Sister Beata Marie O'Neill, MM
Born: January 6, 1906
Entered: December 7, 1931
Died: January 4, 2009
Every Epiphany we Maryknoll Sisters celebrate the wise magi of ancient story and the wise women of our own history who followed their stars to a special revelation of God’s presence, love and call in their lives. It was on Epiphany Sunday, January 4, 2009, at 5:40 p.m. (2 days shy of her one hundred and third birthday) that our most delightful Sister Beata Marie O’Neill followed her star for the last time, running quickly and quietly into the eternal embrace of God’s love for her. Throughout her 78 years of mission life as a Maryknoll Sister, Sr. Beata Marie was an epiphany of God’s presence. She made God’s love visible in a blessed, everyday kind of service for others.
Ellen Jane O’Neill was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, on January 6, 1906, to Brigid (McNally) and Joseph O’Neill. She had six brothers and four sisters and a large and loving family of nieces and nephews. Ellen attended school in Ireland and, like many girls of that time, was not able to finish her high school education. In her small Irish town she was known by her parish priest as a young woman whom he strongly recommended as “…in every respect an excellent girl.” She immigrated to the United States and lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she worked in the rectory kitchen at St. Joaquim’s Church. At the parish she met Maryknoll priests who were giving talks on mission vocations. Ellen entered Maryknoll on December 7, 1931, made her First Vows on June 30, 1934, and her Final Vows on the same date in 1937, both at the Maryknoll, New York. She received the religious name of Sister Beata Marie which she kept all her life.
Sr. Beata Marie had wonderful skills in cooking and sewing with which she served both the Society of Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and the Maryknoll Sisters, throughout most of her life. She worked in the kitchen at the Maryknoll minor seminary at the Venard in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, from 1939-1942, then served in the Motherhouse kitchen for three years. In 1945 she was assigned to San Juan Capistrano mission and in 1948 to Mountain View, both in California. From 1953-1957 she worked in the Crichton House kitchen for the Society and then ran the kitchen for the Sisters at St. Teresa’s convent at Maryknoll.
In 1963 she was assigned to the Maryknoll Sisters’ St. Augustine Convent in Waikiki, Hawaii. There for five years she shared her skills in cooking and visited the sick in their home and in the hospital. In 1968 she returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center and ran the guest kitchen and sewing room. She served in the Maryknoll Seminary as sacristan from 1971-1973 and in the seminary mail room until she retired in 1983.
Sr. Beata Marie was renowned for her cooking skills, her hospitality, and her kind gestures of care for others. There is the story of how Sr. Beata Marie upon learning that another Maryknoll Sister loved coffee would leave a fresh thermos of coffee outside the Sister’s bedroom door every morning. It was obvious that Sister Beata Marie loved her family and spent as much time as possible with them in her beloved Ireland. In her wonderful letters from Ireland she would share news of them. She mentioned her prayer with them when there were difficulties, waxed poetic about the beauty of Ireland, and shared freely stories of the clan of O’Neill children performing for the adults at birthday parties. Wherever she was living at the time, Sr. Beata Marie kept up to date about what was going on in the lives and mission lands of Maryknoll Sisters all over the world. For example, in one of her letters she was aware of the news from Nicaragua at the time of the Revolution in 1979 and mentions praying for the people and Sisters there. And in 1985 she mentions praying for the visit of Leadership to Maryknoll Sisters in refugee work in Sudan.
After an injury in 1991, Sr. Beata Marie was admitted to the Maryknoll Residential Care unit where staff remember that she participated fully in the various activities on the floor. In 2004 she volunteered to be St. Patrick in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and had the honor of dressing in green vestments and a bishop’s hat. She enjoyed the fun and played her role that year and every year since with great zeal. She also helped with the planning of the spring garden but would lament that there were no potatoes to plant as well. From 1993 until the present her on-going prayer ministry was for the Sisters and people of the Peru-Ecuador Region.
On January 6, 2006, many of Sister’s nieces, nephews, and cousins from Ireland, Canada and the U.S. gathered here at the Center on the 4 floor of Residential Care to celebrate Sr. Beata Marie’s 100 birthday. On this occasion she received a letter from the President of Ireland and a few months afterwards a check for over $3,000 was received as a “presidential bounty” from Ireland. This bounty is given by the Irish government to those over 100 years of age who were born in Ireland. Even though she did not speak of it much, Sr. Beata Marie was very pleased that even at 100 years of age her Irish heritage was bringing bountiful blessings on the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation where she was so happy for so many years. Just a few days ago Sister received a medal from the president of Ireland in recognition of her upcoming 103rd birthday.
Sr. Beata Marie’s wit and humor are famous and her lovely smile never failed to brighten the hearts of those who knew her, lived and worked with her, and (in her final years) cared for her and visited her on the 4th floor of Maryknoll Residential Care. She will be missed by all.
We extend our condolences and welcome to Sr. Beata’s family and friends. We also welcome and thank our Maryknoll brother, Father Leo Kennedy, M.M., who will preside at our Liturgy of Christian Burial.