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Marguerite Sweeney Clohisy lived her life serving God, family and community; along the way breaking down gender barriers, modeling wholesome family values, demonstrating exceptional leadership skills, and making the best fluff and peanut butter sandwiches ever.
Raised during the Great Depression, Marguerite was 15 when her father died. The loss only strengthened the family’s commitment to each other and to their faith, and nurtured the inner strength and upbeat attitude that would underscore her entire life.
Marguerite, who died June 17, at age 93, became one of the first women to graduate from Johns Hopkins University with training as a nurse anesthetist, a field previously reserved almost exclusively for men. “She was a groundbreaker in her day and all through her life,” son-in-law Edward Fay said. “She was like Rosie the Riveter. She really blazed a trail.”
While at college, she met Warren Clohisy Jr., MD, who was interning at Johns Hopkins. They married in 1953 and she chose to give up a medical career to become the eventual mother of ten, a job at which she excelled. “She was always there as a mother, whatever you needed. She had an immense capacity for parenting and volunteering,” said eldest daughter Bow McGuire, who recalled in particular “her always sunny positive attitude.”
The Clohisy family lived at different times both in Wilmette and Winnetka, and the children went to grade school at Saint Francis and Faith Hope, where she served as a volunteer helping students with their reading and working in the school library. When they moved on to high school at Loyola Academy and Woodlands Academy, she took on leadership positions in parent committees and fundraising. She received the Loyola Academy President’s Award. Later in life, she would also served the Catholic Theological Union.
“She was always supportive of the schools and what they were trying to accomplish in any way she could be,”daughter Rooney Kerns said.
Outreach to those in need was also also a priority for Marguerite and was realized by serving as a tutor, extraordinary minister, lector and hospice volunteer. For over a decade she ran Faith, Hope & Charity’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program, which is for people who are interested in converting to Catholicism. “She was there for people who were looking for a way to grow in their faith and spiritual life,” Rooney said.
One of Marguerite’s most important contributions to the church came when she was president of the FHC Parish Council during a period of controversy and parish unrest regarding the alleged conduct of a priest. “She handled it with graciousness, aplomb and courtesy to all,” said Joanie Binder, who sat on the same council. “It was not an easy task but she held it valiantly and graciously. Her style was to handle it with grace and calm. She was rational and chose the right path to go forward.”
Family and friends who filled Saints Faith, Hope & Charity on June 22 to celebrate Marguerite’s life spoke often of her uplifting spirit, positivity, fascination with “life’s simple pleasures,” ever present sense of humor, and the trappings of a bountiful family life.
She loved to cook for and host big family Sunday dinners and parties. “The more the merrier,” Rooney said. BBQ ribs, beef stroganoff and chicken divan were among her specialities.
“She always had a smile on her face,” grand-daughter Genevieve Kerns said. “You could see a glow in her eyes filled with kindness and love for everyone.” Family spring break trips to Florida were a particular treat, she added.
“She always acted a lot younger than she was,” said grand-daughter Maggie O’Brien, who fondly recalled doing Jane Fonda exercise videos with Marguerite. “She had a ton of energy, and she was super engaged with all of us grandchildren.” And then of course there were her famous fluff and peanut butter sandwiches. “I think all of the grandchildren remember those.”
Marguerite adored the times she spent with the great-grandchildren, too. “She loved the babies,” Maggie O’Brien. “She could rock a baby to sleep and just sit there holding the newborn all the time.”
“She was a really incredible woman,” Maggie O’Brien said. “This family has a very deeply rooted sense of faith and Christianity, prayer, Mass, goodness, and kindness. All of those things are deeply rooted not just in her and doc (Warren, who died 21 years ago), but it was so deeply ingrained in all of us. It is very much at the core of our family values.”
Marguerite left another legacy as well, a completion of the circle. Nearly six decades after choosing to leave the health industry to be a wife and mother, two of her ten children are surgeons and six are serving in administrative or other capacities in the medical field.
Marguerite is survived by her 10 children, Warren (Jeanne), Bow (Mark McGuire), Denis (Mary), Daniel, Cathreen (Edward Fay), John (Mary), Marguerite (Dean Vitulski), Maryruth (Michael Kerns), Thomas (Rosemarie) and Terese (Ryan Hendrickson); 27 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren, 40 nieces and nephews and three siblings, Rosemary Flynn, Mary Grace Stafford, Lorraine Wagner. She is predeceased by four siblings, Cathreen Sweeney, Reverend Denis Sweeney, Clayton Sweeney, and Cecilia Donaghue.