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A passionate spirit

A passionate spirit

Photos courtesy of Margaret Mullin

In nearly a century of life, alumna Margaret Mullin has traveled the world and embarked on many adventures. But her heart has always been with the people she served in a small Canadian town.

By Amanda Friedlander ('18)

Clad in green and gold, Margaret Mullin (MSW ’41) proudly sings along with the music at her long-term care facility. She holds a drink in her hand—the only one she’ll have all year—to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. With the joy and energy of a woman a quarter of her age, she turns to her niece and proclaims, “this is bigger than Christmas!”

In nearly a century of life, Mullin has seen more of the world than most people could ever hope to see, and touched more lives than most people expect to touch. An empathetic and generous spirit drove her career as a social worker in Canada, where she cared for those who were unable to care for themselves for over 40 years before retiring in the ‘70s. Now 99 years old, Mullin’s passion for social work burns just as bright as it did when she first stepped foot on Loyola’s campus decades ago.

“Margaret was a pioneer in so many ways as far as being a female getting her education and being a professional woman in the workforce,” says Marg Waechter, Mullin’s niece. “To pursue an education was a big deal in those days.”

From Canada to Chicago

Born in 1918, Mullin was the youngest in a family of nine. They lived in a small town in northern Canada called Chepstow, with a population of less than 300. After she graduated from college in her home country, Mullin learned that the Catholic Women’s League was offering a scholarship for Catholic girls interested in pursuing a degree in social work. The scholarship was applicable in four U.S. cities: New York, St. Louis, Washington, and Chicago. Since the fastest route home would be a train from Chicago through Detroit, the choice was obvious. According to Waechter, Mullin’s father took out a life insurance policy after she left out of fear that the long trip would literally kill her.

But Mullin survived the train rides, and was immediately fascinated by Chicago's culture. She remembers watching strangers eat as the train passed through, even stopping to sit in the notorious Green Mill restaurant, where Al Capone dined only 20 years prior. On the first day of class registration, Mullin met a woman who turned out to be her cousin. Knowing she had family in the city helped ease her nerves about the big move, and Mullin stayed in Chicago until she graduated in 1941.

After moving back to Canada, Mullin dedicated her time to caring for children and unwed mothers at the Children’s Aide in Toronto. One of her most memorable patients was Leo, a severely ill 15-month-old boy, whom she had to regularly take to the hospital for his treatments. She remembers turning her class ring around to mimic a wedding ring in response to the judgmental stares from other women in the waiting room.

An adventurous life

Social work, though emotionally taxing, had its perks. While working at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Montreal, the hospital’s namesake came to visit. Mullin remembers standing in the second row, mere inches from royalty. She often walked to church, passing men who would later become some of the most influential diplomats in Canadian parliament.  She even occasionally ran into Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister at the time. On a later trip to Rome, she was able to see the pope.

Mullin was not only a passionate social worker, she was also quite the adventurer. In her secondhand Chrysler Royale, Mullin drove out west, down the steep roads of the Rockies. She took two of her co-workers on a European expedition, sailing from England to Ireland over the course of six days, then taking her first flight to Italy. Despite being an anxious flyer, she took many more trips to Switzerland, France, and Germany. While in Europe, she even taught herself how to drive on the other side of the road. Her adventures helped her develop an appreciation for the various cultures she experienced, and she learned to speak fluently in both German and French.

Her faith kept her grounded, though, and she always returned home to a small parade of local children who begged her to take them swimming. She enjoyed singing in church, always in German, and was deeply moved by the organ music her mother would play. When she wasn’t acting as a mentor and friend to the local children, she would read voraciously, and was fascinated by the history of her family and hometown. 

“She was pretty amazing for someone coming from such a small town,” Waechter says. “She never lost her roots but always came back and kept in touch.”

Read more stories of outstanding Loyola alumni