A Family Remembers Its Sister
Now, 24 years later, her murder has been somewhat overshadowed by the
recent arrest of the 66-year-old priest who police say ceremonially killed
her, and the unrelated allegations in June of satanic rituals and sadomasochistic
sex that led police to reopen the case.
By 1980, she had trouble hearing and considered retirement. Still, she cared for the two chapels at what was then called Mercy Hospital, where her attention to detail was as unwavering as her devotion to God, according to those interviewed by police after her killing.
"She demanded everything to be done exactly as she wanted it done, and on time," one detective wrote, after interviewing a nun who called Sister Margaret Ann "old school."
A housekeeper agreed. On Good Friday, the day before her death, the housekeeper told the detective that Sister Margaret Ann was distraught "because … the chapel was not as perfect as she wanted it."
Even more horrifying for her, a priest - it is unclear who - had shortened the Good Friday service. Sister Margaret Ann, very upset, took the housekeeper's hand and cried: "Why did they cheat God out of what was His?"
The hours before Sister Margaret Ann died would be carefully documented in the days after her murder.
She had set her alarm for 5 a.m. Holy Saturday in her room in the upstairs living quarters at Mercy Hospital. She made her way to the switchboard downstairs and then to the dining room by 6:15 a.m. She took a dining-room tray, walked a short distance to a storage closet, and gathered cleaning cloths and incense. She placed them on a tray, which she put on a chapel pew.
Returning to the dining room by 6:20 a.m., she had a quick breakfast of grapefruit, cereal, and coffee, then told a cafeteria worker she was heading up to St. Joseph's chapel.
She left the dining room for the last time at 6:45 a.m., presumably returning to the chapel, where she prepared the altar for Easter weekend services.
Shortly after 8 a.m. a young nun walking to the chapel picked up what appeared to be a folded linen in the hallway. She dropped it on a chapel pew, momentarily paused at the organ, and then decided to make a phone call in the sacristy, an 11 foot by 17-foot room to the side of the altar.
On the sacristy's polished marble floor was Sister Margaret Ann's body. She was partly disrobed and had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck and torso - up to 32 times.
A blind had been lowered. One door to the sacristy remained locked. In the second, a skeleton key remained in the inside lock.
A coroner's investigator would say she believed the sister had been strangled from behind by someone with large hands.
Investigators later collected what they hoped would provide clues to the killing, including the cloth that the nun had picked up on her way to the chapel that morning and a unique "sword-like" letter opener with a medallion. That later was retrieved from Father Robinson's quarters at the hospital, according to documents obtained by The Blade.
The linen from the hallway, unfolded later, appeared to have bloodstains on it. In fact, several pieces of cloth were seized, in part because it appeared Sister Margaret Ann was stabbed through an altar cloth.
The more her siblings learned of Sister Margaret Ann's death, the more horrifying each detail became.
"The only thing I had left to hope for was that she was strangled …" Ms. Flegal said, abruptly tearful, "… before, before she was stabbed."
Two days after Easter 1980, more than 200 mourners crammed inside a chapel at St. Bernardine's Home at the Fremont retreat where Sister Margaret Ann had planned to soon retire. Father Jerome Swiatecki, another Mercy Hospital chaplain who helped celebrate her funeral Mass, called the death "not only blasphemous, but patently absurd."
Perhaps it was poetic coincidence that the storm outside subsided by the end of Sister Margaret Ann's Mass of Resurrection, but Mrs. Casebere does not think so.
She remembers her sister's draped casket being taken to the back of the church. Someone opened the doors. The sky had abruptly calmed.
"It was so quiet," Mrs. Casebere said. "To me it was like God telling us not to worry. That she'd made it to heaven."
As for the rest of the case, even today, Mrs. Casebere and Mrs. Fleger say they are not so concerned.
Neither plans to attend court hearings as the legal case unfolds. Both said the killer, whether it was Father Robinson or someone else, will have to answer to a much higher power than earthly courts.
"I know Sister's soul is in heaven and that she's free," Mrs. Fleger said. "For me, that's what's important."
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