Sister Peggy and Sister Rose McDermott, seated, were surprised with a farewell celebration May 12 by the Diocese’s diaconate students of Sister Rose’s final course. Courtesy photo
Sister Peggy and Sister Rose McDermott, seated, were surprised with a farewell celebration May 12 by the Diocese’s diaconate students of Sister Rose’s final course. Courtesy photo

Having devoted the most recent decade of their ministry to the Diocese of Trenton, two religious sisters – by birth and vocation – prepare to embark on their next chapter this month: retirement.

Sisters Rose and Margaret McDermott, Sisters of St. Joseph, Chestnut Hill, Pa., have been a constant witness and presence in the Chancery of the Diocese of Trenton for the past 10 and eight years respectively, joining co-workers for daily Mass in the chapel, and residing in Notre Dame diocesan convent across the parking lot. The Sisters joke that their religious congregation kept them separate to test their vocations, but Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., brought them together.

Born in West Philadelphia to Charles and Margaret McDermott, the Sisters and their two brothers attended their parish’s school, St. Rose of Lima. The girls finished secondary education in Philly’s West Catholic Girls High School.

Early Catholic family life and education was fertile ground for budding vocations. Sister Rose and Sister Peggy both credited their parents’ influence and their Catholic school teachers for encouraging their faith development and eventual path to religious life.

“We really had beautiful parents, teaching by example,” said Sister Rose. “And the Immaculate Heart Sisters at St. Rose of Lima were very good teachers.”

Sister Peggy recalled their mother singing “Mother at your feet is kneeling,” while their father imaged God, the Father, with his gentle, caring and forgiving spirit.

Having entered a religious congregation dedicated to teaching, the Sisters were sent on through college and advanced degrees. Both hold master’s degrees in religious studies, while Sister Peggy earned a certificate in spiritual direction at Creighton University, Omaha, Neb., and a certificate in biblical studies at Georgetown University during summer months.  Sister Rose was sent on to obtain a doctorate in canon law at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

Lifelong teachers, both taught youngsters in elementary and high schools in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington (arch)dioceses. Sister Peggy ministered as a director of religious education in the Newark Archdiocese, while Sister Rose continued to teach in higher education. Both sisters enjoyed teaching – leading others to a broader reality of life.

“I loved the interaction with the students, seeing them advance and understand things,” Sister Peggy affirmed.

After a 20-year stretch as canon law professor at CUA, which overlapped then-Father O’Connell’s presidency of the university, Sister Rose was invited to join him in Trenton shortly after he became Bishop of the Trenton Diocese. In 2012 she became the delegate for religious and institutes for consecrated life, and worked with the diocesan diaconate formation program, developing curriculum and teaching those men studying to become deacons. As such she has taught diaconate courses through both Georgian Court University, Lakewood, and Seton Hall University, South Orange.

Two years later, when Sister Peggy retired as DRE in Newark, Bishop welcomed her to the Chancery – reuniting two sisters separated by their ministries. In retirement, both look forward to some limited ministry at their order’s Villa in Flourtown, Pa., and more time for the contemplative dimension of their lives.

“We promise to remember those who have served with us in the Diocese of Trenton,” said Sister Rose, “our last happy mission.”