Sr. Christa Marie Thompson explains to Sr. Margaret what needs to be done in preparation for an arriving retreat group.

During her “growing up years” in County Cork, Ireland, Sr. Margaret O’Brien had the opportunity to meet three different congregations of women religious: Presentation Sisters, Mercy Sisters, and Franciscans Sisters. Her connection with the Sisters of St. Francis began when Sr. Brigid O’Regan invited her to a retreat for high school girls at Mt. Alvernia in Mallow. “Though the Presentation and Mercy Sisters were fine people, our sisters stood out in hospitality and happiness,” Margaret explained. “I just knew this was the right group for me.”

Sr. Margaret O’Brien prepares a set of name tags for an upcoming retreat.

Most of Sr. Margaret’s years in the congregation were spent on the West Coast, where she ministered in elementary education and later in healthcare. In 2011 she moved to the East Coast and today resides and ministers at Our Lady of Angels Convent. After she first arrived, both Sr. Mary Vandergeest (former director of the foundation) and Sr. Christa Marie Thompson (director of the Franciscan Spiritual Center) offered Sr. Margaret volunteer opportunities. Margaret accepted their offers and today continues her volunteer work with both offices. One of her first big projects in the spiritual center was assisting Sr. Theresa Yanda in adding a new order of books to the library and removing books that were outdated. “Mondays through Wednesdays I now assist Sr. Christa and staff as needs arise,” she said. “Other activities include hospitality, preparing name tags, posting brochures, etc.” Fridays find Sr. Margaret in the Foundation Office preparing card packets for the display racks, filing, and responding to whatever the immediate need arise.

Sr. Margaret O’Brien makes sure that the plants in the Franciscan Spiritual Center have sufficient water.

Sr. Margaret enjoys both aspects of her ministry—especially the variety of activities offered by the two departments. “At the foundation I’m reminded to offer frequent prayers of thanks for our benefactors—both living and deceased, she explained. “And witnessing the delight of our spiritual center participants is both a blessing and an encouragement.” And then, laughing, she added that the spiritual center also offers a challenge—“playing the ‘Artful Dodger’ as I try not to be in the path of the workshop or retreat in process!”

Sr. Kathleen Parisi shows Sr. Margaret O’Brien the new birthday cards for donors. Margaret assembles the cards which the sisters in
Assisi House will sign and mail.

And how does Sr. Margaret spend her free time? Like Sr. Margaret herself, her modes of relaxation are quiet ones—reading; crocheting; taking nature walks; or listening to NPR, CDs, or ballgames. Looking back at Sr. Margaret’s initial assessment of the Franciscan sisters whom she first met more than 50 years ago—those women that she sensed were the “right group for me” because of their “hospitality and happiness”—how does she view that early assessment? A few years ago we sent out a questionnaire to all of the sisters. One item posed the question, “What has being a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia meant to you?” Sr. Margaret answered, “Being a Sister of St. Francis has filled me with total gratitude for the call to our community. I feel humbled when I consider God’s provident care for me each and every day.” And her view of ministry? She wrote simply that “It’s important to me to try and make life easier for others.”

Ann Marie Slavin, OSF