SIMSBURY – Throughout her life, Kathleen Magowan, a member of St. Mary Parish in Simsbury, quietly enriched the lives of area residents; upon her death she created a momentous legacy that will long be remembered.
Miss Magowan, who was an active parishioner for 65 years, died in August 2011. More than two years later, fellow parishioners learned that she had bequeathed $374,777 to her beloved church.
Father Frank J. Matera, who was assigned to the parish nearly a year after Miss Magowan’s death, learned about her and her life from parishioners and friends.
"She became a Catholic on her 21st birthday. She faithfully attended Sunday Mass, sang in the choir and often attended daily Mass," he said.
For 71 years, she lived less than two miles from the church with her twin brother, Robert Magowan, in the house that had been their family’s home since 1942. Miss Magowan had no children of her own, but she devoted her entire professional life to inspiring and educating youngsters.
"This quiet and unassuming woman had a greater impact on the young people of Simsbury than she could ever have imagined," said Father Matera.
She was a graduate of St. Joseph College (now the University of St. Joseph) in West Hartford, where she studied nursing, he said. "She worked in the pediatric unit at St. Francis Hospital for several years before deciding to become an elementary school teacher," he added.
She earned a master’s degree in education from Hillyer College in 1953. (Hillyer College, the Hartford Art School and the Hartt School of Music merged and became the University of Hartford, in 1957.)
Miss Magowan taught first grade at three elementary schools in Simsbury, including Central, Squadron Line and Belden. The Belden School, which was renovated in 1993, now serves as the Simsbury town hall.
Former students recalled Miss Magowan’s kindness and expressed gratitude for the encouragement she provided and the skills she taught, which made a significant and positive impact on their lives.
"I am told by those who knew her that she was always astounded when former students or their parents met her while she was on her errands and approached her with a good word or compliment about her influence on their lives," said Father Matera.
"Those who knew her [portrayed] her as a gentle and private person." They describe her as "warm, sweet and friendly," he said.
"Her friends remember her for [her] cheery disposition, her talkative nature and her wonderful personality," he said.
Miss Magowan, who was unpretentious and lived frugally, amassed a sizable estate and recently made headlines for her generosity. According to The Hartford Courant, her estate distributed more than $5 million to 15 charities and seven relatives and neighbors.
The University of St. Joseph received $500,000, Simsbury Public Schools was given $480,000 and the McLean elder care facility in Simsbury was granted $400,000.
"Miss Magowan’s gift comes at an important moment in the life of St. Mary’s," said Father Matera. "Last summer, members of our parish council, finance committee and school board held a retreat to reflect on the needs of our parish."
They established a working group that has been assessing our facility with a view for the future, he said.
"Miss Magowan’s gift to all of us will play an important role in our future," he said. "It is my intention that we use her gift in a way that will honor this humble and unassuming woman who did more good for others than she could ever imagine, and whose gift to St. Mary’s will continue her legacy for years to come. We at St. Mary’s will remember her in perpetuity for the generous gift she has bestowed upon us and future generations of this parish."