Sister Maura Barga (June Mary Barga) was a Sister of Mercy for 75 years. Sister Maura was an artist from birth. She told us once that there wasn’t much paper around the house, but she had scissors and that her parents took pride in pointing out her ability to camouflage cutout funny paper people on the flowered wallpaper.
After she graduated from high school, Maura spent time studying at the Dayton Art Institute. When she was 20, she felt what she called an “unexplainable tug to enter a community.” Her sister was teaching in Sandusky, where Maura met and was mentored by Sister Marie Anne House. She entered the Sisters of Mercy in the fall of 1946.
Maura spent more than 30 years teaching art to high school students at Mother of Mercy in Cincinnati, Carroll High School in Dayton, and McAuley High School in Toledo, Ohio. During her years at Mother of Mercy, she was able to spend six summers getting her Master of Arts from the University of Notre Dame. She left education for health care ministry and, after a year with RSM Creative Services, worked in pastoral care at Mercy Hospital in Hamilton and then at Marcum Wallace in Irvine, Kentucky, where she says she was “stretched from art to maintenance to pastoral care. It was very broadening.”
Eventually, Maura returned to pastoral care at Mercy, Fairfield, and then took a position at Partners in Prime, where she taught senior citizens watercolor and drawing classes. About that, Maura said: “I find what I am doing now to be the most enjoyable. I enjoy teaching my peers. We understand each other.” In 2002 she was awarded the Ambassador Award for the Arts for Butler County and later was invited to have a one-woman show. At this time, someone wrote of Maura that she was a humble, gentle woman who did not like to be in the spotlight even though she had developed award-willing talent in others.
Maura had a great sense of humor and superior powers of observation. She enjoyed organizing things and keeping house. One of her mottoes was: ”Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.” She loved music. At one point, she and two of her sisters were part of a band called “The Barga Sisters.” Maura was the one responsible for all the novitiate parodies. She had a natural gift for that. And she added her beautiful alto to many professions and jubilees. She enjoyed reading anything to do with history, and she enjoyed spiritual writers. A few months ago, she received an Echo Dot. She frequently wanted answers and enjoyed calling upon Alexa for much-varied information. She maintained an interest in the news and politics almost to the end.
Maura’s artwork had a very gentle and feminine quality. She was an amazingly creative person. In the McAuley community room, there is an old wooden ironing board that she carved into a Madonna, and upstairs in her gallery is a large picture of an elderly woman made completely of scraps of torn paper. She had a real talent for caricature. Many of the sisters, her family, and friends have drawings and notes that were a takeoff on something that had happened. It was as though she’d get an idea and couldn’t resist putting it on paper. There is probably a copy of Maura’s artwork in almost every convent in the Institute. Her series showing the sisters performing the works of mercy is so well known and loved.
Certainly, Maura’s greatest gift was Maura herself. So many have considered her a wisdom figure and have shared deeply with her. Her non-judgmental attitude and her openness meant so much to so many people. That Maura had a deep spirituality is obvious from her artwork. She was what many would call an old soul. She was very aware of all the suffering in the world and all the contradictions in the church and politics during these difficult times. This year, her Christmas card had a quote from Martin Luther King that captured how Maura looked at life: “I have seen too many stars to let any darkness overwhelm me.”