Sister Elizabeth O'Brien, MM

Born: June 29, 1926
Entered: September 4, 1948
Died: April 14, 2011

Sister Elizabeth Margaret O’Brien died after a long illness on April 14, 2011, in Maryknoll Residential Care IV. She was 84 years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 62 years.

Elizabeth Margaret was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 29, 1926, one child of two sets of fraternal twins born to Margaret M. (Brennan) and Edward W. O’Brien.

After graduating from Belmont High School in 1944, Elizabeth attended nursing school at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, receiving an R.N. diploma in 1947. Elizabeth entered the Maryknoll Sisters one year later on September 6, 1948, from St. Joseph’s parish in Belmont, Massachusetts. At her Reception she received the religious name, Sister M. Paul William. She made her First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1951, at Maryknoll in Ossining, New York, and her Final Vows on the same date in 1954 in Ceylon.

She was missioned to Kandy, Ceylon, in 1951 where, as nursing supervisor, she worked with other Maryknoll Sisters at a civilian hospital in Kandy. After eight years she went to Padiwatte, Ceylon, where for two years she ran the dispensary in a clinic. She was called home in 1961 to work at the Bethany Infirmary for two years before going to Monrovia in 1963 as the Director of Nursing. In 1968 she went to Boston College where she earned her B.S. in nursing in 1970, and her Masters in Nursing in 1974. She returned to Bethany as Director of Nursing until 1978.

Sister Elizabeth spent from 1980 to 1987 in Salamanca, Chile, where she worked as a pastoral agent. She returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in mid-1987 again to provide nursing care, this time in the Maryknoll Sisters’ nursing home. In preparation for working with older Sisters in the home, she took a 9 month geriatric program for nursing associates at Mt. Sinai Medical School. From 1992 through 1996 she worked as a Volunteer Pastoral Care Assistant in the Maryknoll Sisters nursing home. From 1997 to 2003, Sister Elizabeth assisted in the Data Entry Office of the Development Department.

Sister Elizabeth left a short personal “eulogy,” a brief explanation of her life which she wanted shared after her death.

“In living out [my] life, being religiously grounded was most important for me. This fact will give you a greater understanding of who and what I was. During life I tried to make a difference for good, giving personal witness by my identity and values. I tried to give witness in service to the Gospel in healing, teaching and servicing others. I did not always succeed but I had faith in a loving compassionate God, and as the years went by, I began to realize God’s Presence in me (as well as in every person) always, even if I was not consciously aware of it. I realized that life is sacred, that I am entrusted with it, but I don’t own it. It is a mystery, a gift and will be taken away from me. I believed that I was created for eternal life. I tried to prepare for it throughout my life. Faith and hope helped me believe that through death I find true life with God. During my later years I was very much consoled by the awareness of God’s Presence. I was greatly helped by my retreat/spiritual director in discovering and developing the spiritual part of me which has been a real comfort to me. As I write this eulogy, I believe that the fact of God’s Presence in me has helped me not to feel any denial or anger towards death. God has helped me to prepare for and to accept the fact of death so that I will be with Him for all eternity.”

“My son, forget not my teaching, keep in mind my commands. For many days and years of life, and peace will they bring to you.” Proverbs 3:1-2

These words speak of her life as she endeavored to live it and her goals as she strove to achieve them. She was, above all, a faithful Maryknoll Sister, looked up to by many for direction and advice. She always kept abreast on the position of the Church on religious and political matters. Sensitive to the needs of the Sisters she could always be counted on to help them, always generous in driving them to visit their families when the need arose.

She was also a wonderful nurse, kind and caring, serving 24 hours a day if needed. With her the patient came first and should always be given the best of care. She inspired great confidence in the patients who came to expect her daily visits. She realized that the sick sometimes needed diversion. To fulfill that need she would take them out for a ride to see the flowers, the changing colors of nature in the different seasons, and she would plan picnics for them.

Often in positions of medical responsibility, Sister Elizabeth kept up on new developments in medicine and nursing. While supporting the needs of the staff, she encouraged them also to keep up. While some regarded her as strict, all regarded her as fair. The doctors with whom she worked esteemed her highly and appreciated her observations and astute diagnoses. Dr. Benjamin Alexander, who served the Sisters for many years, wrote Sister saying: “I want to express how much I have enjoyed working with you at Bethany these past years… I feel you did an excellent job. I appreciate all your help and kindness to me.”

Sister established a beautiful custom of always having someone accompany a dying Sister, so that no Maryknoll Sister would ever die alone if at all possible. Sister Elizabeth was indeed very special!

We wish to offer our condolences to Sister Elizabeth’s family and friends.

We also welcome and thank our Maryknoll Father Ernest Lukaschek who will preside at this Eucharistic Liturgy of Christian Burial.