Margaret O’Toole, lovingly known as Peggy by her family, was born in Dublin to John and Mary O’Toole. She was the youngest of eight children and dearly loved by her family.
A happy, carefree childhood was marred for Margaret when she had a serious accident that could have led to the loss of her leg. At this time, the family lived in Tipperary, and the local doctor, fearing he may have to amputate the leg, approached the local convent and asked the Sisters to pray for guidance for him. Three successful surgeries and nine months later, Margaret was able to go home from hospital, her leg intact. To her dying day, Margaret gave thanks to God and the doctor for this miracle.
For the O’Toole family, the things of great importance were their closeness as a family, their faith in God, their outreach to others and their willingness to share what little they had. Daily praying of the rosary as a family was something that bound them more closely as a family, and enabled them to include the needs of others.
In 1952, Margaret, along with nine other young women, responded to the invitation to become missionaries to Australia, a land barely heard of and at the end of the earth.
The intrepid 10 young women left family and homeland for South Australia, on board the Strathmore, arriving in Melbourne five weeks later. On arrival in Adelaide in early November 1952 they joined the Cabra Dominican Sisters and spent the first two years in the novitiate at Mount Lofty, where everything was vastly different to Ireland: the climate, the clothes, the distance from home and reduced contact with family, to name a few of the challenges.
Following their reception into the order, along with a change of name and the wearing of the Dominican habit, Margaret trained as a teacher and for many years taught in primary schools where she discovered a spontaneity and openness to life in her students.
She also taught in secondary schools, in Adelaide and then for many years in Ringwood, Victoria. These were the days of novel events such as day excursions with students, weekend camps and retreats, and of course, the concerts. Margaret’s love for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas played a huge role in her education of secondary students.
In the early 80s, Margaret went to study at Fordham University. On her return from study, Margaret went to UniSA as a lecturer in theology and religious education, equipping young students to prepare them for a teaching career with Catholic Education SA.
During this time, she was often in demand to work with Catholic school staff teams to provide professional development in religious education, support for sacramental formation programs and staff reflection days. Very recently, Margaret reminisced on her days of teaching such students, and expressed the wish that she could still go out and do that.
In 1986, Margaret made the decision to leave the Dominicans and went to live with her family – May, Patty and Tony – who had emigrated to Australia several years earlier.
She maintained strong connections with her Dominican family and, with her family, would often welcome the Sisters to their home for special gatherings; until quite recently she continued to have great theological discussions and readings with close friends. The family home was a place of welcome, hospitality and friendship.
So, how might we attempt to capture some snapshots of Margaret?
We know that she was an intelligent woman with a passion for learning and broadening the horizons for herself, her students, her colleagues and her family and friends.
The very Dominican theme of educating the whole person in a life-long search for truth and meaning was reflected in her ministry.
She had the ability to instill in her students a love of learning and a search for meaning, and she herself pursued further study and completed her PhD in 1996. The focus of this study was on the presence of the Spirit in human experience, with a special focus on the experience of women.
Margaret was unafraid of raising consciousness in the Church at the local level of the equal dignity and worth of women.
She loved all that was beautiful, true and honourable. These qualities were evident in her appreciation for the arts, for creation, good literature, films, Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, and her own creativity. The simple joys of good meals and spirited conversations, often revolving around world issues, what was happening in Ireland, the war in Ukraine and the like, added to the quality of life she enjoyed.
Margaret was a woman of faith and found a spiritual home with her family in the parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at Henley Beach. Over the course of her many years in the parish, she contributed to the life of the parish in faith formation sessions, adult education, RCIA, and in proclaiming the Word at Mass – until quite recently.
The gift of family was central to Margaret. She maintained strong connections with the family in Ireland and delighted in regular calls from nieces and nephews. During the last few years, her devotion was focused on the care of her beloved sister Patty whom she regarded as her dearest friend and sister.
And so, we acknowledge our sorrow and celebrate the gift of Margaret and what she means to us. At the same time, we take delight in the goodness we experienced in our encounters with her, and we rejoice in the Lord for and with her.
– Kathy HoranJump to next article