And the desert shall bloom

Sr. Margaret McKenna poses with two friends from her North Philadelphia neighborhood in front of a mural and community peace garden designed and built by recovering addicts from the New Jerusalem Now community.

I have a dear sister soul-friend I've known for over 40 years. Her name is Margaret McKenna, and she inhabits an urban monastery in the heart of drug-infested North Philadelphia.

I first met Margaret during my young nun sojourn with the Medical Mission Sisters. I was enchanted by her wide knowledge of Scripture, her work for justice, her zany sense of humor and a certain wild abandon that characterized her God quest.

Margaret's search would lead her on a merry chase. She entered Medical Mission Sisters in 1948 at the age of 18. She completed a bachelor's degree in English and then worked as director of novices and an artist, designing the lovely stained glass windows adorning the sisters' chapel. For her master's degree, she wrote a thesis on women in the early church. It was later published under the title Women of the Church: Role and Renewal and is frequently cited even today as a seminal work in the field.

These early accomplishments would have been enough for one lifetime, but Margaret was just getting started. She studied Scripture in Jerusalem at the renowned École Biblique, learning French, German and Hebrew in the process. During the Vietnam War era, she taught at Philadelphia's La Salle University and became involved in all things peace and justice. Later, she would be arrested numerous times for joining the Plowshares' antinuclear protests.

Read the full story at National Catholic Reporter.