Sister Mary Rae Higgins
Sister Mary Rae (Genevieve) Higgins, OSB, died on March 30 at St. Scholastica Monastery. She was in her 66th year of Benedictine monastic profession.
Born on Dec. 16, 1930, to Clinton and Genevieve LeBeau Higgins in Duluth, Mary Rae was one of a family of 12 children. Her strong Catholic upbringing and her many siblings contributed to her desire to live in a Benedictine community. She entered St. Scholastica Monastery on Sept. 8, 1948, made her first monastic profession on July 11, 1950, and professed her perpetual vows on July 11, 1953. She celebrated her silver jubilee in 1975, her golden jubilee in 2000, and her diamond jubilee in 2010.
Sister Mary Rae received her bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Scholastica and her master’s degree from St. Cloud State University in special education. Her teaching career spanned 42 years. She taught grade school in International Falls, Virginia, and Aitkin; in Crosby, where she was also principal; and at Our Lady of Victory in Minneapolis. She was a special education teacher at Brainerd State Hospital for one year before going to Washington, D.C., as teacher and prefect for mentally challenged girls for eight years.
After a year of a sabbatical in San Antonio, Texas, Sister Mary Rae taught at Holy Name School in Medina. She served in pastoral ministry at her home parish of Holy Family and St. Mary Star of the Sea in Duluth, and at St. Leo, which was merged with Blessed Sacrament and Immaculate Conception in Hibbing. While at Star of the Sea, Sister Mary Rae taught GED part-time in the Duluth County Jail.
Sister Mary Rae’s beautiful smile, compassionate heart, and boundless energy brought joy and hope to many who deeply needed it. When she retired and returned to the monastery in 2004, she continued to provide meaningful contact with others through spiritual direction and coordination of volunteers.
Sister Mary Rae was preceded in death by her parents, brothers “Butchie” (Lawrence Joseph), Don, and James, and sisters Susan Krier and Pat (Larry) Marlenga.
Besides the sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery and her beloved sister, Sister Barbara Higgins, she is survived by sisters Nancy (Chuck) Davidson, Irene Williams, and Bonnie (Mike) Tweedy, brother Wayne (Carol), many nieces and nephews, sisters-in-law Evelyn Higgins and Elaine Higgins, and many cousins and their children.
The wake service, morning prayer, and Mass of Christian Burial were held on April 7 at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at the St. Scholastica Monastery with Father Brian Schultz presiding. Memorials to St. Scholastica Monastery are preferred.
Sister Margaret James Laughlin
Sister Margaret James Laughlin, OSB, 96, died at St. Scholastica Monastery April 9. She was in her 75th year of Benedictine monastic profession.
Sister Margaret James (Kathleen) was born on May 25, 1920, in Iron Mountain, Michigan, to James and Margaret Dillon Laughlin. She was third of four children until age seven, when her parents became legal guardians of seven first cousins and they became a thriving family of 11 children. There was no Catholic elementary or high school in Iron Mountain, so Sister Margaret James graduated from Iron Mountain High School in 1937 and worked for a year as a clerical employee of the State of Michigan Old Age Assistance Bureau.
Sister Margaret James’ mother wanted each of her children to have at least one year in a Catholic school. Since a first cousin was enrolled in the College of St. Scholastica, Kathleen decided to enroll there in 1938. She found the college very satisfying, and in her third year of classes, she decided to enter the Benedictine community. Sister Margaret James completed her novitiate in 1941, professed first vows on July 11, 1942, and perpetual vows on July 11, 1945. She celebrated her silver jubilee in August 1967; her golden jubilee on July 28, 1992; and her diamond jubilees in 2002 (60 years) and 2012 (70 years).
Sister Margaret James had a strong, quick, and disciplined intellect, which she exercised in all her community ministries, accompanied by her twinkling blue eyes and winning Irish smile. She completed her bachelor’s degree in history at the College of St. Scholastica and her master’s degree in education at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. From 1944 to 1949, she taught business courses at Cathedral Senior High in Duluth. She served as assistant principal to Father Hogan at Cathedral High School from 1951 to 1961; principal at Stanbrook Hall from 1961 to 1967; registrar at St. Scholastica from 1968 to 1976; and assistant to the president at St. Scholastica from 1976 to 1991. Former college president Dan Pilon remembered Sister Margaret James as the “college’s own Radar O’Reilly, with a downto- earth solution to any impossible problem.”
From 1991 to 2008, Sister Margaret James served as secretary and records coordinator for Monastery Development. In addition, she served 12 years on the St. Joseph Hospital board, and six years on the board of St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth. She was also a faithful member of monastery standing committees, including Long-Range Planning, the Committee on Committees, and Finance Committee. She served as chair of the Sesquimillenium (celebrating 1,500 years of the Benedictine Order), Self-Study/Visitation, Council Election, and Centennial Steering committees.
After Vatican II ended in 1966, the Catholic Church declared a 15 year period of experimentation, addressing old problems, including large group living, in new ways. One experiment was “small-group living.” In the fall of 1970, Sister Margaret James joined a small group of six sisters, including her blood sister, Sister Monica. The group was so successful that they shared more than 40 years of living together. Along with these six sisters came a series of dogs to make their home complete. Sister Margaret James loved those dogs dearly, along with gardening, watching Vikings games on television, and playing ping pong, cribbage, and Boggle. While she would not ever serve as cook, she kept financial records, handled snow blowing, and performed myriad other tasks encountered by the group with constant good will and Irish humor. She was truly a dedicated servant to her family, her community, her ministries, and her God.
Sister Margaret James was preceded in death by her parents, her brothers William and Thomas, her beloved sister, Sister Monica, and her seven cousins. Besides the sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery, she is survived by many nieces, nephews, and cousins. Her wake and Mass of Christian burial was held on April 22 in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at the St. Scholastica Monastery, with Father Tom Foster presiding. Interment is in Gethsemane Cemetery. Memorials to St. Scholastica Monastery are preferred.