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Saint Margaret

July 17th, 2012 · 27 Comments · Faith and the City

Last night, during heart surgery, Margaret Loehlin Shafer passed into God’s eternal care.

Margaret was a member of this church since 1988. She was a member of the staff from 1991 to 2004, serving first in Christian education and ultimately as the Associate for Outreach. During that time Margaret was a tireless advocate for God’s most needy children. She was a creative, vital and joyful director of our homeless ministries. She was a central figure in advocating against New York City policies that prohibited homeless people from sleeping on our steps. She was a good friend and wise counselor to many.

We will miss Margaret dearly.

If you did know Margaret, no doubt this somber moment is bringing some stories to mind. I am inviting anyone who would like to share a Margaret story to post it here.  Let us comfort each other with memories of her life-giving presence.  In case you didn’t know Margaret, here is a link to a story from the 2001 New York Times that describes her force-of-nature character and sketches an aspect of her ministry at FAPC.

This morning I spoke with Margaret’s beloved husband, Dr. Byron Shafer. Byron is deeply, deeply saddened by Margaret’s loss. He takes comfort in God’s promise of eternal life, and trusts that our Lord holds Margaret even now. Byron had this to say about his bride of 51 years:

Quite simply put, Margaret’s was the purest soul I have ever known. She experienced her most profound joy in helping others to become the best persons they could be, including most especially me. Margaret had a deep sense of God’s calling her to do this, and she lived that purpose out to the fullest. In my eyes, and in many others’ as well, she was truly a saint.  

Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church will hold a Memorial Service for Margaret Shafer on Sunday, September 16 at 2:00 PM. Please join me in praying God’s comfort on Byron and the Shafer’s three children and four grandchildren this day, and in thanking God for the gift of her amazing life.

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • Eric JohnsonNo Gravatar

    Farewell, sweet Saint Margaret. We will always love you, and be grateful for how you enriched our lives. I know that you used to say that you were curious about what comes after this life, and you were looking forward to finding out. Of course, there was never any fear…you have too much faith for that.

  • Bridget + Eric JohnsonNo Gravatar

    Our dear St. Margaret! Margaret was not only Urban Samaritan’s co-founding director, she was always there for us as our patron saint and guiding light. The Holy Spirit put into our hearts the idea of starting a small nonprofit that would benefit our homeless and in-need neighbors. But, how would we get this crazy idea started? We decided to run this idea by our church’s resident expert on homelessness, Margaret. We took a big chance and shared with her our wacky idea – we solicit banners from museums and have homeless people sew them into tote bags that museums then buy back and sell in their gift shops. Margaret listened and explained that there was a women’s homeless shelter up by Columbia University that has a sewing workshop! The Holy Spirit continued to work through Margaret and with us. She was a blessing to Urban Samaritan. We will miss her – but her spirit will always be with us as we continue our mission. Bridget Johnson

  • Ron ZargarianNo Gravatar

    I worked with Margaret as an elder on outreach committee. She came up with the idea of banquet for homeless. It dignified the homeless people and gave a chance to our members to interact with them. However, my fondest memory was when I taught Sunday School for 5 years while she was director of Christian education. Even when I left NYC and moved to DC as a pastor, she would always drop me a note.

    Byron, May Holy Spirit comfort you.

  • Thia ReggioNo Gravatar

    Margaret carried her own canoe. I will never forget this image of her. It speaks of her independence, her love of life, and her unending sense of the adventure and pleasure that awaited in God’s creation. I could not begin to enumerate the ways in which she inspired and humbled me. I know that she has already zipped through the express line reserved for those who took to heart the call to place others first and is rowing out into eternal bliss. We will miss the twinkle in her eye, her wise and witty words, and her deviled eggs. Our love goes out to Byron and the family.

  • Thomas SouthernNo Gravatar

    My heart is saddened to receive the news of Margaret’s death. She was a long time friend. A lover of the power and mystery of “Story.” She would always engage me in sharing inspirational and biblical stories whenever she planned outreach social programs. She was a loving friend who would always send an encouraging note telling me how much my stories meant. Those we love stay in our hearts forever. Thomas Southern, Member, Elder and Deacon. FAPC

  • Ellen Pearre CasonNo Gravatar

    Nearly 25 years of the most exquisite friendship and tutelage. I have no words, only tears.

  • Joshua & Manu DasNo Gravatar

    [received from Margaret & Byron’s adopted loved ones in Bangalore]

    For the first few hours I was in tears and received comforting short text messages on my cell when I started calling my friends
    She was our loving mother. Her contribution is enormous in my life. We loved her so much and constantly encouraged me with love filled with care and support towards me , Manu and to all at Kolar Gold Fields and to slum dwellers in Bangalore. Through her motivation Human Development Foundation had its birth and was able to do lots of activities for the upliftment of the marginalized. The first beneficiary was me. Otherwise I would have ended up my life of not knowing how to face life in this stringing challenging world.
    She has put me in the paths of doing good for the poor and needy and she is my role model. I humbly confess that I will honour her by following the footsteps and her works will continue through me.

    We miss her and believe one day we will meet her very close in the presence of God.

    • HazelNo Gravatar

      Dear Josh and Manu,

      What a sad surprise to see your names in these tributes to our beloved Midge. I remember with great fondness your hospitality when I had the privilege of being Midge’s and Byron’s guest in Bangalore.

      I hope you are well.


  • Mark TomaskoNo Gravatar

    Margaret Shafer was an unflappable, tireless, gentle fighter and advocate for the least of us—the homeless. She stood up for the homeless and inspired a great church to follow her lead, stimulating an interest in the homeless and housing that is alive and well at Fifth Avenue today. I recall a meeting she, Joe Vedella and I (as president of the Trustees, who legally are in charge of the building) had with the Commander of Midtown North and his whole staff to try and reach a deal to keep the police from clearing our steps. Seeing Joe Vedella and Margaret Shafer get the rapt attention of the Deputy Inspector and his whole staff was remarkable. We did reach a deal, but it was overruled later that night from downtown. The lawsuit began, culminating later in a landmark ruling. She was a true disciple of Christ and example for us all.

  • Jill SchaefferNo Gravatar

    I came to know Margaret after 9/11 at 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church at a special service, where she induced me to read a psalm – one of the angry ones- to comfort those were still in shock or deeply angry themselves about what had happened. She whispered, “For such a time as this…” before I got up to read. Years later, we worked together, along with others, to establish the Ghanian fellowship, now the Presbyterian church at Woodlawn Heights in the Bronx. The office where we devised our strategy? The IRT number 4 line. I’m going to miss her drive, her faith and her love.

  • Polly JohnsonNo Gravatar

    My heart is full of tears and love as I read these comments. Margaret and I were Seminary friends and have kept in touch through the 49 years since leaving McCormick. We corresponded, e-mailed–and kept each other in thought and prayer. The last time I saw Margaret in person, she took us to the church steps to meet some of her homeless friends. It is a memory of her and of them I will never forget. Blessings and gratitude pour out for her and Byron and all their friends and family

  • Madeline Chiclacos

    Margaret was a very warm, wonderful teacher. I took a bible class with her in the 1980’s and learned a lot. She was compassionate, beautiful and smart. I will miss her very much. May she rest in Jesus’s care.
    Madeline Chiclacos

  • Madeline Chiclacos

    Dear Byron,
    You are a very blessed man to be married to Margaret for so many years. She was a very lovely person. Stay strong. I will pray for you.
    Madeline Chiclacos

  • Katharine SakenfeldNo Gravatar

    St. Margaret – how apt! Margaret introduced me to India (and to the meaning of friendship) through Wooster’s “Wooster in India” program in 1957. Our paths criss-crossed over the years and eventually my dream of visiting India came true as I joined the mission trip she led to Baring Union College in Batala, Punjab in 2000. In all that she said and did, Margaret embodied Micah 6:8 , inspiring me to live a more Christ-like life. Thank you, Margaret. Our loss is surely gain for the community of saints in the heavenly kingdom.
    Kathie Sakenfeld

    • Linda Pierce KnutsonNo Gravatar

      I have enjoyed following your career at Princeton ever since knowing your aunt and uncle, Dr Doob, who was our family dentist when we lived in Long Island (1977 – 1994). It is not surprising you and Margaret knew one another. I, too, have an India connection, having worked with the Vellore Christian Medical College and Hospital in Tamil Nadu from 1987 -1994. Where are you now? I live outside DC in northern VA.

  • S. John BoopalanNo Gravatar

    The first time I saw Mrs. Margaret was when I met her as ‘the wife of Dr. Byron Shafer’, my Professor. She came across as kind and generous but also as fragile and mild. After coming to know the lovely couple for last few years, my admiration for Mrs. Margaret only increased. Behind the mild appearance, there was strength, conviction and generous presence.

    I have 2 stories: (1) I heard of her formidable presence trying to set things right near Fifth Avenue when she worked with the homeless. After an intoxicated man had threatened her, she had to be reminded by her friend of the several possible meanings of a freshly broken glass bottle that makes it’s appearance as part of the verbal threat. Reminder had to be followed by persuasion and Mrs. Margaret would leave the scene only after being sufficiently convinced that she had set the situation right. (2) We were trekking a hill at the Adirondacks. While I (who did not even have a 100th of the ailments that she was coping with) was trying to appear calm and mask my exhaustion, Mrs. Margaret would trek along with her walking stick with minimal extra support, stop to point out a tree or name a flower and offer some nature lessons infused with some theology. And of course, the yummy sandwiches!

    I remember her fondly with great admiration. I will miss her dearly. Rightly, she has been called a Saint.

  • John M RhodesNo Gravatar

    It has been a very sad week learning of Margaret’s passing. Margaret was a friend to all who knew her. She leaves the world a better place than she found it.
    I consider Margaret Shafer one of the finest persons I’ve had the fortune to know.

  • Chris GlaserNo Gravatar

    As a writer, all sorts of words about Margaret should be pouring out, but I am awed to silence by her gentle, persuasive, passionate, and kind way of being a friend to me as well as a minister to all. She makes me proud and glad to be a Christian and a Presbyterian. Thank God for her and Byron, who have offered me gracious hospitality in their home and in their lives and in the church!

  • Rose Cunningham (Rose)No Gravatar


    Rest in peace, for now, all your toils and labors have ceased.

    Byron, and family in my prayers.
    Rose Cunningham (Rose)

  • Mary Saunders-BartonNo Gravatar

    I find myself thinking about Margaret as I move through my days since I heard the surprising news of her death. During the better part of the 1990’s Margaret was a staunch and trusted mentor to me as we worked to develop a Children’s Choir at Fifth Avenue. Her counsel was invaluable, always practical, sometimes very funny and always right on! She had a gift of guiding from a distance, with compassion and common sense. I marvel at how many lives she touched.
    You often encouraged us to offer simple “breath
    prayers” during the course of our days. Here is
    one for you, Margaret, with love and appreciation.

  • Dakerlin Mukhim

    May God comfort Dr. Byron Shaffer in dis time of grief n loss of a loving companion. May He grant everlasting peace to the soul of madam Margaret Shaffer.

  • Kadivedu Joshua Samuel

    Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that! She is one of those very few faculty spouses who were an inspiration at UTC. I can never forget the wonderful time we had in her fellowship group, when Dr. Shaffer was the visiting Prof. at UTC. She was so loving and so genuine. I can still recall her narrating her slum Ministry in the US. And the little that I did during my Pastoral Ministry was inspired by her. May her soul rest in Peace and may the Lord comfort Dr. Shaffer.

  • K Samuel Herald Christian

    My heartfelt condolence to the bereaved family….. Joshua pls send my condolence to Dr. Shaffer.. …

  • Ravela Jeeva Kumar

    my deep condolence to the bereaved family. I had a good time with Shafer’s family at UTC during my M.Th studies. Pls send my condolence to Dr. Shafer.

  • Rev.Edward Probert

    I am very sorry to learn this. I remember Byron and Margaret well, as I remember very fondly the happy meal we shared at your home.
    I will hold Byron in my prayers.

  • Rev.Michael Roden

    I was very sorry to hear this news.

  • Linda Pierce KnutsonNo Gravatar

    Margaret and I met in NYC in the late 60’s when we were both mothers with young children. Our husbands were Presbyterian ministers, and we had interests in common; suchas, she as a child of missionaries in India and I having served as a missionary in the Middle East. Our times of conversation, in the midst of the mundane, felt like an oasis. I realized then Margaret was a blessing in my life. Byron and Margaret were able to visit us at our home in Virginia in March of this year and we enjoyed sacred space to reminisce. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich)