Word has been received of the death of Sister M. Sheila (O’Keefe), who died at 10:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 9, 2012, in Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana.
A gracious and compassionate lady best describes the Sister Sheila we all knew and loved. These attributes of her personality permeated all her decisions and actions. She was a steadfast defender of the poor, the abused, the weak and those who were victims of injustice. Sister Sheila was righteous to the core.
As a young woman eager to answer God’s call, she bypassed entering the community of sisters who taught her in school because she felt they were too strict, but later she laughingly remarked, “I find it funny that I thought they were too strict because when I began teaching I was just as strict.” However, she meted out discipline with a velvet glove.
Success in peacemaking was recognized early in her religious life and garnered her the role of principal in six different schools over a span of 15 years. She spent a total of 30 years in the teaching profession. Teaching junior high school students was her favorite and, even though it could be a challenge for even the most skilled, Sister Sheila was up to the task and loved that age level. In recognition of her talent, she was chosen in 1961 to be a master teacher in the teacher-training program in the campus school of Saint Mary’s College.
Whatever the community asked her to do, Sister Sheila readily accepted and did it with energy and dedication. Besides her years of teaching, she also served as an accountant for St. Mary’s School in Michigan City, Indiana; a public community service specialist working with the poor for the Catholic Community of Concern in Flint, Michigan; and cooking for the Retreat Center and House of Prayer in Danville, Illinois.
Sister Sheila had many talents and a great attention to detail. She was an excellent seamstress, cook and housekeeper. One sister exclaimed that no dirt or dust could survive when Sister Sheila cleaned!
Because of her keen insight, Sister Sheila was often sought out as a friend and confidant, both in and out of community. Her friendship was prized, since being her friend meant having her support through “thick and thin” but also being confronted when necessary. Her words of wisdom and calm approach to any crisis resulted in bringing peace to many contentious situations. Sister Sheila’s gentle manner and love of people brought comfort to all who were fortunate enough to experience this gift.
Celebrations of every kind — feast days, holidays, birthdays and any other event that called for a party — were occasions of joy for Sister Sheila. She loved a good time. A shopping trip or a drive to view the wonders of nature all brought joy to her, and sharing it with others enhanced her pleasure, which was a part of her welcoming nature.
Love of her family and her community was a vital part of her life. There were three boys in her family, but she said she gained many sisters when she entered the Sisters of the Holy Cross.
All of these wonderful qualities were rooted in her deep spirituality with a special devotion to, of course, “St. Joseph the Worker.” Sister Sheila was a woman of prayer. Her prayer life, she said, “was more of mediation and union with God rather than verbal prayers.” She found her strength in this union, one she now enjoys for all eternity. May Sister Sheila rest in peace.