Margaret James Neill
(1939 - 2013)

Margaret James Neill

March 8, 1939

January 19, 2013

The Reverend Dr. Margaret James Neill, 73, died in Rochester, New York, January 19, 2013, three weeks after moving to be near her family following her 2 ½ year bout with lung cancer. She had been a resident of Hampstead, NC for over 20 years.

Margaret was born March 8, 1939, in Lee County, South Carolina the only child of Rev. Moses and Geneva (Golightly) James. She went to schools in New Orleans, LA, Charlotte, NC and Chattanooga, TN. She began playing the piano at five and played for all the Presbyterian services where her father was the minister.

Margaret was admitted to college at Tennessee State University at age 15. She sang in the University Choir, wrote for the college newspaper, acted in leading roles in plays and performed well academically, routinely making the Dean’s list.

Her father, Rev. Moses died when she was 18. She dropped out of college to support the family financially. Margaret completed her degree at age 22, graduating with honors in Psychology. She taught junior high school in Chattanooga. Later she earned a Masters degree in Psychology at George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, TN graduating in 1969.

Margaret worked for the National Training Laboratories, Institute for Behavioral Science, in Washington D.C. She served as program director with the Institute. At a 1970 conference on interracial relationships, Margaret met Don Neil, who would become her husband later that year. Don was a professor of history at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo Michigan. Margaret and Don made a home together in Kalamazoo. Margaret’s life was full as a wife and stepmother to three teenagers. She also pursued doctoral studies in psychology at WMU, earning a Ph.D. in 1975. That same year she opened a consulting business named Mana Associates.

In 1983 Margaret experienced an “awakening” as a spiritual call to become a priest. She began a discernment process through St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo, which led her to Nashotah House, an Episcopal Seminary in Wisconsin. She graduated in 1990 earning a Masters in Divinity with honors. Reverend Neil was the first African American woman to complete studies at Nashotah House.

The Reverend Dr. Margaret J. Neill became the Rector of St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1990 and served for three years. Margaret then experienced a call to go to the desert, which led her to Tucson, Arizona. She formed many different groups of women and men through the Episcopal Church, where she led them in a deeper life of prayer. She had a healing ministry and was given “gifts of knowing” how to help those in need heal their bodies, improve relationships and grow in spiritual life. She returned to Tucson many times, including as Interim Associate Rector at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Margaret and Don moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where she served as the Associate pastor at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. She worked for several years as a retreat facilitator at the Trinity Conference Center in the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, Salter Path, North Carolina. She was beloved at the Trinity Center. She also served as Chaplain of the Order of the Daughters of the King, an Episcopal lay order.

Mother Margaret, as many of the members of her groups called her, celebrated the Holy Eucharist in area churches around Wilmington and Hampstead. She appeared on the Presbyterian Hour radio program and continued to lead retreats around the United States.

Her themes of detachment, gratitude and love of Christ were always given in a style of humility, hilarity and deep reverence. Her laughter is still ringing in our ears.

Margaret’s journey with lung cancer was shared by her inspirational prayer and healing group from the Methodist Church in Hampstead, NC and with good friends Patsy Perhala and Heather Wren. Her medical support team included Dr. Margaret Collins-Hill, Nan Cameron, and a team of physicians and caregivers. She especially delighted in visits from the Golightly and James cousins.

She was deeply loved by her spiritual sisters known as “Mary’s Group,” with whom she had been meeting in person or by phone for 31 years. During one of Margaret’s last weekly calls with the group, she offered reassurance. Despite the hectic rush to leave her home, disperse her worldly goods, and distribute her religious books and garments, she was calm. “All is well,” Margaret said. Her spirit was “alive with joy in Jesus. “

Her mission will continue among the many groups and individuals her life touched. Margaret is survived by her beloved husband of 39 year, Don, stepchildren: Jane Neill, Glynnis Kashtan and Donald Neill, III, and 4 grandchildren.

A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held Feb. 23 at 2:00 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 16th St. and Front in Wilmington, NC.

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Guest Book (27 entries)
Her husband, Don, and I go back to 1960 at WMU. I lost track of him and he suddenly turned up at St. Luke's Church in Kalamazoo with this woman who he introduced as his wife.

It took little time to restore my relationship to Don, and to fall in love with Margaret. When she discerned a call to the priesthood, she asked for Jean, my wife, and I to be on her discernment committee. Our rector said she couldn't have both members of a couple, so she chose Jean.

Nonetheless, we stood with Margaret through the whole process, Jean officially and me unofficially. We visited her at Nashota and rejoiced at witnessing her graduation.

We witnessed her ordination to the diaconate at St. Luke's and to the priesthood at St. Phillip's. She was our sister who made us proud.

When they came to visit Kalamazoo after they moved to the East Coast, they came to our house and we took them out to dinner because that's what family do.

Margaret's passing diminishes our family but reminds us of gratitude in the beautiful gift of sharing the love of this beautiful woman.
Jim Forrest (Brother in Christ)
June 10th, 2019
Margaret was a friend, spiritual director but most of all a prophet. Her deep spiritual insight brought a sense of shared ministry and excitement to those who were blessed by her presence in their lives. She will be deeply missed by so many.
Sue Schlanbusch (DOK sister)
August 19th, 2013
I was deeply moved and saddened to learn of Margaret's death. I met Margaret at a ECW (St Thomas's, Oriental, NC)at Trinity Center several years ago. She sensed that I was 'in pain' and cried for me...she told me that I have so much love to give...I felt that here was an incredible woman, who was blessed here on earth with an abundance of God's visible Love. She told me she was an Intuit. I have never forgotten her.
I just found out today May 6th that she had gone Home. There is someone I wanted her to meet...I guess she will someday! I pray that Margaret will watch over me on earth from her place in Heaven. She was an unforgettable person...and I am truly honored to have met her! May I see her in Heaven someday!

Paula Valinoti, member of St Thomas parish, Oriental, NC
Paula Valinoti (Fellow Sojourner)
May 6th, 2013
I met Mother Margaret at St. Paul's in Wilmington N.C when I lived there for 2 years.What. blessing she was to me and the Prayer group we had there.
Her memory will live forever in the hearts of those who knew her.
May Her soul rest in Peace.
Yvonne Fraser
Yvonne Fraser (Friend)
April 13th, 2013
Margaret will be deeply missed. She was and is the "Keeper of the Flame. Good FRIENDS are the Shadow of God's Love for us.

I will be seeing you.
For His Sake, M
Marsha Rockwell Hirt (Spirit Sister)
March 9th, 2013
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"A woman to follow in her foot steps, so close to God at all times, bringing others with her as she went. Loved by many, her loss to us is only a gain for her, to be closer to her, our, God. Mother Margaret My love for you holds no bounds."
Judith Bradley
February 19th, 2013


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