Oldest Catholic in diocese? ‘Sweet lady’ at OSF Saint Clare turns 108

By: By Jennifer Willems

Editor’s note: At 108, the subject of this story may be the oldest Catholic in the Diocese of Peoria. If you know of a more senior member, let our newsroom know by calling (309) 671-1550 or by e-mailing cathpost@cdop.org.


Marie L. McGann always was “a tiny little thing,” never standing taller than 5 feet or weighing much more than 100 pounds. In terms of faith and example, however, she has been a giant for her family and friends for more than a century.

She celebrated her 108th birthday earlier this month with a party at OSF Saint Clare Home in Peoria Heights, where she has lived for nearly three years. Friends from St. Augustine Manor in Peoria, where she was in residence for about 11 years before that, also joined her for cake, according to her son, Ken.

After the festivities, Deacon Bruce Steiner held a Communion service and led the rosary, which he dedicated to Mrs. McGann.

Born in Peoria on May 5, 1902, Marie Ulrich attended St. Patrick’s School on Peoria’s south side. She moved to the city’s East Bluff in 1918 and joined St. Bernard’s Parish, where she has been a member for 92 years.

She married George F. McGann, a former classmate at St. Patrick’s, in June 1925 at St. Bernard’s and together they raised three sons. Ken, 83, is active in St. Philomena’s Parish in Peoria, while James, 81, lives in West Hartford, Conn., and David, 70, is in Spokane, Wash.

Mrs. McGann’s extended family now includes 13 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

The McGanns ran a small grocery story in a converted house across from the former White School, and Mrs. McGann also worked for Tobias and Kellogg Insurance Company and in the admitting department at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Being a working mother didn’t stop her from helping with the hot lunch program at St. Bernard’s School or being a room mother and Mother’s Club president.

She also made baby clothes and quilts for the missions as a member of the parish’s Blue Circle, and counted the Sunday collection for many years.
What her son remembers is her example of faith and service, which she passed along to her family.

“We prayed the rosary regularly,” Ken told The Catholic Post, adding that there was never any question that they would attend Mass on Sunday. Catholic education was also a priority, with the McGann boys attending St. Bernard’s School and then Spalding Institute.

Faith was something to lean on in the tough times, too.

“She felt if you had a problem, you got on your knees and prayed for a solution,” Ken said. “You asked God for help.”

Despite having macular degeneration and hearing loss, Mrs. McGann remains upbeat, according to her son.

“She says thank you almost all the time, when anybody does anything for her,” he said. “And she never complains — that’s what’s amazing.”
Even so, Ken acknowledged that there are times she wonders, “Why hasn’t the Lord taken me yet? I just hope heaven’s not full.”
“Mom, they’ll squeeze you in,” he reassures her.

“She’s such a sweet lady. She really is,” Ken said.

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