When Margaret Cruise, fondly known as “Sister Peggy” to the St. Apollinaris Catholic Church community, boards a plane for her native Ireland on Saturday, she will leave behind many friends in Napa, a place she has called home for 35 years.
The weeks leading up to Sister Peggy’s departure have been filled with goodbyes, luncheons and tributes from parishioners, Angel Bazaar volunteers and others whose lives she touched. During a farewell tribute at the church last month, it was announced that an anonymous donor had given a $50,000 donation in Sister Peggy’s honor dedicated to the congregation’s religious education program and youth ministry.
“I’m so very thankful for the years I’ve been here,” Sister Peggy said afterward. “They are the most wonderful years of my life. I hate to leave. It is emotional.”
“I love the people here. I’ll miss everyone at St. A’s. The people are so loving, so supportive,” she said. “They’ve become family as well as friends.”
Though she retired as director of Religious Education of St. A’s in 2015, those who know her best say “she never retired.” She has stayed involved in parish ministry with various programs “whenever and wherever” she was needed.
Leaving Napa to spend her retirement in the land of her birth is bittersweet, but “you have to let go of one experience in order to allow something new to evolve and grow,” Sister Peggy said.
She said she looks forward to being around family, friends and the close-knit religious community she left. She has missed the people, the countryside, and the friendliness and warmth of those she knew while growing up.
Sister Peggy was born in Roscommon, Ireland near Galway as the youngest of four children, with two sisters and a brother. She attended local all-girls Catholic schools throughout elementary and high school.
“In high school, I went to a boarding school. You build a nice community with other girls in boarding school. It was strict – no doubt about it—but those were fun years,” she said.
Sister Peggy said that her desire to join a religious order did not come suddenly. It was a “gradual awareness, a deeply interior experience.”
“I had an aunt who was a nun. I’d go see her about twice a year. I suppose the sisters who taught me influenced me as teachers as well as their prayer life and their care of the poor,” she said. “What drives you is a deep longing – a passion for this type of life.”
“When anyone joins a religious order, it is a process of discernment, reflection and conversation with a spiritual guide until an individual feels ready to make a final commitment,” she said.
Sister Peggy took her first vows in 1963 and took her final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience three years later.
She belongs to the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. The order was founded by Sister Catherine McAuley, who used her inheritance to serve the poor, and teach the children of Ireland to help get them and their parents out of poverty.
In 1963, Sister Peggy went to San Francisco with other Sisters of Mercy from Loughrea County where she taught first–fifth grade at a parish school.
When Sister Peggy came to St. A’s to teach fourth grade in 1982, she worked with Sister Philomena, Sister Olive Murphy, Sister Agnes, and Sister Mary Corcoran. She said that she loved teaching and “getting children to know Jesus as their best friend.”
During that time, parish families came to appreciate her gentle manner with students.
“I first met Sister Peggy while she was teaching at St. A’s school over 35 years ago,” JoAnn Dunn recalled. “My daughter, Catherine, was in sister’s fourth grade class and that is when I really got to know her. She was so soft- spoken and kind to all the children and their parents.”
“I truly am going to miss my special friend,” Dunn said. “We all love Sister Peggy and hate to see her leave, but we all wish her the very best on her new life’s journey.”
After teaching four years at St. Apollinaris, Sister Peggy was asked to head up the religious education program. She continued as director until she retired.
“Sister Peggy is the kindest person that anyone would like to know and never forgets a name,” said Sara DeCrevel, chairwoman of the Angel Bazaar, an annual fundraiser that helps fund the religious education program. “She has a wonderful sense of humor and is very self-deprecating and humble. She has a way of making each person feel special.”
“Most people who meet her are touched by her,” DeCrevel said. “She does not forget a face, she remembers details that are amazing, and she has good things to say about anyone she knows.”
Alene Townsend said she could write a large book listing all the things she remembers about Sister Peggy during a 28-year friendship.
“She is the humblest, most loving, giving, person I have ever known. She is always available anywhere she is needed by anyone,” Townsend said.
“You probably know, she never forgets anyone’s name—or anything else about them or their family,” Townsend said. “Her memory must be a gift from God because no one could keep all of that information and pull it out when needed.”
Before retiring in 2015, Sr. Cruise recommended Laura Schalfe, a woman she “hand-picked.”
“She has been my inspiration and mentor since I came to Napa 20 years ago. I started working alongside Sister Peggy as a catechist in the St. Apollinaris Religious Education group working with junior high students,” said Laura Schafle, who became director of Religious Education following Sister Peggy.
“Sister Peggy has an incredible capacity to make things happen. She has created a Religious Education program at St. Apollinaris that is lasting and enduring,” Schafle said.
It has been 54 years since Sister Peggy left her childhood home to come to America. but she has taken many short trips back.
“Ireland has really changed. Now you can stand in the streets of Dublin and it is like standing in the streets of San Francisco,” she said. “You hear all the languages spoken. It is multicultural now.”
She wants those she is leaving behind in Napa to know they can stay in touch with her—she was given an iPhone and she has learned how to text.
In addition, she reminds people that they are not alone.
“We have God’s presence all the time,” she said.
“Most people who meet her are touched by her. She does not forget a face, she remembers details that are amazing, and she has good things to say about anyone she knows.” Sara DeCrevel