Her compassion led her to minister to poor women in Chicago and in various prisons, where she heard heartbreaking stories that filled her with passion to raise the status of women both in civil society and in the church.
Those of us who knew her recognized her strong opinions as both a challenge and a desire for dialogue on difficult issues, particularly relating to a New York Times ad during the presidential election in 1984.
Other School Sisters of Notre Dame have been inspired by her love for the poor. Some were frightened by her audacity. But most saw in this passionate woman a champion of the voiceless, especially poor women.
This desire for dialogue reminded the author of the first time she heard Margaret Ellen speak at a conference for sisters in Chicago . It was 1969 and the first two speakers, both soft-spoken Roman Catholic sisters, addressed the topics of “prayer” and “personality.” Margaret’s topic was “power.” When her turn came, she took the microphone and literally shouted into the mike, “Power!” Everyone was jolted by her shout and her presentation!
In 1997, Margaret Ellen was invited to address the General Chapter of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. In comments following her presentation someone asked for Margaret’s forgiveness if she had ever been hurt by criticism from her own sisters. Her answer indicates her love for her sisters and their regard for her remarkable and controversial life. This indomitable spirit was present until a stroke paralyzed her in 2000. She died February 12, 2002 , at the SSND retirement home in Mankato , MN .
The archivists at Marquette University asked Margaret Ellen Traxler if they could preserve her documents to show the role of the Catholic Church in social justice issues. Among the Catholics chosen by Marquette , she joins Dorothy Day, Jessica Powers, and J.R.Tolkien. The author found her archival material a record of Catholic involvement in the major social issues of the 20 th century.
A letter sent by Mother Georgianne Segner, General Superior, was found among Margaret’s archival material. It is an example of the ongoing support of SSND leadership. Another letter recalls Margaret’s communication with her provincial superior, Maureen Murray.
Her letters form a consistent desire to dialogue and clarify ideas in order to enhance understanding and build community. She was a thorn in the side of some hierarchical church leaders and bold in her assertion of the truth. When one disagreed with her, it was difficult to match her quick mind. She passionately named data and first person accounts of those who had suffered injustice. And sometimes the twinkle in her eyes let you know that she was just enjoying the game of “matching wits” with anyone who would have a serious conversation with her.
Her family, especially her sister, Jean Smith, contributed family photos to this topic, as well as stories of their feisty, fearless sister. And those of us in her SSND family are missing her questions, challenging comments, and ability to integrate ideas. She was dear to many, feared by some, and challenged us to live the Gospel with courage.