Biographies

Sister Emily Marie O'Neill, MM

Born: February 15, 1897
Entered: October 15, 1928
Died: September 6, 1987

Sister Emily Marie O’Neill died in our Maryknoll Nursing Home on Sunday, September 6, 1987.

Lucy O’Neill, known to us as Sr. Emily Marie, was born ninety years ago (February 15, 1897) in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Emily Blackham and James O’Neill. Fifty-nine of those years were spent as a Maryknoll Sister. She had three brothers, Walter, William and George, and one sister, Emily. Lucy entered Maryknoll October 15, 1928; she pronounced her First Vows on the January 6, 1931, and made her Final Vows on the same day three years later. Before coming to Maryknoll, Lucy studied at St. Dominic’s Academy Business School and worked as a secretary to Jersey City’s Mayor, H. Otto Wittpenn. Her secretarial skills proved helpful in bookkeeping and other financial work at the Center and later in the editorial offices of the Maryknoll Magazine (then called The Field Afar).

There are varied remembrances of Sister Emily Marie. Here at the Center, many of us remember her as a quiet person. Before being moved to the first floor because of her health, Sister had asked to live on Woodside Corridor (third floor) to be closer to the small Chapel. There she could often be found in prayer. Others remembered her in the early days when she supervised their work as they hand-wrapped the Maryknoll Magazine in preparation for mailing from The Field Afar office, and all of us know how desperately she tried to keep the satellite kitchen in some kind of order!

Many of Sister’s years were spent in kitchen work which she liked, especially baking. She gave of herself and her generosity was experienced in the Venard, Hawaii, Chicago and California, as well as the Cloister where she spent a short period of her life. In 1967, Sister returned from California to the Center where she worked in the Purchasing Department for a time before her semi-retirement.

Those who knew Sister well, remember her for her frankness, her spirit of prayer, her outstanding generosity, her concern for the welfare of the Community and as Mother Mary Joseph would say “…her saving grace of a sense of humor.” This same humor was evident in a letter sent to Mother Mary Columba from Hawaii in 1952 in which Sister described her entry of a cake at the annual fair in Wailuku, Maui. Sister wrote: “I made a double decker prune cake with white mountain frosting – this last was a big mistake! The cake was a picture when it left the house. Since we had to have a box for it, Sister Modesta and I traveled from store to store looking for one – all the time the icing was melting faster and faster. On arriving at the fairgrounds, we had a long walk in the hot sun looking for the building housing the booths, so I said to Sister Modesta, ‘I’ll just stand in the shade and you go look for the building’ – the cake was a mess. We finally parked the cake after much waiting to fill out necessary forms. The Committee called me in the afternoon telling me how good the cake was and said that if it weren’t for the frosting, it would have won first prize!”

Sister Emily Marie did not like to be fussed over. Although she was very frail, her mind was always alert and her quick answers delighted those who took care of her. Once, when she was sitting in a chair provided for her, complete with lamb’s wool at her back, one of the Sister-nurses teased, “Well, look at you in that fancy chair with the lamb‘s wool – you must know someone very important!” Sr. Emily Marie smiled and replied, “I know the Lamb!”

A few weeks ago, Sister was injured. At the hospital, because of her health, it was decided it was best not to treat her. To her great delight she was brought home to the nursing home on Thursday, September 3rd. At 1:30 a.m. Sunday, September 6th, while the nurses were attending her, Sister Emily Marie died peacefully.

We express our sympathy to Sister’s family and friends.

We also welcome Maryknoll Father John Geitner, who will celebrate with us this Liturgy of the Resurrection for our Sister Emily Marie O’Neill.