Article by Fr. James Mason, C.Ss.R.
In the small mining town of Deloro northeast of Marmora, Ontario, Margaret Reid was born to Thomas James Reid and Mary Gillen Reid on March 8, 1921. The second of three girls and one boy, Margaret had not begun to walk before the family moved to Milton, Ontario, northwest of Toronto. Thomas and Mary bought a farm there and from there all four of the Reid children went forth. Mary married and had a family of six, Tom became a pilot with Air Canada and Anne married, had four children of her own and an adopted child. The oldest three Reids attended a nearby one room school before going on to Milton High School.
Margaret herself headed off to the University of Toronto, interested in nursing or teaching. Not being able to take nursing training there in the usual setting of a hospital, nor teaching as she wished, she turned to mathematics and took the course in Commerce and Finance.
So it was that Margaret, after graduation in 1942, landed a job in Ottawa working for the Federal Government’s Wartime Price and Trade Board. This government arm regulated all commodity and food prices in the country. It also handed out those little booklets of ration coupons needed to buy certain food items. One or two coupons could get you something like a pound of butter a week, or two pounds of white sugar every two weeks or a pound of tea once a month providing they were available for sale and you had the money to buy them. Eggs came free if you raised your own chickens.
Becoming rather emotionally upset after the sudden death of her father in January 1945, she left the job at WP&TB and signed with the CWACs – the Canadian Women’s Army Corps – and was stationed in Halifax. She mainly worked with the young women recruits in introducing them into the peace time army and life in the barracks. But soon the CWACs were disbanded and Margaret was out of work.
However the army, at that time, offered subsidies to all dischargees for a chance to further their education. Margaret made her way back to the University of Toronto and took her Masters in Social Work. After graduating she worked for three years with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
In her regular confessions the priest might ask her if she ever thought about the religious life, of becoming a sister, and many times she asked herself the same question: “Lord what do You want me to do?” Recall these were the glory days of vocations to the religious life when many young men and women answered the call. At the time Margaret had a friend who was a Redemptoristine. Her friend encouraged her to apply to Barrie, (the Redemptoristine Monastery of the Most Holy Redeemer in Barrie). The Redemptoristines are a cloistered order where one’s life is given over to prayer, meditation and periods of quiet and some common exercises. They dedicate their lives for the good of all God’s people, especially the most abandoned. The year was 1952 when she entered as a postulant, and in 1954 she made her first vows.
But life in the monastery was not all prayer and meditation. The Nuns needed work in order to support themselves. They did this by making habits for the Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers and by creating beautifully decorated Gothic and Roman Mass vestments. They grew most of their own food in their large vegetable gardens. It was there, with hands covered in the cool earth, that Sister Margaret experienced some of her best meditations and offered her best prayers.
The Redemptoristines were founded by Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa and St. Alphonsus Liguori who also gave them their rule of life. Other Redemptorist saints like Clement and Gerard, along with many of the great spiritual and mystical writers and saints in the Christian tradition were their guides.
The story line on the Redemptoristines in English Canada, since they arrived from England in 1947, could be written Nuns on the Move. The first two years they lived in Toronto in the former Redemptorist Juvenate on St.George St. In 1949 they moved to Barrie. After 12 years in Barrie they were bursting at the seams, even though they had sent forth three founding groups of Sisters to begin new monasteries outside of Canada. One group of six settled in Esopus, N.Y., next to the Redemptorist seminary. Another eight went to Liguori, Missouri and settled on the grounds of Liguori Publications which, among many things, publishes the popular Liguorian magazine. Still another four set off for Australia. Yet, the Barrie community needed more room and in 1969 they moved to Keswick, ON, on Lake Simcoe, into the newly vacated novitiate of the Redemptorists, then just six years old. This building was too big and difficult and expensive to maintain. It was sold by the Redemptorists to the Township of Georgina and became the local county offices. The Sisters moved to Toronto and into the Sisters of St Joseph’s Morrow Park Mother House. There they had a section of their own. In 1972, after a long and tedious search, the Sisters put down roots for good, they believed, in Fort Erie, Ontario, across the street from the swiftly flowing Niagara River that soon cascaded over the Great Falls.
When the Redemptoristines came to Canada in 1947 it was with the proviso from Cardinal McGuigan that the Redemptorists would be their sponsors and guardians as much as needed. The names of many Redemptorists who filled this role are found in their annals – Fathers John Lockwood, Klen Johnson, and Tom O’Brien – just three among many. And there is hardly a Redemptorist who lived in that era who did not give a retreat or Forty Hours to the Sisters.
In 1969, Margaret volunteered to go to Vienna to be a member of that Redemptoristine Community. There she learned to speak and read a little German. In 1976 she returned to Canada and, in the midst of the changes taking place after Vatican II, took a leave of absence and joined Bishop Fergus O’Grady’s Frontier Apostolate in Northern British Columbia. In 1980 she decided to go back to Vienna, then returned to Fort Erie when the Vienna Monastery closed in 1989. In 1993 she went to Esopus to work on the newly-formed Viva Memoria Commission. After a second term in Esopus, she moved in 1999, with the Commission, to Landser in France, returning to Fort Erie in 2002.
All this international exposure has enlivened Margaret’s interest and joy in many different spiritualities and cultures. In 2009 the monastery in Fort Erie closed its doors and Margaret returned, 57 years later, to Toronto where her journey first began. Today she is living happily at St. Bernard’s Residence in Toronto with two other Redemptoristines, Sister Pearl Mutter and Sister Mary Cecilia Romard, anticipating her 91st birthday. This past October she was among the more than two dozen Redemptorists and lay people making a five-day retreat centered on the spirituality of St. John Neumann, CSsR, at Queen of the Apostles Retreat Centre in Mississauga, ON.