Sister Mary Charles (Mary Helen) McGough, OSB, 82, of St. Scholastica Monastery, died Sunday, September 2, 2007, at the Monastery. She entered the Duluth Benedictines on September 8, 1943, and made her first monastic profession on January 6, 1946. On August 15, 1970, she celebrated her Silver Jubilee, in 1995, her Golden Jubilee and, in 2005, her Diamond Jubilee. She was in her 61st year of monastic profession.
Sister Mary Charles (Molly) was born to Justin Hugh McGough and Ruth (Brownell) on April 18, 1925, in Cloquet. She received her high school education at Duluth Cathedral High School. She received a Bachelor of Arts from The College of St. Scholastica, a Masters in Education from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Fine Arts from Notre Dame University.
In 1949 Sister Mary Charles began teaching second graders at St. Bridget’s School, Minneapolis and the following year taught Art and Religion at Stanbrook Hall, Duluth. She taught in the Elementary Education Program at The College of St. Scholastica (1951-1954) and grades 5, 6, 7, and 8 at St. Anthony’s School in Duluth (1954 to 1959). From 1959 to 1967 she headed the Art Department at The College of St. Scholastica. She was well known for her summer “Barn Program” begun in 1968 when the carriage house on the McCabe property became an art studio. With the help of other Sisters, the program included various creative activities for children: writing, science, dance, song, musical instruments, and art. This program continued for 18 years, and the Barn became Sister’s home for many years.
Sister Mary Charles was gifted in many art mediums: wood cuts, wood carvings, ceramics, sculptures, and watercolors. She designed the cover of the Sisters Today magazine for more than 30 years, and her works can be found today throughout the world—in people’s homes, houses of worship, and even outdoors. She also committed herself to huge projects such as the wall at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in Duluth, the logo outside St. Mary’s Medical Center, the Peace Doors at The College of St. Scholastica, and a wall sculpture at the Benedictine Health Center in Duluth. Sister did many projects which became quite ecumenical as she established relationships with and provided art for Temple Israel and for Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches.
In 1990 Sister Mary Charles began studies in iconography. Her subsequent work with icons was commissioned by individuals and parishes nationwide. Some of these pieces included “Mother of Compassion” at St. Olaf Catholic Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, “Our Lady of Glastonbury” at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts, and “St. Bernard of Clairvaux,” at the church named for him in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sister Mary Charles was especially honored to have created “Our Lady of Compassion” icon for the Diocesan AIDS Ministry Office in Worchester, Massachusetts, where each AIDS patient receives a copy of that image. As her need for larger studio space grew, she created Subiaco Studio, located in the former St. Anthony’s School, Duluth. Sister Mary Charles had a passion for people as well as art. Her greatest joy was teaching, or as she explained it, “helping others discover the creative spark within themselves.” The many watercolor and iconography workshops she gave instilled in others a sense of the power of art.
However, her interests were not limited to the creative arts. She was also a long-time member of the international peace organization, Pax Christi, and could always be counted on to be a part of a peace rally or to write a letter to the editor when she saw some injustice needing attention. She was dedicated to the work of the Damiano Center, to the Loaves and Fishes Community, to CHUM, or any organization that cared for the poor and/or marginalized. As the homilist noted at her funeral, she herself became an icon in the watery womb of the Church when she was baptized. Her multifaceted life, including concerns for issues of justice and peace, prevents us from reducing her works to products.
Sister Mary Charles was preceded in death by her parents. In addition to the Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery she is survived by two brothers, John Hugh McGough, and Charles Brownell McGough, one sister, Patricia Ruth O’Brien, many nieces, nephews, and countless friends.
A wake service was held Thursday, September 6, 2007, at 7:00 p.m. in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel, St. Scholastica Monastery, with visitation from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m. The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at 10:30 a.m., Friday, September 7, 2007, with Father Gabriel Baltes, OSB, presiding. Burial was in Gethsemane Cemetery.
- St. Bridget’s School, Minneapolis, MN
- Stanbrook Hall, Duluth, MN
- College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN
- St. Anthony’s School, Duluth, MN
- McCabe Art Studio, “The Barn,” Duluth, MN
- St. Olaf Catholic Church, Minneapolis, MN
- Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, MA
- St. Bernard Church, Tulsa, OK
- Diocesan AIDS Ministry Office, Worchester, MA
- Greek Orthodox Church, Duluth, MN
- Pax Christi
- Damiano Center
- Loaves and Fishes Community