Sister Catherine O’Neill, CSJ

We remember her in the rustling of the Leaves and in the beauty of autumn

Sister Catherine ONeill

October 27, 1923 – November 20, 2016

“We strive in every aspect of our lives to be for others a visible sign of God’s presence and active love.” These words taken from the Constitution of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, together with those of Maxim 21: “Desire neither praise nor reward for your good works”, awakened in me the manner in which S. Catherine, Ethenia, Cathy, lived her life for these 74 years as a Sister of Saint Joseph, experiencing God’s love and faithfulness, witnessing to that love and seeking nothing in return. She was content to live simply, without expectations, working hard, relying on God’s providence, knowing that she would at some time be abundantly blessed by her God.

A few weeks ago Catherine celebrated Thanksgiving with her niece and her family and from all reports had a delightful time. On that day, and perhaps every day of her life, Catherine demonstrated her gratitude to God for the gifts and blessings she received; and in her quiet and gentle manner freely shared those gifts with others around the table.

Today’s readings from Jeremiah, Ephesians and Luke speak of being blessed in Christ, of our reward being great in heaven, and of God’s reserving for us a future full of hope. Catherine was convinced of the words of Jeremiah in today’s first reading that speaks of God’s relationship and promise to the exiled people of Israel: “I will take care of you as I promised and I will bring you home. When you call and pray, I will listen. When you are serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I will make you find me. I will make sure that you will not be disappointed.” The anticipated “future full of hope”, especially during this Advent season, a time of waiting, expectation, and longing is now realized for Catherine.

Those of you who knew her well, her loving family, those with whom she shared life in community, her coworkers, and friends, observed that Catherine was one who was motivated to live well, her life as a vowed woman religious. She manifested this by her deep and heartfelt conviction that everything she was about was in response to her ability to listen and discern God’s will for her, to acknowledge God’s faithfulness to her and to allow herself not only to receive God’s love but to share it with others. It was God’s spirit stirring within Catherine that inspired her choices, permitting her to fully, freely and joyfully respond with fidelity to God’s call, whatever the graces and challenges.

Throughout Catherine’s life as a Sister of Saint Joseph she lived our charism of unifying love and sought to be of service to the dear neighbor. She exhibited qualities such as a spirit of gentleness and peace, empathy and compassion, attentiveness and patience. Whether with her students in the elementary and secondary schools in the archdiocese, or with the girls at Fontbonne Academy and the Mount, Catherine not only imparted knowledge while teaching Biology or Math, encouraging openness, exploration and possibility, but she inspired each of her students to envision what she/he was capable of achieving.

As Sisters of Saint Joseph we believe that “Relationship is at the heart of mission”. Because Catherine demonstrated interest, care, reliability and an awareness of the needs of individuals, she was able to invite a level of trust which allowed her to act as mentor, or spiritual advisor, to the young women in formation in the Scholasticate, as well as to the many others whom she encountered. Some of those relationships endure to this day.

In the second verse of our opening song, we will sing, “of the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above” etc. …Catherine shared a close relationship with her family, her parents, brothers, and sisters and their families. This relationship was also experienced by the members of her extended family including her sister-in-law with whom she shared a special relationship and then with her sister in law’s family and friends. Frequently, we CSJ’s talk about the ever widening circle of relationship, connecting neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God; Catherine connected well.

In 1984, after completing her sabbatical studies at the school of Theology in Berkeley, CA, Catherine became the Congregational Resource Director at Bethany Health Care Center with the responsibility of attending to the non-medical needs of the residents and staff. In this pastoral role Catherine revealed her ability to be a great listener, to remain calm in various situations and to act consistently in fulfilling her responsibilities. Through her service and care, Catherine extended cordial hospitality to the families, and friends, of the residents thus having a positive impact on the lives of so many.

In her retirement years, Catherine continued her ministry of prayer and outreach to others by sharing her gifts of presence, encouragement, and peace to the residents she visited and the staff.

We give you thanks to God for gifting us with S. Catherine, a woman of peace and grace. She lived our charism of unifying love, as God’s chosen one, with zeal and joy. By being  unwavering in her faithfulness, gentle and patient in her loving service, and firm in her belief in God’s grace guiding her, Catherine became the instrument through which God’s word touched the hearts of so many.

Thank you for being that witness to others of God’s unconditional love. You heard God’s word and shared God’s message. As a woman of the Church you were called to continue the transforming mission of Christ; and were entrusted with the mission of unity and reconciliation. Be at peace, Catherine, go gently, singing your song of grateful praise to your God.

Roseann Amico, CSJ

December 9, 2016