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Long-time Huntsville resident Marge Denis passed away on June 24, 2019 after an extended illness. She was an active member of the Huntsville community and, among her good works and the one of which she was most proud, she was instrumental in the foundation and eventual operation of Hospice Huntsville where she continued to volunteer as long as she was able.
Marge was featured as one of Huntsville Doppler’s extraordinary people in 2017. In her memory, we are sharing her story again.
A celebration of Marge’s extraordinary life will be held at the Active Living Centre (20 Park Drive) on August 11, 2019 from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm — please RSVP to Paul Denis at email@example.com to ensure the room can accommodate everyone. All are welcome.
Anyone wishing to send prayers or remembrances can email them to the address above or bring them to the celebration and they will be distributed with Marge’s ashes.
Marge’s family requests that donations in her honour be made to Hospice Huntsville.
This story, written by Laura MacLean, was first published on Huntsville Doppler on June 15, 2017
At 84 years old, Marge Denis is a breath of fresh air.
Her open-mindedness and willingness to converse on topics you would typically think are off limits to a former nun are just two of her admirable qualities. The highly creative, passionate, extroverted Marge is a combination of religious and spiritual and it has taken her a long time to be able to differentiate between the two. She’s as sweet as she is sharp and she’s honest and upfront and has the wisdom and worldly knowledge that can only be acquired by someone who’s lived a full life and seen it all. She’s worked on every continent in the world except for Africa. Marge has fallen in love (many times), made mistakes and learned from them, and is careful about who she hangs out with.
“I like to be around people who are constantly searching,” she says. “I’m nervous about those people who say, ‘I’ve got it made and here it is.’ That means there’s no room for growth.”
The good Marge has done in a lifetime of serving others is simply a reflection of who she is at a soul level. She was a sister of service with a religious order for 27 years – something she calls a very sacred journey. When she retired as a nun, she explored a new avenue that had her helping people and groups in a completely different way.
And even today, despite not being as mobile as she wishes she was, she volunteers to do attendance once a week at Muskoka Seniors. She’s part of a “very nebulous spirituality committee”, an informal group of like-minded members who view spirituality as something you can’t see but rather you hold.
Hospice Huntsville is near and dear to her heart. Many years ago, Marge used to visit those who were terminally ill and help train hospice volunteers and was heavily involved in the grief support program. She has recently agreed to write the history of Hospice Huntsville in hope of preserving the idea and story of how the valuable organization came to be.
“Hospice is like an iceberg,” she says. “Most of it’s hidden. The tip of it gets all the attention, but it’s what’s underneath that’s the solid foundation.”
If you ask Marge why she has devoted her life to such a selfless path, she will tell you it’s a mystery.
She grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and it was during a trip to Canada with her mother that Marge met a sister and was immediately “enthralled by her energy.” She was 19 when she came to Canada to join the Catholic sisters. It was the best thing that happened to her because she never went back to Detroit. (She officially became a Canadian citizen in 1968 and to this day she values her status as a Canadian.)
I believe only until a person is in touch with themselves are they truly able to serve other people. If you’re not in touch with yourself, you might end up doing it for glory. It’s only when I really came in touch with who I was and what my life was about that I was able to be in touch with other people. If I didn’t, I’d have something that wasn’t me to give them.
Just as she had felt “called in” to become a sister, she felt “called out.” Marge went on to attend graduate school at the University of Toronto obtained a doctorate in adult education. It was a natural evolution, she says. Working with adults was truly her passion. Over the next 30 years, she worked mainly in the nonprofit sector helping religious congregations and groups establish organizational development.
“I have a knack of being able to read where a person or group is and enable them to go from where they are to where they want to be. I developed a process I called ‘process facilitation.’ I believe every person has their own life process, every organization has its own life process and sometimes it’s called to change that life process radically. There were no set goals. I enabled them to discover their own process, and then make decisions according to that. The happy thing was I never had to advertise for all those years I did it.”
Because her job required her to travel the world, Marge never really had time to plant any roots. She had never owned property and her heart longed to live in the quiet of the country. She bought a small lot on Clark Lake near Huntsville and built her dream home. The tranquility and peace of her new surroundings allowed her to keep doing what she loved. Marge held workshops and training sessions in process facilitation from her home. She named her property Still Point and lived in solitude for 18 years until she became “somewhat lame” after knee replacement surgery. She sold her home and moved into Chartwell Muskoka Traditions. But to this day her heart aches for Still Point.
“The creative dance doesn’t happen when there’s loud noise,” she says.
Margaret Mary Denis was born on June 17, 1933, the second child and only daughter of the late Herbert Augustine Denis and Madelaine Mary Okey. Marge is survived by her sister-in-law Helen Schulstad, nephews Paul Denis (Sherry), David Denis (Diane), and Mark Denis (Cynthia); nieces Maureen Denis, Joan Denis, and Barbara Ciechanowski (Dave); and seven grand-nephews and grand-nieces.
Marge was a nun and a teacher with the Sisters of Service before leaving the order to complete a PhD in Adult Education at the University of Toronto in 1979. She continued her career of service to others as an educator, facilitator, and active member of the Huntsville community.
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