen while she was still living, her brother Bob and his wife Ann, her brother Jerry and his wife Mary, and their children; she was fierce in her loyalty to her Sisters in our IHM Congregation and particularly, to the Sisters in Shalom Community. She was fierce in her loyalty to the many faculty, staff, alumni, and her students whose lives she touched for nearly five decades at Marywood University.

Margaret believed beyond any shadow of a doubt that she was loved by a compassionate and just God. That belief compelled her to be relentless in her advocacy for all persons who are poor and hungry, homeless and marginalized in any way, for people who deserve to be lifted up by the power of education, and for the healing of earth. Shortly after I met Margaret, we began going to the migrant worker camps north of Scranton in the evenings. I immediately realized that for her this was not a service project, not simply a humanitarian thing to do on a Tuesday evening. It was the essence of life. She somehow sensed people’s anguish, their pain, their sorrow. She was relentless in her belief that there is no “other.” We are one human family who all deserve to feel God’s love the way she felt it, and she was tireless in her desire to give people what they needed to experience God’s love through her. 

Margaret’s commitment to the African Sisters Education Collaborative can never be minimized. From the very moment the idea was conceived and the process begun by the founders in 1999, she was all in. It was nothing for her to go to a country in sub-Saharan Africa. Because when she arrived there, whether alone, with colleagues or students, she was dauntless in her pursuit of giving Sisters the tools they needed to become professional, educated, skilled, and competent workers in the service of their people. When she was among the African people, she reverenced their way of life and appreciated the culture and traditions that animated their spirit. There was no worry about mosquito netting, cold water in the shower, intermittent electricity. There was only the desire to raise people up, because for her there was no “other.” We are one human family.

When Sister Draru, the Executive Director of the African Sisters Education Collaborative, wrote to the Board and supporters of ASEC about Margaret’s death, she referred to her as our “icon.” A person who is characterized as an icon influences and inspires others. Most people who knew and shared life with Margaret will tell stories of the wisdom she imparted, humbly and simply, in the ordinary comings and goings of life. It wasn’t unusual for her to interject a wise thought that seemed to come out of nowhere but then left a lasting impression.

Margaret’s wisdom was enhanced by her humanness. And her humanness was attractive. She loved the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay, playfully recited the prayer to St. Thomas Aquinas - in its entirely - every year on January 28. She ate dark and not milk chocolate and thought that left-handedness opened one up to all kinds of secret psychological insights, only kidding. If you want to know how Margaret’s wisdom interplayed with her humanness, read the myriad comments posted on Facebook. You will conclude - she inspired, influenced, attracted, loved, and touched the lives of countless people.

Last Monday, I visited Margaret and she was sitting at her desk in front of her computer. A bit incredulous, knowing her physical condition, I asked: “What are you doing.” She answered that she was deleting her emails and added: “They want either my money, and I have none, or my vote, which I have already sent.” That vote was her last bid at standing in solidarity with people in need but what’s more, it gives just a little bit of credibility to the time-honored Dunmorian legend that people from this town vote from the grave.

To conclude:

  • Margaret was fierce in her loyalty – to all of us.
  • She was relentless in her advocacy for anyone who sought justice, equity, and a sense of belonging.
  • She was wise because she owned her humanness.
  • She knew the love of a God who called out to her:
  • Margaret, When I was hungry, you gave me to eat;

                  When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink;

                  When I was homeless, you opened your door;

                  When I was naked, you gave me your coat;

                  When I was weary, you helped me find rest;

                  When I was anxious, you calmed all my fears;

                  Whatever you did to my sisters and brothers, you did to me.    

                  Now, Margaret, come home.