Celebrating the life of Sister Marguerite Buchanan, RSM
“There is life going on inside of us all the time which needs attention and nourishment.
It’s a soul life.”
– Sr. Marguerite Buchanan, RSM
Funeral Reflection Read on June 25, 2021
Sister Marguerite Buchanan, aka, Barbara de la Guerra Buchanan was born in Berkeley, California in 1932. She was the only daughter of Duncan and Margaret Buchanan and the sister of Duncan, Jr. and David Buchanan. Perhaps it was growing up in the Berkeley Hills, gazing at the vistas of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, that gave her an expansive vision of the possible.
Barbara’s father, a chemist, gained recognition for his invention of “Cats’ Eyes,” a familiar safety feature of high way lane design. He also mixed the paint for San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Her mother was related to one of early California’s prominent families, the Dunne’s, whose name is found on Hwy101, south of San Jose.
Barbara attended Holy Names High School in Oakland, California and there she grew in her appreciation and love of music, a love already nurtured in the Buchanan home. Upon graduation from Holy Names High, Barbara applied to St. Mary’s College of Nursing in San Francisco. However, before she completed her nursing qualification, Barbara took a life-changing detour to the Motherhouse and Novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in Burlingame, entering the Convent of Mercy on February 1, 1951.
Thus, began Sister Marguerite Buchanan’s Mercy Life, one that would be enriched by a lasting friendship with Sister Suzanne Toolan. Marguerite’s Mercy vocation took her from teaching science and religious studies at Mercy High San Francisco, to the principal’s office at Mercy High Burlingame (1969-75), the principal’s office at Mercy High San Francisco (1975-1980), to Development work for both Mercy High Schools in 1981 and, after a sabbatical year at the Center for Religious Development in Boston, to the staff of Mercy Center Burlingame where she collaborated with Sister Mary Ann Scofield, RSM, Jack Mostyn, Don Bisson, Jim Neafsey, and Frank Sherlock from 1985-2003 in the training of spiritual directors.
Sisters Marguerite and Suzanne began spiritual outreach to San Quentin prisoners in 1997 with the introduction of Centering Prayer Practice. Regular visitations to the Federal Correctional Institution for Women in Dublin, CA and San Mateo County Women’s Jail in 1998 convinced the sisters that a successful transition from prison life depended on an integrated program of rehabilitation. It must be residential, based on a spiritual foundation and aimed at personal development through healing.
This realization was the seed that sprouted Catherines Center, a collaborative ministry of the Sisters of Mercy and the San Mateo St. Vincent de Paul Society. Catherines Center has been a place for women to find their way in society, confident and poised to meet the opportunities and challenges that await them.
From 2003 to her death in 2021, Sr. Marguerite Buchanan continued to animate and support the work of Catherines Center, caring personally for the women in their challenges and rejoicing in their transformations. May her guiding spirit continue to accompany “The Women” of Catherines Center as they hand on to others the love and self-confidence they have gained.
Right to the end, Marguerite was faithful to her directees continuing her ministry of spiritual direction on Zoom calls even as her health was failing.
Sister Marguerite Buchanan died peacefully on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 as Sisters were singing, “Now in Peace, O God, let your servant go.”
Rest in God’s peace and joy, dear Marguerite!
Jean Evans, RSM
May 30, 2021
Blessings, gratitude, sadness and joy are the words that come to mind as I reflect on my experiences with Sister Marguerite and her recent death. Grateful for the time we had together over the past several years through Catherine Center events, her Solidarity Project and the Peninsula Multifaith Coalition. Blessed for her friendship, her inspiration and ideas that she shared with me. Sadness that I won’t be able to meet and have discussions with her. Joyful that she is heaven.
As those of you who have worked with Sister Marguerite know, she had the gift of involving you in projects that grew and developed into more responsibilites and commitments than you expected. Yet, somehow what Sister Marguerite got you involved in was what your were supposed to be doing at that time. Thank you Sister Marguerite. Rest in peace.
I worked closely with Sister Marguerite while serving lunch at Safe Harbor Shelter during PMC’s MLK day of service. I gave her a ride to and from the place for 2-3 years and thus got a chance to know her personally. She also connected me with many people at the Mercy Center to help me out with planning the event. She was always very pleasant and gracious. I was very impressed by her energy and spirit of helping others. She is a role model for me and will remember her forever.
-Dr. Dilip Amin (Hindu)
I loved her strength and how she spoke through her violin playing. Hers was a quiet strength, anchored in her deep faith and strong love for Jesus. Her compassion for those struggling was legendary. She wouldn’t just give help, she would give people back their dignity which allowed them to want to pay her kindness to them forward to others. I will miss her deeply, she was such a huge blessing. May she Rest In Peace and may perpetual light shine upon her.
“A listening heart is a contemplative heart. Those open to listening are open to receiving.” These wise words, Sister Marguerite shared to a group of retreatants many years ago of which I was one. It was my first retreat at Mercy Center, and during that week I was struck by her joy and laughter, her creativity and musicality, her mind and heart. She put others at ease and welcomed us in, into the Mercy family (for which I remain deeply grateful), and welcomed us in to a deeper love relationship with God. Thank you, Sister Marguerite, for sharing such precious gifts with so many!
I was so saddened to learn of the passing of Sr. Marguerite.
I was inspired by her work and devotion to Catherine Center, her dedication to those in need and her beautiful spirit. Getting to know her has been a blessing in my life and i will miss her smile, her giving heart and the sounds of her beautiful violin.
I very clearly remember meeting Sr. Marguerite for the first time, introduced by Sr. Joan Marie as we walked through Marian Oaks in January 2018. I was immediately struck by her formidable presence, clarity, and kindness. She was in the midst of organizing an interfaith service and mentioned that she’d love me to participate. Of course, within 24 hours of that first meeting, I found a handwritten note from her slipped under my door at Mercy Center, kindly requesting I play a role in the service and give her a call. Of course, my response was “yes!”—and I could just sense how many hundreds or thousands of people had been delightfully enlisted into loving service by Sr. Marguerite over many decades of her life and work. A consummate organizer for good. The sight of her and Sr. Suzanne walking together, riding the elevator together, dining together, always made my heart swell. Witnessing their friendship was such a gift.
-Adam Horowitz (N&N)
My time with Sister Marguerite was sort but very very sweet.
I volunteered along with the Ambassadors for the Catherine’s Center Fashion Show. Sister M. loved that event. She so enjoyed seeing the women at their best with great clothes, makeup done, new hair styles, and their confidence sky high. She was very devoted to their cause and she would engage all around her on their behalf. I began to host Ambassador meetings at my office where Sister and I became fast friends.
On a memorable night in December 2019 Sister Marguerite honored me with the most lovely blessing at my 70th birthday party. A huge highlight in my life.
When Covid began we sent each other cards and letters. That started to slow down and I was afraid of what was happening. I then heard she was not doing well. All I could do was pray that her passing would be easy and the angels would be singing her welcome to her forever home. I was so proud to call her my friend.
What a beautiful person and a what a wonderful life. Attended meetings at Mercy in the early 1970s on issues of the day, with various guest speakers. Got to know many of the Sisters. Can’t remember if Sister Marguerite was one, but have nothing but wonderful memories of the get together. Remember attending a performance of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in the Kohl Mansion. God bless all of you at Mercy.
I remember you as such a beautiful person. Quiet, shy and easygoing. She played a violin with beauty and style. You could feel her love and spiritually. You’re in my prayers and my blessings.
God, wrap your arms around her and keep her close to your loving and compassionate heart.
Love, Carol Parker
When I moved to the United States in 1995 Sr.Marguerite and Sr. Suzanne came to pick me up at San Francisco airport. I will never forget that moment of welcoming. I met them the year before in Taize’.
She has a special place in my heart. A long friendship and a beautiful spiritual connection in many ways.
Sr. Marguerite you are in my heart and in my prayers.
Marguerite was our teacher, guide and connector of Souls. Her radical hospitality echoed the words of Jesus – “Come and see” as she invited/cajoled/insisted that you share your gifts – gifts that she could see with Spirit led insight. She was an energy that made things happen, and those of us fortunate enough to experience it have tales of surprising personal growth, life changing moves and participation in transformative action in the world.
Her invitations, encouragement and belief in me literally changed my life – and set me on the path of Loving Service, ministry and Mercy.
Like the notes of her exquisite music, the impact of her movement among us lingers and deepens as we share our gratitude for her life. May we continue to live out Marguerite’s invitations to be Love and Mercy together.
Thank you Marguerite. Deep Peace to you.
With violin strings
Her heart carried ours to God.
Thank you, Marguerite!
Aloha me ke pumehana….
-Sr. Malia Dominica, OP
Sister Marguerite was an inspiration. She taught me the attribute of fierceness. She empowered everyone and everything around her. Marquerite led by example. I loved serving with her at San Quentin and the Catherine House. She lived beyond dogmas . Her intelligence and certainty were assets. Her gifts as a musician were loved by all. What a great reunion we will all have someday in God’s perfect timing.
With love and gratitude, Gale Nasser
It is moving to remember Sister Marguerite: her joy, her generous self-giving, her faithfulness to the God of surprises. I feel it is privilege to have a known such a wonderful and free servant of God. May we grow in all that she has taught us.
-Brother Emile, Taizé
20+ years ago during a private retreat at Mercy Center, Sr Marguerite introduced me to Henri Nouwen via his book: The Return of the Prodigal Son. She never knew the impact of both the man and the book on my spiritual life. Thank you Sister; I am grateful.
Marguerite was a woman of faith and wonder. Her belief in
God surrounded every thing she did and manifested that God to so many. To me , Marguerite, was a striking example of Catherine McAuley, Foundress of the Sisters of MercyI I was blessed to have known her.
-Maura Power RSM
Sister Marguerite was a beautiful lady and I shall never forget her!
It is bittersweet this time of earthly transition to our promised eternal home. I am indebted to Marguerite for the gift of ‘building up’ and encouragement in seeing hidden gifts, possibilities of which I was not aware in my early days as a teacher. Her quiet presence, her vision of what might be, her optimism I am seeing was woven throughout her life no matter where God took her. While so many will miss her physical presence among us, I can only give thanks she was among us, gifted us, loved us, brought tears and laughter and smiles and we know we shall meet again when all tears will be wiped away. Thank you for living your truth in love.
-Sister Beatrice M. Garcia, RSM
In 2004, when I was a member of the resident community at Desert House of Prayer in Tucson, Arizona, Sr. Marguerite came there for a silent retreat. I noticed that she was a Mercy Sister from Burlingame, so when I greeted her upon her arrival, I mentioned that I had recently sent in my application for the Spiritual Director’s Internship program at Mercy Center. She proceeded to tell me that she had been the director of that program in the past. On the third day of her retreat, she approached me and asked my name. She said she wanted to call Mercy Center to tell them that they should accept me into the program. I appreciated her intercession since that program usually had more applicants than they had spaces. I felt her affirmation was a sign that I was headed in the right direction to become a spiritual director.
-Rita Birzer OP
Sister Marguerite was my spiritual director. I remember we started our journey from Mercy Center’s sweet meeting rooms next to the main entrance, later moved to Marian Oak’s lovely reception room with Sister’s favorite fireplace, then to zoom meeting in her room, and to the last phone call back in late April from the hospital. Even as her health was failing, Sister Marguerite continued to be there offering her service, care, and love. Whenever I think of her, tears often come. They are tears of joy – joy with sadness, joy with gratitude, and joy with love. Sadness that I could not meet with her, see her playing violin at Mass, and listen to her lovely voice again. Gratitude for all the guidance, transformative experiences, compassion, and patience she had given me. I am so blessed and grateful for having Sister Marguerite as my spiritual director. This is indeed one of the greatest gifts that God has granted me. May Sister Marguerite rest in peace in God’s full glory. While she is no longer on this earth, her guiding spirit continues to accompany me.
Fellow co-worker at Mercy Center so many years ago.
Always a Smile radiates from you. Hearts open. Loving each of us til we love ourselves. Truly Mercy and Grace.
Sister Marguerite was my counselor and spiritual advisor in the past. She was kind, and compassionate, in a caring and nonjudgemental way. I am grateful for having known her. God has a new angel in heaven.
-Mary Ann Gonsalves
Sister Marguerite was and is a presence in my life and in the lives of our Peninsula Multifaith Coalition as she brought us together with the Sisters of Mercy community through our Multifaith Songfest held in your chapel, through her work with our Education Committee working with us to build bridges of understanding across all faith traditions here on the Peninsula and through her deep wisdom and friendship.
I am honored to have been able to call her my friend. Her work in the wider world as well as with the church has left us all better whether we knew her or not!
-Rev. Kristi Denham
The word that comes to me when I think of Sister Marguerite is Wisdom. She opened my eyes to the power of dreams, and to a process for capturing the wisdom and meaning of dreams to help enrich waking life and heal aspects that need healing.
My first connection with Sr. Marguerite’s and Sr. Suzanne’s ministries was with their establishment of Taize at Mercy every first Friday. Sr. Marguerite often played the violin, along with others accompanying Sr. Suzanne on the piano.
It was also my good fortune to participate in Sr. Marguerite’s and Sr. Suzanne’s founding of Catherine Center, contributing comments on the Center’s original statements of mission, purpose, and program, a very exciting and productive beginning. I also enjoyed helping set up and clean up the Center’s initial location in South San Francisco. It was a joy to see the Sisters’ insistence on making the women’s home a place of beauty and respect for them. And at the beginning to bring and share an occasional dinner.
Both these beautiful ministries have contributed greatly to my life, and to hundreds of others.
Dear Mercy Community,
Please know of our prayers during this time of great loss as we all celebrate the life of Sister Marguerite. A tremendous spiritual guide for many. My memories start in high school as my religion teacher in the physics lab. A talented principal and she never tired of being involved in new things. I loved hearing her play the violin with Sister Suzanne at the piano. Rest in peace, your work is done, thank you for all that you have done for each of us.
-Margaret McBride, RSM
My prayers and thoughts are with her family and friends and Sisters. I played the flute for Taize services every month for about five years in the early 90’s and Sister was so supportive and musical and lovely. I have a special place in my heart for Sister Marguerite and Sister Suzanne as together they grew my as then beginner faith life through the beauty of music. Many blessings to all of you.
Sister Marguerite was a sweet, gentle, talented and loving person. I knew her when I worked at Sister of Mercy and her involvement on the opening of the Catherine Center. She exuded grace, gentleness and dedication on her words and actions. I will miss her.
I first met Sr Marguerite in 1985 when I asked her to direct and supervise a Spiritual Direction Practicum while I was completing a Masters Degree in Pastoral Ministry and Theology at USF. Her inciteful God Centered questions and guidance helped to deepen my own God relationship. Her creativity in her course offerings was exemplary. I use her materials in Dream Work in my own Spiritual Direction practice and workshops. I will always remember she and sr. Suzanne for their warm welcome when I came down from S.F. or up from my home base in Fresno. her musical talent was an asset to Taize evenings She and Sr. Suzanne always involved me in Triduum liturgies. They tapped me to read at each Vigil celebration until I left the area at the end of 1995. May she rest in Eternal Peace. She will be missed by all who knew her.
-Patricia Kasmarik OSB Oblate
Sister Marguerite was the first person I truly opened up to when I first arrived at Catherine Center. I was confused, angry, hurt, and so very broken at that time. Sister Marguerite, held my pain and loved me just as I was in that moment. I feel so blessed that I got to know my sister over the years. She loved unconditionally and was not afraid of setting boundaries! I never really experienced that until I met Sister. I will always be grateful to Sister Marguerite for her wisdom, support and guidance through my recovery and spiritual journey. Sister’s love and memory will continue to live on both in my mind and in my memories; when I am out on a walk in nature, meditating, reading my bible and when I play my violin.
Peace, love and joy are words that come to me when I think of what Sr. Marguerite exuded. Like so many, I was the beneficiary of her ministry of connection. I initially met her through women’s retreats with Sr. Suzanne which led to other aspects of my own work such as leading guided meditations at Catherine’s Center. Marguerite saw where people could connect with their highest and sometimes most challenging callings and empowered them to live them out. Her pioneering spirit and courage was rare but will be carried on by those whose lives she touched. Enjoy your well-deserved rest, Marguerite.
Bless you Sister Marguerite…
The trajectory of my entire life is changed because of your commitment and leadership in spiritual direction ministry.
“Marguerite – aka Auntie Barbara – was always a loving aunt to myself and my four sisters. But whenever she came to visit the chaos, she always had a reason to leave early – to preserve her sanity no doubt. Well she did it again; she left us way too early. We love you Auntie Barbara, and we will miss you.”
–Paul Buchanan, Nephew
Getting to know Marguerite was a privilege of a lifetime. To have known her was to have known a truly remarkable, holy person. I will always be grateful and will consider it part of my prayer to remember the experience and the lessons learned from our friendship. — She did make the world better and more beautiful. She was a beautiful soul.
–Mary-Paula Cancienne, RSM