Editor’s note – Sister Marguerite Buchanan played an essential role in the development of the pioneering Mercy Center spiritual direction program at Burlingame, California in the 1980s, working alongside SDI founders Sister Mary Ann Scofield, RSM and Jack Mostyn, among others. Sr Marguerite once said, “There is life going on inside of us all the time which needs attention and nourishment. It’s a soul life.” We at SDI are grateful for her service to the contemplative and sacred art of spiritual direction and share our condolences with all those who were touched by the graciousness of her deep listening. We are grateful, also, to Sr Jean Evans, RSM, for writing this short biographical piece of Sr Marguerite’s life. Funeral arrangements can be found at the Mercy Center site: https://mercy-center.org/remembering-sister-marguerite-buchanan-rsm/
By Sr Jean Evans, RSM
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 highway 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), to 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.
Her effect on the women was powerful.
“She validated people whoever they were, especially the Catherines Center women,” said her life-long friend Sister Suzanne Toolan. “She often had a vision, and nothing stood in the way of that vision.”
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 – “I was born in San Francisco and was educated at Mercy High, SF. I am a member of the Sisters of Mercy and volunteered to work in South Africa during the apartheid times from 1984. After nearly twenty-eight years in South Africa, I returned to the USA in early March 2012. Since 1999 I have been involved in directing and preaching retreats. I facilitate retreats and Taizé Prayer at Mercy Center, Burlingame, California. In 2002, I completed my DTh in Christian Spirituality at the University of South Africa. My thesis was on the “Mystical Writings of Madeleine du Bois de Fontaines” who was the first French prioress of the Carmelites in Paris. I lectured on classical and contemporary spirituality and the theory and practice of discernment at St. John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria and at St. Augustine College in Johannesburg. For a number of years I was part of a team of spiritual directors for Comboni Missionaries Year of Renewal and Formation that was held in Pretoria. The music of Taizé has been a constant companion over the years both personally and in ministry with youth in South Africa.”
Thank you for sharing this. Brought back warm memories of Meg and those early days at Mercy Center.
Marguerite was my spiritual director the three years I lived in CA working on a degree in transpersonal psychology. Her Presence was precious gift in so many transformative ways that touched my life so deeply. The series on Sacred Psychology that she and Don Bisson facilitated during those years, became the seed experience for the Center for Sacred Psychology I later created in Louisville, KY.
The Friday evening Taize prayer experiences that she and Suzanne Toolen provided, touched so deeply my own soul and the souls of many.
A luminous light remains where a beautiful soul has passed.
Kathleen Kaelin, OSU