Reflections for Mass of Resurrection for Maureen O Brien, BVM

Reflections for Mass of Resurrection for Maureen O Brien, BVM

Reflections for Mass of Resurrection for Maureen O’Brien, BVM

September 12, 2015

Good afternoon and welcome to the celebration of the life of our Sister Maureen O’Brien. Thank you for being here to honor her life and legacy.

Maureen Frances O’Brien was born on March 11, 1937, in Oakland, California, to Richard George O’Brien and Marian Marie Helbush. She joined an older sister Ann Therese (Terry)and later a brother Steven Paul was born.

She entered Mt. Carmel on September 8, 1954, received the name Sister Mary Matteo at her reception on March 19, 1955, and made first vows on March 19, 1957. She was sent to study at Mundelein College, pioneering the BVM Scholasticate program and then the actual building in Chicago. There she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. Later she would receive a Masters in Theology from St. Mary’s College of California. She said studying theology was good preparation for being a high school principal.

Maureen’s first love was God. Years ago, she told me how she had a powerful and tangible experience of God’s presence with her on the day of her First Communion. In the readings, chosen by Maureen, we heard of Job’s great desire: “… from my flesh I will see God; my inmost being is consumed with longing.” (Job 19: 26) And again from John’s first letter: “We are God’s children now; what we shall be like has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like God, for we shall see God as God is.” (1 Jn 3:2)

Maureen loved her parents, who in later life, she affectionately referred to as “Sir Richard” and Maid Marian.” She told of how as young children she and her sister Terry would run expectantly to the corner near their home in Berkeley at the time their father would come from his work in San Francisco via the Key Line. Or the Saturday after they had moved to Most Holy Redeemer parish when, reluctantly relinquishing her Saturday jeans for a dress at her mother’s direction, she accompanied her father to Seal’s Stadium, to be surprised by the personal appearance of Babe Ruth. During summer studies in theology at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, the O’Brien home near there graciously welcomed Maureen and many of her BVM friends. And following an 80th birthday party planned by the family for her mother to celebrate with other family and friends in her mobile home park in Sunnyvale, Maureen was very grateful to her sister Terry and her late husband John as they welcomed Marian into their home in Millbrae during what became the last few months of her life.

She loved her family – and was particularly close to her sister Terry and her five children who are all here today. It was obvious to me who was “adopted” into the Riordan clan that children were particularly precious. She always commented with pride on the way the men in the family were especially good with children. Maureen’s family now stretches to a great grandniece and two great grandnephews. Every major holiday was spent with the extended Riordan clan.

Her experience with BVMs from 5th grade at Most Holy Redeemer School and then through St. Paul’s High School in San Francisco drew her to enter religious life at Mt. Carmel in Dubuque right after high school … but she never dreamed that it involved teaching. That was a surprise, but she was a natural.

She embraced the 70 students in her first sophomore homeroom at St. Mary’s in Chicago, taught biology there, walked the streets of the neighborhood marked for slum clearance with Sister Mary Victory, was changed forever by the poverty she encountered there, and then loved her students from the farms around Cascade and the deep faith of the Iowa families. She arrived at St. Martin’s to teach at Aquin High in Cascade with the new superior, Sr. Eleanor Burke (who had grown up on 29th Street at Tiffany) who became a life-long colleague and dear friend. She then taught at Holy Name Cathedral High in Chicago and eventually came back to California to St. Vincent High School, Petaluma.

But her enduring legacy was her leadership as principal of St. Paul’s High School, her alma mater, from 1973 to its closure by the Archdiocese 21 years later. She loved “the scruffies” and believed that God would not stand at the door to turn away students whose math and reading scores were not “high enough” – so neither did she and her staff. She was a wise, caring, but firm presence – whether on the corner with the local street gang members, or with the 18-year old who needed a chance for an education and came in as a sophomore. Many of her students will quote her familiar greeting: “My loves, my doves, my beautiful ones.”

She acted on faith – turning a school on shaky financial ground to solvency, but never at the expense of families who were allowed to pay “what they could.” She truly trusted God to send, as she said, “the right students – those whoneeded us,” the faculty and staff to love the students God sent, and enough money to keep the whole thing going.

Maureen was a woman of principles, believing justice must be practiced, not just preached, so she was known on various occasions to question and challenge policies and persons in the leadership in church, all the way up to the Superintendent of Schools and even the Archbishop.

She worked at forgiveness – I was privileged to be a witness to the prayerful, tenacious work she did to let go of hurts that came as part of life. It took a lot of prayer for her to achieve peace over how the closure of her beloved St. Paul High School took place.

Her nine years as Pastoral Associate at Church of the Visitacion and its mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Brisbane and the five years at St. Teresa of Avila on Potrero Hill brought her to serve ordinary people in their faith lives and she did it with grace. Many have spoken of the influence she had on the vitality of the communities there. In recognition of Maureen’s work, a statue of Mary and a plaque was erected at the Brisbane church. It reads: “We, the Faith Community of OLG, wish to thank Sr. Maureen for inspiring us to live as true Christians by welcoming and loving all people.”

She nurtured her inner life with morning prayer time, spiritual reading, and daily Eucharist – ordinary expectations of a religious woman - but which grounded her love relationship with her God.

Some time in the last year and a half, Maureen was asked to respond to the inquiry of a high school student. She wrote: “Your final question was: ‘What is your favorite part of living in a religious community?’ I have had the joy of living my entire adult life with some of the most beautiful people in the world. Their insights and experiences have opened my mind, have made me laugh, have helped me to pray and have shown me the love of God and the beauty of everyone we meet in a zillion different ways. I have come to know that the ordinary everyday way we interact with one another is taken by God and changed into life-transforming powerful events. On our life journey some of the most important events are those that are difficult. I have learned that these events usually have a hidden blessing and it is often the sisters I have lived with who helped me learn this lesion. We all have different gifts and living and ministering together gives us opportunities to benefit from these gifts. This life is absolutely beautiful and I would choose it all over again without a second thought.”

Always seen as strong and vigorous, with a distinctive hearty laugh, Maureen “gave away body parts,” as she said, over the years, endured two heart attacks, a stroke, had quintuple by-pass surgery, and then added a pacemaker. Upon her retirement at 75, she remained gracious and practical, choosing the time when it was right to leave San Francisco and come to Mt. Carmel in Dubuque. She endured the diminishment caused by ILD (interstitial lung disease) with great calm and a practical attitude. Never an alarmist, she accepted what was, expressed gratitude for the gift of peace in the midst of it all, and yet bargained with God to be able to share my Golden Jubilee on August 2nd.

She shared that her most recent experience of God has come these past few summer months, as she and Sister Joann Lucid (also a St. Paul alum) sat mid-mornings by the Guadalupe cross, admiring the Mississippi river, the intense green of growing things, and soaking up the warmth of the sun. God had become for her “Beloved HUG.”

Maureen has been a faithful friend and mentor to many, a window into the divine communion of love, of welcome and forgiveness, of presence in struggle, of hope and of endurance. On the night of August 16th, she experienced being hugged into new life. I believe she is dancing and laughing now with her God – our God – and praying for us.

God bless you, Maureen.