Sister Denise O'Connor, MM

Born: March 9, 1903
Entered: October 14, 1925
Died: June 13, 1992

We have gathered here today to celebrate Sister Denise O’Connor’s entrance into her heavenly home on June 13, 1992, after years of patient waiting and suffering. I found this song from the Weston Priory Monks that expresses well how the Lord might have spoken to her at this time of going home to God: “Do not let your hope drift away, for I will raise you up; My Spirit shall come to you. Strength you shall have as you return to the land which is your home. And you will know that it is Yahweh, your God, who leads you to this new life.”

Mary Anna O’Connor was born on March 9, 1903, in New York City, the eldest daughter of Julia Lynch and Denis O’Connor, just one year after they had immigrated from County Cork, Ireland. Mary Anna grew up in New York City, attending grade school there until she was eleven, when she went to Ireland to study for the next five years in Blueford School, Newmarket. On her return to the United States she attended Woods Business School for a year and then worked for a law firm for two years before entering Maryknoll.

On October 14, 1925, Mary Anna came to Maryknoll to begin her postulancy. It seems that from the very beginning her talents as a wonderful seamstress were recognized and she began her long career of sewing for the Community. Sister Mary Denise was professed in 1928 here at Maryknoll and soon after was missioned to Los Angeles to teach in the Maryknoll School’s kindergarten. During this time, on April 4, 1931, Sister made her Final Profession. Over the years one of her most precious possessions was a special scrolled and lettered Vow Form, laminated to preserve it, with the signature of Bishop James Anthony Walsh under her own. This small gesture helps us to understand the deep meaning her Commitment through the Vows had for her throughout her life.

In 1937, Sister Denise was assigned to the Maryknoll School in Seattle to continue her teaching career among the Japanese-American Community. During this time she participated in many parish activities in addition to her work in the school. Then in 1945, Sister Denise was sent to the Venard to assist the postulants and young seminarians, again with her talents for keeping all well-clothed with her daily creations. This was to be the substance of her contribution to mission over the next twenty years, whether at the Center, Bethany, Monrovia or Topsfield. She especially enjoyed her time in Topsfield with the Novices and only returned to Bethany when her health began to fail.

At this time she had a special joy in the mission-sending of two of her former students from Los Angeles with their three children who were to go to be with the Okinawa Community in southern Bolivia. Sister was very happy to have been a part of their early formation in Maryknoll School.

While at Bethany, in addition to her work in the sewing room, she was always on hand to visit the residents, read to them and help out in the dining room at meals. These years of the late 1960s were difficult ones of change of long-held traditions. Sister Denise found the proposed changes not always to her liking and she staunchly defended community life and practice as she had known it in prior years. In her letters to Mother Mary Columba and Mother Mary Coleman she often expressed her dismay, but also always showed a delightful sense of humor as she described the different situations of daily life.

Then in 1976, Sister was unable to continue her work at Bethany and went to Monrovia to enjoy a lighter schedule and milder weather during her retirement. Finally in 1986, her failing health made it necessary to return to the nursing home. She then seemed reconciled with her limitations and illness, frequently expressing her gratitude to the staff and the Sisters for the wonderful care she was receiving. She was never too sick to enjoy a visit from her niece and the pizza she brought to share. In fact, she was always ready to have a piece of pizza.

Before closing, I would like to share a poem, written by Sister Denise when a friend of hers died in 1960. These same words we now dedicate to you, Sister Denise:

“Now it must be, we will not have that joy and grace
of her loved presence — For a little while,
For in her lithesome way she has stepped through
the veil of eternity and with her entrance there is
Angelic Song — We would not wish to keep her here,
While all heaven leaned to greet her.
And her Dear God with sure reward, blessed her for her love
of us dear ones in their need.
May she remember us who loved her as a friend.”

We are happy today to welcome Sister Denise’s family and friends in this celebration of the Liturgy of the Resurrection.