Location – Monrovia, CA
Margaret Smith was born October 14, 1931 in Hanover, PA to Rose Ellen (Miller) Smith and Roswell Francis Smith. She had 3 sisters: Elizabeth, Patricia and Catherine and 1 brother: Gerard. Margaret graduated from Delone Catholic High School, McSheerystown, PA in June 1949.
Margaret Smith entered the Maryknoll Sisters September 6, 1950 at the Venard novitiate in Clarks Summit, PA from Hanover, PA. She professed First Vows March 7, 1953 at the Center and Final Vows March 7, 1959 in Bolivia.
Sister Margaret graduated from Maryknoll Teachers College with a Bachelor of Education degree in 1956 and received her first overseas mission assignment to the Bolivia-Peru Region in 1957. She studied Spanish in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Then taught and was principal in an elementary school in Lima, Peru until 1966. In contrast to city life, she next went to the jungle area of Riberalta, Bolivia and taught religion and English in the public high school.
In 1971 she moved to La Paz in the highlands, studied the Aymara language and lived with the Aymara indigenous people in a rural setting doing pastoral work, community development and adult education.
She worked In Cochabamba for five years on the coordinating team of the Bolivian Mission Association promoting Bolivians as missioners to their own people and beyond; training a mission team for Guayamerin, Bolivia.
It was in 1987 that she began her ministry of sharing rural life with indigenous Quechua farmers in Yatamoco. The man who was then in charge invited her to “come to Yatamoco,” and she agreed to go for two weeks of the summer vacation, and asked if he could the use of the school for her. He said they would bring a truck to pick her up. When they arrived in Yatamoco, she thought she was going to the school but she was told, “No, we have a house for you.” They brought her to a house which no one wanted to live in because three people had been assassinated there a year before. It was considered a haunted house. So she said, “Oh, fine, this looks great to me.” She reminisces, “I was only going to stay two weeks. So, here it is twenty-one years later and I’m still in the house!
Originally she had planned to go further up into the mountain in the dry season. But since public transportation had not improved, she spent most of her time in Yatamoco. There were two places higher up where she visited about once a month for three or four days in each place.
“In twenty-one years, I saw children being born, I saw them grow up and I saw them migrate. It really hurt to see all the young people leaving the community that I’ve known for so many years, but I came to realize that it was essential for them because there was no work here.” The amount of land could not support a larger population. There was a constant migration out of Yatamoco for people who were looking for jobs in other parts of Bolivia, Argentina, Spain or anywhere else, and at the same time, a constant migration into Yatamoco of families higher up in the mountains who were worse off.
Sister Margaret lived in very simple quarters, had very little in the way of furniture, no TV, and her door was always open for people to come in and say hello, or just sit and talk. She said, “This mission has been the most satisfying. I was able to realize my dream of living with indigenous people in a rural area. I had no position of leadership. My door was always open as I strove to be a good neighbor and give testimony to Christian values.”
In 2014, Sister Margaret retired to the Maryknoll Sisters retirement home in Monrovia, CA.