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SISTER MARGARET RICHARD PILLON
1935-2010

Sister Margaret Richard Pillon entered the Adrian Dominicans on June 22, 1952. On the fifty-eighth anniversary of her entrance, on June 22, 2010, God called Sister home. At her wake, Sister Jo Gaugier said:

She will be remembered by so many people both on and off campus. Those traits continually mentioned by others include her determination, gentle nature, generous spirit, focus on others, her creative abilities with crafts, her fidelity to the twelve-step program, Crochet Ole participation, her undaunted desire to learn and to teach, her energy and creativity expressed in her artistic expressions in crafts and artwork of every type.

Sister Margaret Richard was the daughter of Fernaldo and Dorothy (Grimshaw) Pillon. Fernaldo, better known as Frank, was French and came from Walkerville, Ontario, Canada. His wife was of Irish heritage and from Detroit. Both parents were Catholic, and brought four children into the world. Their three sons were George, Dick, and Jim, and their youngest child was a daughter, baptized Dorothy Ann. She was a premature baby, born on January 15, 1935, and weighed only two pounds. Because of her fragility, she was baptized four times—by her father, by a nurse, by the doctor, and eventually by a priest. She began her autobiography with the words, “I was born a fighter!”

The Pillon youngsters received their education at Holy Redeemer School in Detroit. The 1940s were difficult years for Dorothy Ann. Her father and two of her brothers left home. George became a Marine and Dick went to the seminary. She wrote, “I really missed my brothers as they were very good to me. Jim, a year older, became my lifeline. We were, and we are, buddies.” Her mother was left alone to raise Jim and Dorothy Ann. She became the cook and housekeeper for the 23-30 priests at Holy Redeemer Parish. Dorothy Ann spent her after-school hours at the rectory. She wrote, “I hated to go to confession because whoever I went to, there was always a message for my mom.” Later Mrs. Pillon cooked at St. John’s Seminary.

Dorothy Ann attended Holy Redeemer High School. Her teachers were members of the IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary) Congregation. She loved them and prayed daily for vocations. In 1951 she met Sister Loretta Waldecker, an Adrian Dominican Sister. She wrote, “I fell in love with the Dominicans, with their freedom, happiness, and, of course, the white habit.” On June 22, 1952, she became one of forty-nine Adrian postulants. With her group, she received the habit and her religious name on December 30, 1952, and professed her first vows on December 31, 1953.

From then until June 1954 she was kept in Adrian to study, and in fall 1954 she began her teaching ministry at St. Patrick School in St. Charles, Illinois. She wrote that she had “wall-to-wall” third graders. “I don’t know if they learned anything, but I did!” Each evening Sister Francis Patricia Downs spent time helping her to write her plans for the next day. For the rest of her teaching ministry, she followed that same way in planning her work.

In 1958 she was sent to the western part of the country, where she remained for the rest of her teaching ministry. Her ministry there began with middle grade students at All Saints School in Hayward, California. Seven years later she was sent to Loretto School in Douglas, Arizona. After three years she returned to California to teach junior high students at St. Mary in Delano, then in 1970 returned to Loretto School in Douglas as principal for eleven years.

In 1979 her health problems began with attacks of severe arthritis. A traumatic experience in 1980 added to her misery. Her mother visited Douglas in 1980, and one day she found her mother dead in the convent hallway. She wrote, “The sisters and children were very supportive, but I was worn out and needed to do something different.” She left Loretto in 1981, and went to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she taught at St. Joseph School for a year, then served as principal until 1987.

From then until January 1989 she volunteered her services in the gift shop at St. Rose de Lima Hospital in Henderson, Nevada. In January 1989 she accepted a position as teacher at Christ the King School in Mesa, Arizona. She lived in the community house in Tempe, and served as eighth grade teacher and associate principal at the school. She wrote, “In 1994 I drove home from school and had a massive heart attack in our driveway.” She had bypass surgery, and continued as a volunteer and substitute teacher at Christ the King until 1995.

In 1995 she returned to St. Rose Hospital again, where she volunteered her services there and at St. Viator School. She wrote:

After my arrival in Henderson, my arthritic medication caused me to have bleeding ulcers and liver damage. I was taken off my medication and this caused my arthritis to flare up, causing me great pain, and I was unable to function well. I was sent to a pain clinic and given the drug Methadone. This was the beginning of my addiction to prescription drugs.

In 1998 she volunteered as a tutor at Holy Family School in Grand Junction, Colorado. In January 1999 she was told by her doctor that she was heavily addicted to Methadone, but she refused help for some months. “I was in total denial.” She tried to stop taking Methadone, but was unable to do so. “I was depressed, could not think clearly, could not make any reasonable decisions, cried all the time.”

In June 1999, with the help of her Chapter Prioress, Sister Barbara Stanek, she returned to Michigan, spent time in a detox program at Chelsea Hospital, and then went to Guest House in Lake Orion, Michigan, for classes and counseling. She also went through the twelve-step AA program, since there was no program for prescription drug addiction, and wrote, “This program really saved my life.”

In 2000 she moved into the Dominican Life Center/Regina Residence in Adrian, where she volunteered her services. She returned to Guest House occasionally for the After Care Program and to share her story with others. She wrote, “I go to weekly meetings and have a great councilor here in Adrian. . . . I feel like a worthwhile person again, but know that I will always be in recovery.” Another great help to her was listening to the music that Sister Magdalena Ezoe wrote, which she really loved.

Her health made it necessary for her to move into the Maria Building in 2008, where she died on June 22, 2010, at the age of seventy-five.

A wake-remembrance service was held for Sister Margaret Richard on June 25. Sister Mary Ellen Youngblood, Prioress of Adrian Crossroads Mission Chapter, welcomed those who had come to bid Sister goodbye, her brother Jim and his wife Eleanor, her niece Sister Chrisia Pillon, MCDP (Missionary Catechist of Divine Providence), several cousins from Michigan and Canada, and her many Dominican friends. Sister Mary Ellen summarized Sister Margaret Richard’s life and ministry, and spoke of her final years.

Sister has been a faithful friend and companion with God. Her prayer was regular, intense, and occurred often during the day, both in communal and individual prayer. Her Bible and Dominican Praise book were always close by. When she could no longer hold the weight of the book, she asked others to pray with her.

Last Sunday, after about ten days of hovering on the edge of death, she came back for a time. Her family returned home, and Sister Margaret was sitting in her chair, dressed and visiting. On Tuesday, she had breakfast, visited, and after lunch asked to be returned to bed for a rest. After transferring her to bed, the nurse and aides left her comfortably listening to her CD of Sister Magdalena’s music. At 2:00 Nancy Navarre, the nurse on 2South, came to check on her and found her in the same position—having died peacefully, holding the remote control for the CD player.

Sister Margaret Reardon had been a friend for thirty-five years. She said:

I worked with Sister Margaret Richard, played with her, prayed with her, and we had many good times together. She was a strong woman, long-suffering. She called a spade a spade, even playing cards. She had the great flair of helping people in many, many ways. She gave away stuffed animals, and she told people to hug them when they were in pain. That made them feel better. This was one of her ways of loving people.

Sister Dolores Slosar also spoke.

Caitlin, the seven-year-old granddaughter of one of our aides, came to work with her grandmother one day to see some of the sisters. She bumped into Sister Margaret Richard and they became fast friends. Sister Margaret Richard taught Caitlin how to do waffle weave. Caitlin came to me yesterday and said, “I can’t be there to say goodbye to Sister Margaret Richard. Will you give her a kiss for me?” I did that.

Jim Pillon, Sister’s brother, spoke on behalf of the family.

Last week, when we were here, we were overwhelmed with the care and love that she received.

I could tell you a lot of stories about Sister Margaret Richard, but I want to tell just one. For years she would send me a shirt, and she also sent my brother Dick a shirt. We didn’t know it, but they were identical shirts. One time Dick was working in Alaska and we sent him a family picture. I happened to be wearing the shirt that Sister had sent me. We got a call from him, and the family wanted to know what was wrong. He was talking to me, and he said, “If you wanted to wear my shirt, why didn’t you ask me?” Of course, it was a joke, but that was one way we found out that she was sending us identical shirts.

Sister Chrisia Pillon, MCDP, Sister’s niece, praised her aunt.

I always called Sister Margaret Richard “S’ter.” When I was ten years old, that was the first year I got to know her. I spent time with her, and I was taught to clean and eat a lot of ice cream, so I thought there was nothing better than Dominicans.

For the last fifty-one years, I’ve been privileged to spend at least a week in her company and in the company of Dominicans. She took me on a lot of journeys. I was brought up in a Marine family who controlled their emotions, and she taught me that it was OK to show emotion. . .She saw me through many ups and downs. I left the Church for ten years after my parents died. She never condemned me. She was always there for me. . . . She was happy when I returned to the Church, and she saw me through a couple of attempts to enter Congregations that refused me. And she was happy when I became a Missionary Catechist.

She wasn’t worried about her health. She wasn’t afraid to go into surgery. She always said, “The Father has His arms around me.” . . . It was her heart and wisdom that she gave me each time I came. What she did by the love and wisdom that she gave to all her nieces and nephews and students cannot be measured.

Joan Ebbitt, a former Adrian Dominican Sister, and now Clinical Consultant to the Guest House staff, sent a long testimonial that was read by Sister Arlene Kosmatka. She wrote in part:

I am grateful to have celebrated life with Sister Margaret for the past eleven years. I have had the honor of walking with her, first as her counselor, and in the past few years as her spiritual director. . . .

Since I live in Adrian and had a private counseling practice, when Sister Margaret left treatment, part of her aftercare plan was to see me weekly for counseling. So began the journey of my experiencing her getting to know herself, others, and God.

After she entered into recovery, Sister Margaret was full of yearning to experience her God, her “Higher Power,” more fully and with a new consciousness. Along with our spiritual direction meetings, she joined Sister Arlene Kosmatka’s group of sisters who regularly read and discussed many spiritual writers. She told me she was getting to know a God she had never met before, a God who was quickly becoming her friend.

I thank her for trusting me with her holy life. . . . Because of her, many others will experience God’s invitation to recover from addiction. When our spiritual direction sessions were over each month, she usually said, “See ya, kid!” So now I say to her, “I love you. See ya, kid!”

Sister Margaret Richard’s funeral liturgy was held on June 26. Father Robert Kelly, OP, was the presider and homilist.

She was then laid to rest in the cemetery where she often went to pray for her sisters, the cemetery that Mother Camilla Madden had laid out in circles many years ago.