Sister Virginia Maguire was dying of cancer. But when people asked how she was doing recently, she'd quickly turn the conversation to making sure the parish social ministry office she ran in Garden City got out the 250 turkey dinners it had promised needy families.
Two weeks before she died on Dec. 5, Maguire got an apartment for a homeless woman, colleagues said.
"She was just a truly holy, wonderful, caring woman filled with compassion, filled with joy," said the Rev. Joseph Schlafer, who initially hired Maguire at St. Joseph's parish in Garden City.
Maguire, 71, also served as prioress, or head, of the Dominican Sisters of Amityville and oversaw important transformations in the congregation, one of the largest orders of religious sisters on Long Island.
After she finished her six-year term as prioress in 2007, Maguire probably could have gone into high-level religious work, colleagues said. But she chose something that she saw as a simple fulfillment of Jesus' instructions to help the neediest among us.
"It was not a difficulty for her to shift gears because she was so focused on giving to others," Schlafer said.
As head of the social outreach program, Maguire helped provide food, clothing, rent money and other assistance to the less fortunate, often in neighboring communities such as Hempstead and Roosevelt.
Yet as leader of the Dominican Sisters, she also oversaw major changes for the order, which now numbers about 450 nuns. Maguire "led the Congregation through a period of change, visioning and discernment," the order said in a statement.
As prioress, Maguire oversaw the 150th anniversary of the order and renovation of St. Albert's Chapel at the Motherhouse in Amityville.
In 2005, the order sold its Villa Maria retreat house in Water Mill.
With the number of sisters dwindling, Maguire helped lead an effort to consolidate forces with four other Dominican congregations in the Northeast that committed themselves to deeper collaboration.
She also served in leadership positions in the Federation of Dominican Sisters USA, a national organization, said Sister Diane Morgan, who worked with Maguire when she headed the order in Amityville.
Maguire was born in Astoria, Queens, and attended Bishop McDonnell High School in Brooklyn, where Dominican sisters taught. She entered the order in 1960.
She went on to a number of jobs as teacher or principal, including heading St. Kilian's in Farmingdale from 1978 to 1985. For the next decade she was selected to serve as a regional director of the order.
Maguire is survived by several nieces and nephews. A Mass of Christian burial was offered Tuesday at St. Albert's Chapel, with burial at the Sisters' Cemetery on the Motherhouse grounds in Amityville.