Excellence tempered by gentleness peace and joy. The life of Sister Mary de Lourdes O’Brien exemplified these words. Born into a close knit family, they were intimately connected in the Brooklyn neighborhood of the Nativity Parish. Mary attended Nativity School, Bishop McDonnell High School and then entered the community. At Reception, she was given the name Sister Raymond Augustine.
She studied at St. Joseph’s College and obtained her BA in Library Science from Pratt Institute and her MA in Library Science from Columbia University. She was an avid reader so her profession as Librarian was a perfect fit. For Mary it was not all about books. It was about understanding, attentiveness and sharing knowledge to have a broad view of our world. She guided students on the College level at St. Joseph’ for over twenty years, at Brentwood College and St. John’s University as well as in high schools at St. Joseph’s, Fontbonne and Stella Maris.
Family was very important to Mary and she cared so much for her siblings Will, Ed, and Catherine. She faithfully followed the lives of her nieces and nephews in Seattle and Minnesota through calls, letters and cards. Mary stayed connected and took such pride in their accomplishments. Her book of addresses and important dates was organized and up to date. Once a librarian, always a librarian! The importance of these relationships spilled over into any neighborhood where she resided and she kept in touch over time, even visiting a Kindergarten classmate in South Hampton when she was 92.
“As Sisters of St. Joseph living in the 21st Century, we believe in the power, presence and love of God working through an evolving universe and in God’s self-communication through Jesus Christ. As women of the Church, we recommit ourselves to Jesus’ mission as we move with the Spirit to bring about God’s reign and seek to promote justice, to live lives of non-violence and to respond to the needs of our time.”
This was our Chapter 2011 Direction Statement. It helps us define ourselves living out our vowed commitment to meet the needs of this time in history.
As I reflected on this I could not help but think that Mary lived this out every day of her almost 80 years as a Sister of Saint Joseph. It was in Mary’s heart long before we expressed it as a congregation. Her deep, quiet and personal relationship with her God overflowed in how she perceived and related to all around her. Mary was very aware of the world as it evolved in her lifetime because of her thirst for knowledge and her passion for reading including her daily musing over every page of the New York Times.
Mary brought about God’s reign through her attentiveness to each person, listening, encouraging and offering deep wisdom in response to a need. Her gentle presence was there for her students, family, friends and people in parishes who came to know her interest in them. In her time here at St. Joseph’s Convent the staff, nurses and aides knew her patience, good sense of humor and her determination to keep living well. Experiencing a great deal of pain in recent years, but never complaining, Mary would put her hope in treatments recommended by her doctors. Her daily efforts to keep walking give evidence to this but it was also her way of visiting with the sisters she held dear in this house. Conversations with them always revealed her keen interest in what was going on in the world. A life-long learner she was curious about new technologies and even inquired about SKYPE.
When I stopped in to visit Mary a week ago Monday she was sitting reading Commonweal with CNN on the TV. She was experiencing a good deal of pain but you would not know that from Mary. We talked about Pope Francis, family and as always Mary wanted to know how I was doing. In the long last days of her life Mary was surrounded by all those to whom she gave such loving attention. They offered Mary their prayers, a flower, loving words and a grasp of the hand. This was a true witness to Mary’s life that brought about God’s reign of unity and reconciling love. Her life of excellence tempered by gentleness, peace and joy made a difference in the lives of so many. How appropriate that we celebrate Mary’s life as the Church begins the Church Unity Octive a time where attentive listening, deep prayer will reconcile differences and bring about unity grounded in the unconditional love of God. Mary you taught us well and we have no doubt that you will continue to inspire us as we strive to live with the same grace, patience and compassion you showed to us.
Sister Mary de Lourdes O’Brien, CSJ, the former Sister Raymond Augustine, died on January 15, 2014 in the 80th year of her religious life.