Who Is The Chainsaw Nun? A Principal And Former College Basketball Coach

Nov 29, 2017

Sister Margaret Ann greets her students as they’re dropped off to school in the morning.

She helps open car doors, gushes over a student’s cute dog and warns a group heading to the Everglades on a field trip to be on their best behavior because alligators are nothing to play with.

“Good morning, Sir,” she says to one student. “Your hair looks great.”

At Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Southwest Miami-Dade she’s the beloved, soft-spoken principal who always seems to have a smile on her face.

To the rest of the world, Sister Margaret Ann is better known as “the chainsaw nun.”

A video of her cutting down trees after Hurricane Irma went viral with more than seven million views on Facebook.  And her popularity does not seem to be waning two months after the storm-- interview requests keep pouring in, people gift her chainsaws and there’s even a beer named after her.

On Friday, she'll be a special guest at the Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Hornets game. 

All of this attention amuses and perplexes her.

“I don't understand why it's been such a big deal for people,” said Sister Margaret Ann on a recent morning, as she walked the school's  hallways.

Read more: Nun With A Chainsaw Becomes Symbol Of Post-Irma Cleanup: 'She Rocks'

It made perfect sense to her to help out after Hurricane Irma left a maze of toppled trees near her convent, which is just down the street from the school.

She saw one car nearly crash trying to maneuver around the felled trees.

“I know the chainsaws were here,” she said. “So I came and got a chainsaw and then just started to try to clear a path,” 

Miami-Dade Police Officer Silvia Nadal spotted  Sister Margaret Ann --5'11" tall wearing her full habit while sawing off a tree’s branch. 

“When I looked to my right, I saw a nun with the chainsaw and my eyes were in disbelief,” said Nadal.

Nadal tried to convince Sister Margaret Ann to wait for a cleanup crew. When that didn't work, she offered her a pair of gardening gloves and snapped a few seconds of what would become the viral video of “the chainsaw nun.”

“People who do good deeds go unnoticed,” said Nadal. “ I’m really glad that, by me taking that small video, it put her out there in the world for people to know there are still good people.”

Miami-Dade Police Officer Silvia Nadal and Sister Margaret Ann pose for a selfie after Hurricane Irma.
Credit Miami-Dade Police Facebook

Sister Margaret Ann grew up in San Antonio, Texas. She believed in God and went to church, but she didn’t think she’d devote her life to Christ.

“My faith was not really all that strong,” she said.

She loved to teach and her career goal was to coach college basketball.

She  attended St. Mary's University in San Antonio on a basketball scholarship where she played center. She also played  first base on the school's softball team 

But her senior year, she fell ill. She was diagnosed with Chondrosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that affects cartilage.

“They did surgery and removed the tumor,” said Sister Margaret Ann. “They took out my second, third and fourth ribs.”

She remembers telling her mom before the surgery,  “'God's got this under control.' It was just one of those experiences where you know that God was real.”

She would go on to realize her dream job coaching women’s basketball at Troy State University in Alabama and also coached at high schools in San Antonio. 

Along the way, her relationship with God continued to strengthen, but she also felt unfulfilled.

“I was proposed to twice. I had plenty of money. A bachelor’s, a master’s degree.—all the things the world said that would make you happy,” she said. “It did, but it seemed incomplete because God was calling me to be a sister.”

At 28 years old she entered a convent. She belongs to the  Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.

Sister Margaret Ann pets Archie, the school therapy dog and mascot at Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School.
Credit Nadege Green / WLRN

Three years ago, Sister Margaret Ann left California to join the faculty at Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School.  Her students thought she was awesome before Hurricane Irma. Now they think she's famous too.

"When she became famous is was something cool," said Elizabeth Silvera, one of the students. "It’s good to know that we have a principal that cares so much and that she is involved.

Sister Margaret Ann gets updates from her students about her popularity online.  

"They tell me things about social media that I have no idea about because I don't do social media," she said.

Since the chainsaw moment, she has appeared on CNN, FOX News and MSNBC.

A candy company wanted her to star in a commercial, “but we're not going to do that,” she said. And a brewery in Boynton Beach named a beer after her called “Nun With A Chainsaw,” an India Pale Ale with “tropical fruit notes with a little bit of pine and woodiness.”

Sister Margaret Ann doesn’t drink beer.

People also started sending her chainsaws. A man in Canada and  a fan in Arizona sent chainsaws.  The Florida Panthers hockey team even presented her with a chainsaw signed by the players.

While at the Panthers' game Sister Margaret Ann said she was approached by a man in the stands.

“He said, ‘Sister, thank you. Thank you for  what you do. You reminded me of God's love and God's goodness. I'm back in the church again,” she recounted.

She’s also gotten emails from people who tell her they’re happy to see a servant of the church working for the community.

While she gets a lot of chuckles from being known as the chainsaw nun, she says in that moment her purpose was simple,  to show love for her community by lending a helping hand. 

“This story touched people,” she said.  “And I think it helped them to see that there is goodness in the world.”