Sister Mary Michael, died April 27, 1973 on Friday in Easter Week, just half an hour before the Easter Alleluias of Vespers. Her funeral Requiem was a joyous Resurrection celebration of a life filled with suffering and alleluias. How she loved to sing Alleluia!
Born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1886, Margaret Dunscombe attended our St. Mary's School for a year or two in New York City then graduated from the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry. After traveling for a few years with her family, she appeared one day in our guest house at Peekskill asking if she might be a Sister of St. Mary. She entered our novitiate and as Sister Mary Michael was professed in 1915.
Two years later Sister Mary Michael was one of the first four missionary Sisters sent out by the Community of St. Mary to the Igorot people of the Mountain Province of Luzon. Most of Sister's life, thereafter, except for short visits home to the Convent and a year or two at Sewanee and Valhalla, was spent as a missionary in the Philippines.
Sister Mary Olivia, who spent many years with her in Sagada, writes:
"Sister was an individualist and enjoyed being one. She alternately amused, impresssed, and inspired people. Her burning love of God was the secret of her success as a missionary. In her younger days she thought nothing of wading up to her knees through swollen streams in the rainy seasons to bring some child of God to baptism, and was the godmother of countless Igorots. She understood and spoke the Igorot dialect far better than most trained missionaries.
"Sister loved painting, but her real gift, which she kept hidden except from a few friends, lay in her beautiful religious poetry. She was a good teacher, though her methods were certainly not those of any other teacher of that time. After her health made it necessary for her to return to Peekskill, the Sisters still in Segada realized how helpful she had been to the sick and dying at St. Theodore's Hospital, and often used to say "If only Sister Mary Michael were here, she would know just what to say to help that person!" Her versatility and unexpectedness in her reactions made her a loving and amusing companion in our far off Sagada convent."
In 1964 Sister was crippled by advancing Parkinson's disease and arthritis, and moved into the Convent infirmary. A fractured hip and later, cancer, increased her physical pain but never diminished her wonderful, beaming smile nor her patience and good humor. During this time she suffered also from periods of terrible spiritual dereliction through which she came smiling, her faith strengthened, and her deep love and joy in God and others ever more visible. All who helped to take care of Sister Mary Michael loved her, enjoyed her fun, and learned what shining graces real patience and serenity of spirit are. Her life of prayer was an ever deepening relationship with God, and her dying too, was a consistent response to the Father.
"You it was dear God
who taught me to knock
on the door in the darkness,
and when it opened I looked
into the sweet eyes of Trust.
I placed both hands in her hands
and together we wandered
through the deeper darkness
of Faith, savoring touches
not known on earth, fingering
the curtain that hides the Face
-- written by Sister Mary Michael, CSM about 1970.