These words were well imprinted on Sister Margaret’s mind. It was with attentive verbalization that Margaret would repeat with us these words as we put her to bed during these last, declining years of her earthly life. Though her verbal responses of late were minimal, the remembrance of the “Our Father” truly portrayed her innate understanding of who God was for her.
Margaret Bebb was born on October 30, 1926 in Wichita Falls, Texas. The story of her life is truly, a magnificent unfolding of God’s plan for her. Being the only girl and the youngest child in her family, she was brought up by devoted parents, Kenneth and Gertrude Bebb and two protective, older brothers, Edwin and Kenneth who both became surgeons. She, on the contrary, was not meant for the world of medicine but to be a music teacher of prominence. At age six she began taking piano lessons and later studied the cello as well. She received her Master’s degree in Musicology from Texas State College for Women and then was on the faculty of the music department at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. It was from there that she met Mademoiselle Gousseau, the renowned concert pianist from Paris who was on tour in the Dallas area and Margaret was asked to accompany her on the tour. At a French restaurant in Dallas, over French cuisine, Mademoiselle Gousseau suggested that Margaret would come to Paris to study with her. Margaret was surprised at such an offer and with excited delight was wondering how this could happen. The next day she was in her brothers’ medical offices to determine how she could bring about this miracle. Her brothers knew a millionaire cowboy, an oil man who could lend her money, interest free and when her brothers asked him, he offered her a sufficient sum of money for her two year expenses, which when she returned she gratefully paid him back in monthly installments.
Little did she know how much her life would change from this point on. So, from 1954-1956, in the National Paris Conservatory, she was spending six hours a day practicing piano and going to or performing in numerous concerts. In her autobiography, she states “those were two fantastic years. I knew they were God’s gift to me”. She loved living close to Mademoiselle Gousseau’s brother’s family of nine children. The Gousseau family’s Christian example had a great influence on her. The children were creative and bright and would often put on short plays for her. The family was Catholic and she was inspired by the family’s devotion to their Catholic faith. She decided to join the Catholic Church while in Paris. She said the Church ceremony of her acceptance to the Catholic faith was all in French and she didn’t understand a word of it. She would need to learn more about the Catholic faith when she came back to the States.
I was stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas at Our Lady Queen of Peace school, when Margaret had just come back from her two-years in Paris. Her conversion to Catholicism did not sit well with her family especially with her Mother. She greatly needed a Catholic, support group of friends so she first came to us and was a frequent visitor. With our Benedictine Sisters’ guidance, she soon joined our parish choir, later became the organist and you can imagine how much our admiring parishioners loved her musical talent. Always emphasizing the importance of enunciating well every sung word in proclaiming the Gospel message, the choir became perfected under her direction. She also started a boys’ choir and taught music in our school staying in touch with the spirit of the Catholic faith. As a cello player in the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, she would offer us free tickets for their concerts.
Her visits with our Benedictine Sisters continued to be frequent and when asked to visit with us at Sacred Heart Monastery in Lisle, she jumped for it. There was something drawing her closer to a dedicated life and she wanted to experience our daily horarium. In 1962-1969, Margaret became a member of our Benedictine community. With her Mother’s death in 1969, it was her decision to leave in order to take care of her beloved Father. However, Margaret and her Father would visit us in the summers as her heart remained in Lisle. After her Father died, in 1988, Margaret told her private music students and their parents that she had plans to re-enter the Benedictines. She then distributed all her goods and responded whole heartedly to God’s call to make her monastic profession. Continuing her musical teaching background, she was invited to teach music at Benedictine University and also gave private music lessons. In her history of giving piano lessons she not only taught music but related well with her students, listening to them and counseling them in their character formation as well. She was a brilliant woman who led her students to excel in their musical talents many of whom were winners in state competitions and would become professional musicians.
In 1992, Sister Margaret received her Master’s Degree in Religious Studies from Mundelein College in Chicago and received an assistantship to work on the development of the Center for Women and Peace. Bringing her knowledge back to the Monastery, she became involved in the formation of the peace and justice ministry of the Sisters. She was given the charge of the PADS program (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) and this program, in our DuPage County, was hosted by our Sisters on Thursday nights when homeless guests came to our Monastery gym for food and shelter for the night. Sister Margaret worked hard with the volunteers; teaching them to see Jesus in the homeless as he also walked the streets and depended on people to feed Him. It was a charitable work and Sister Margaret was at her best making sure the guests had gloves, warm socks and caps to keep them warm as they spent their days out in the cold. She did this until we began our construction project for Villa S. Benedict. Around 2004, Sister Margaret was aware of her failing memory but kept up with helping in many ways. She helped take care of the dining room, folded laundry, worked on word games and puzzles, listened to music and kept following our daily horarium of prayer and meals. Slowly, her memory kept declining but always she accepted her cross graciously. We all loved to tease her and make her smile. Her winning smile was a trademark of her joyful, loving spirit. In the last few years, she could no longer do the things she was able to do but she was in her world of dreams when listening to music, whether of the classical greats like Mozart or Beethoven or Pachelbel but even the contemporary greats like Andrea Bocelli, El Divo, Josh Grobin and many others. She retained her deep-seated love for music and would respond to the sound of music, often by tapping her toes or swinging her fingers as if directing an orchestra.
We loved her and will miss her bodily presence. However, our faith tells us she is with her loving Savior singing the praises of God and loving it. In thanksgiving for her full and wonder-filled life we will continue to sing God’s praises with her: “Come; let us sing joyfully to the Lord. Let us joyfully sing out our psalms. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice. For the Lord has come to save us.”