Word has been received of the death of Sister Catherine O’Brien, who died on September 6, 2017, in São Paulo, Brazil. Please join us in prayer for Sister Catherine O’Brien as we renew our faith in the resurrected Jesus and strengthen our hope that all the departed will be raised to eternal life.
Sister Catherine O’Brien, despite declining health, chose to spend her last years in her beloved Brazil where she had ministered as a Sister of the Holy Cross (Irmás da Santa Cruz) since 1960 in various capacities in São Paulo, initially at the Colégio Santa Maria and Vila Nazaré as a teacher, principal and school director. She was then known as Sister M. Thomas More. She served ably as the regional superior of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in South America 1984-1989, then was elected as the president of the Congregation. She returned to the United States to the sisters’ motherhouse and international headquarters at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana. After her re-election as president in 1994, the former Florence Catherine O’Brien returned to her baptismal name and has since then been known as Sister Catherine O’Brien.
Her ten-year presidency (1989-1999) was characterized by unflinching attention to social justice for women and children, especially the poor and marginalized, not only in South America but in Asia, Africa and North America where her sisters were missioned. During her tenure, the Sisters of the Holy Cross celebrated the 150th anniversary of their founding in Le Mans, France in 1841. Holy Cross Sisters attended the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing and followed up with recommendations. Under her leadership, the congregation took corporate stands against the oppression and subordination of women in societal and religious structures; on land use and reform, and endorsed Jubilee initiatives for global debt cancellation. The first International Assembly of the Sisters of the Holy Cross was held in São Paulo, signaling the American-based order’s identity as an international and inclusive community. During her administration, Saint Mary’s convents and the Church of Our Lady of Loretto were renovated. Sister Catherine received honorary doctorates from the University of Notre Dame in 1991 and Saint Mary’s College in 1994. During her presidency, the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Saint Mary’s College amicably restructured the Congregation’s sponsorship relations with the women’s college, founded by the sisters in 1855. The two institutions envision an even stronger collaboration promoting justice and women’s leadership.
After a sabbatical, Sister Catherine returned to São Paulo in 2001 where she shared her spiritual gifts as a director and guide. Since 2013 she administrated Central Vila Nazaré. Sister Michael Mary (Nolan), area coordinator, and the sisters were heartbroken as they prepared for the Mass of Resurrection and burial in São Paulo. Sister Catherine O’Brien was the thirteenth superior general/president of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross since Mother M. Augusta (Anderson) in 1889. Sister M. Veronique (Wiedower), current president, joined the rest of the Congregation in sending prayers of gratitude for the life that Sister shared with us.