Sr. Margaret Usuka, SNDdeN, (1926-2018) remembered for artistic passion, ability to reach out to different cultures

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Sr. Margaret Usuka, SNDdeN
  • Born: Nov. 13, 1926
  • Vows:
    • (First): Jan. 24, 1948
    • (Solemn): Aug. 13, 1953
  • Service in the Diocese of Phoenix:
    • 1977-78: Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Glendale
    • 1996-98: Fort McDowell Yavapai Tribal Library, Mesa
  • Died: March 5, 2018
  • Memorials:  Retirement Fund of the Sisters of Notre Dame, 701 E. Columbia Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45215 or

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Sr. Margaret Usuka, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Glendale in the late 1970s, died March 21 at the age of 91.

Born Nov. 13, 1926 in Williamstown, Pennsylvania, to Czechoslovakian immigrants, she was one of 11 children — six daughters and five sons.

Sr. Margaret entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur July 16, 1945 at Mount Notre Dame in Cincinnati and took the religious name “Sr. Ignatius.” She professed simple vows Jan. 24, 1948 and solemn vows Aug. 13, 1953. She returned to her baptismal name after the Second Vatican Council.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, in 1958 and a Master of Arts from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in 1965.

Sr. Nancy Wellmeier, SNDdeN, who serves with another sister at Centro de Educación Santa Julia — a ministry that teaches English as a second language and citizenship classes in Mesa — first spent a significant amount of time with Sr. Margaret after she professed solemn vows in 1965. The two taught eighth grade together at St. Helen Parish School in Dayton.

“Basically, she taught me to teach,” said Sr. Nancy, who also teaches at the Diocese of Phoenix’s Kino Catechetical Institute. She looked up to the older sister as a “mentor and as an inspiration to reach out to people of other cultures, which she did her whole life.”

In Arizona, Sr. Margaret served as principal at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Schoool from 1977 to 1978. She returned to Arizona in 1996 when she served as an assistant librarian at the Fort McDowell Yavapai Tribal Library in Mesa until 1998.

Sr. Margaret also served as a teacher and a servant of the poor in Cincinnati and other Ohio cities, Chicago, Utah, Alaska and Kenya. Her artistic abilities and her openness to various cultures enabled her to become one with the people, read her obituary. Helping people was her main purpose in each of her ministries.

Sr. Nancy, who currently lives in the same house Sr. Margaret lived in when she served in Arizona, recalled that Sr. Margaret loved art and was both a sculptor and a painter.

“She left artwork in churches in Kenya,” Sr. Nancy said. “I’ve seen her wall murals in Kenya.”

Though they never served together again, Sr. Nancy continued to maintain a friendship with her mentor and corresponded with her frequently and visiting her in the Sisters’ mother house in Cincinnati towards the end of her life.

“Last time I was at the mother house in March, I knew I would not see her again, so I said goodbye and she died 10 days later,” Sr. Nancy said. “She of course had a deep faith. I asked her what she was thinking about, and she said, ‘Just thinking about what’s going to happen next.’ I could tell she was expecting good things in the next life, at the very least.”

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are an international congregation founded in Amiens, France in 1804. In 2015, they celebrated their 175th year in the U.S. and their role in helping to shape the Catholic education system in the country. Today, more than 1,300 Sisters of Notre Dame serve across the U.S. and in Belgium, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Great Britain, Haiti, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa, South Sudan and Zimbabwe.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur change lives by making known God’s goodness. Throughout the world, they are committed to education and take a stand with poor people, especially women and children in the most abandoned places. In addition to Centro de Educación Santa Julia, the Sisters’ service in the Diocese of Phoenix includes St. Matthew Parish and School and the diocesan prison ministry.