E SUMMER 2016
he really had no idea what to do. The scope of the chal-
lenge staring her in the face was that daunting. But Sis-
ter Margaret Carney had made a commitment to those
people entrusted to her care to find a solution. She
couldn't turn back. A lunchtime fight had broken out on
the playground at St. George Grade School in inner-city
Philadelphia. Sr. Margaret was teaching seventh grade.
"I started across the playground thinking, `What am I going to do when I get there?'
Some of these kids were tough," she recalled. "And all of a sudden, two of my biggest
boys get in front of me and say, `Sister, you just drop back and we'll take care of this.'"
Told by the veteran sixth-grade teacher in September that she wouldn't survive until
Christmas, the pint-sized Pittsburgher didn't take long to earn the respect of her stu-
dents. More than 50 years later, the feeling hasn't changed much.
"I'd follow her to the ends of the earth," said Michael Padlo, '16, an Olean native
who's interned in the St. Bonaventure president's office the last two years. "I'd do any-
thing for her. She's exactly the type of leader I'd like to become someday."
A leader who never thought she was a serious candidate for the job.
x x x
TWELVE YEARS AGO, STARING OUT the window of a Newark hotel room, waiting
to be interviewed by university trustees, this 5-foot-1 force of nature harbored the same
self-doubt as the schoolteacher marching across that Philly playground 40 years before.
One of three finalists for the unenviable task of healing a university's deep wounds,
Sr. Margaret thought to herself: "I have one hour to escape."
"That day, along with the day of my inauguration, was the closest I've had to feeling
that you're out of your own body," she said. "I felt like I was being thrown over Niag-
In the wake of a basketball recruiting scandal that resulted in the dismissal of a presi-
dent, an athletic director and a coach, Sr. Margaret was asked to become the senior
vice president for the Franciscan charism, working in tandem with interim President Fr.
Dominic Monti, O.F.M., to re-establish faith in the institution. Impressed with their ef-
forts, trustees asked them both to apply for the permanent job.
"I really thought they were asking us only because everyone was telling them that
they wanted us to stay," she said. "I just saw it as a politically necessary thing out of re-
spect to us."
Even when she landed in the pool of finalists, she was sure she was in too deep.
"I saw the résumés of the other two finalists and thought, `Wait a minute. I'm not
supposed to be here still,'" she said.
Lana Benatovich didn't see it that way at all.
"She just blew us away in the interview," said Benatovich, a trustee on the search
committee to find Fr. Dominic's replacement. "She was fabulous. Her answers to the
questions were so on the mark, so positive. She not only knew what she was saying,
she believed it."
Jack McGinley Jr. was chair of the Board of Trustees longer than anyone during Sr.
Margaret's presidential tenure, the fourth longest in school history.
"We were facing a daunting task on a number of fronts and I think those tasks could
have been intimidating to a person of lesser courage and confidence," said McGinley,
'65, who thought so much of her presidency -- and friendship -- that he added her
name to the university's new ministries center being built with a gift from his family's
Sr. Margaret's trepidation was soothed by the Board's faith in her.
"The thing that got me over the hump was their belief in me," she said. "Something
transformed in the core of my being that made me believe I could do this when I didn't
think I could."
By TOM MISSEL