Years in the Congregation: 51 years
Something I’ve always wanted to do is: dance
Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara’s five-year term as general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is moving toward its end. She has been in a leadership position for most of her 51 years as a Sister of Providence, giving her somewhat of a unique perspective on vowed religious life.
She likes to embrace passionately the future, thinking about what might be possible. She doesn’t have much time for rules that are binding or limiting. She embraces the Congregation’s heritage as keenly as she does its future.
She’s not sure what might come next, but she believes she would like to work with national organizations that relate to religious life, serve in a sponsored ministry and perhaps do some writing or reflecting on her ministries.
“Just to have this opportunity with our Congregation has been a tremendous blessing. And to know that all the things we’re doing, all the hope that we bring, all the ministries that we are involved in, the lives we are touching, it is a wonderful experience,” Sister Ann Margaret said. “That whole charism of Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin [foundress] is still alive. Her presence is still here.”
People have complimented her through the years that she has come by her leadership skills naturally. “I think what they mean is that I am comfortable in the public areas. I’m an approachable individual, although that was not always said of me. I was thought by some to be aloof in my earlier years,” she said. “I also was thought to be compassionate and trusting.”
Sister Ann Margaret’s early years in the Congregation came at a time when many issues were very “real.” She became dean of students at Immaculata College in Washington D.C. at age 29.
“I was helping students who had fights with their boyfriends. I was getting students out of jail. I was dealing with the Secret Service,” she remembered.
But that’s only the beginning. “You had the renewal or turbulent years going on in the Catholic Church [post Second Vatican Council], renewal going on in religious life, renewal going on in the Sisters of Providence and society’s cultural revolution,” she said.
“You were just confronted at that time with all the ways that you could be involved in events that were bigger than yourself; the civil rights movement, all of the justice movements, the boycotting, and I did my share of boycotting,” she said.
Sister Ann Margaret was in Washington D.C. when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. “There were fires in the city. We had infantry guarding our college. We had seminarians with baseball bats come to protect us. We stayed up all night feeding the guys who were protecting us and we worked all day in the emergency shelters helping people who had been burned out,” she said.
Sister Ann Margaret’s time and experience at Immaculata helped define the path for her future. “You just got into the flavor of the nationality and the internationality. We had students in our college from 27 different countries. For me, that ministry experience was most transforming,” she said.
While at Immaculata, she was elected president of The Sisters’ Council and served on numerous archdiocesan committees where she experienced discrimination and was “put down” as a woman. She also was invited to attend regional meetings of bishops and the Leadership Conference for Women Religious (LCWR).
From Washington D.C., she returned to serve as executive secretary of St. Gabriel Province, dean of admission and vice president of student affairs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, provincial of St. Gabriel Province, director of program services for the National Association of Church Personnel Administration, and two five-year terms on the Congregation’s general council. She also has held leadership positions with LCWR.
“Serving in this role at the center of such a vital Congregation is thrilling, energizing and exciting. It makes me proud, day after day, about how our sisters live their lives, how others love them,” she said. “I love going around the country and being where our sisters are. I love when we all get together. Our celebrations are exciting, inspiring and moving. I also appreciate that we have such a high sense of ownership of the Congregation. Everybody wants to be involved in what is happening and the decisions that are being made.”
Sister Ann Margaret is a native of Louisville, Ky. Her family moved north across the Ohio River to Southern Indiana where she attended Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, which was her first experience with the Sisters of Providence.
“That’s what really attracted me to religious life. It was their spirit. They were so caring and they were really good educators. It wasn’t until I got into high school that I understood more about life and the importance of making a contribution with your life and doing something really important with it,” Sister Ann Margaret said.
“It seemed that the sisters were doing that. It’s that call to be part of something larger than yourself, to make a difference, to give people hope, to help people. There is a time when you have to know what you are called for in your life,” she added.
Sister Ann Margaret has worked with groups that study the future of religious life, and she is not deterred by the perception that it is in decline as a career or lifestyle option.
“I think one of the responsibilities we have as religious leaders is to keep the passion for religious life alive in ourselves and in our members. You can look at it from one perspective and say that if you take the United States alone, women religious in this country really shaped generations of people, of Catholics and others, in education and health care. I believe since the Second Vatican Council we have shaped the faith life of people in parishes,” she said.
“For me, the call was to be a woman religious in this Congregation and to embrace our specific mission statement to make God’s Providence known through acts of love, mercy and justice, to help people know how much they are loved and held by this God of Providence and how they really can lean with all their weight on this Provident God that makes such a difference in our lives.”
Favoritesvacation spot: beach
time of day: sunrise and sunset
flower/plant: shamrock, pansies
music style: joyous celebrating in religious setting, soft rock in secular setting
zoo animal: monkey
quote: “…you ought not to give way to uneasiness about the future. Put yourself gently into the hands of Providence.” —Mother Theodore Guerin’s Journals and Letters.
hobby: playing bridge
recreation: go to theaters for drama, or ballet or movies
season: Summer, time to be outside to walk and swim.
course in school: creative writing
saint/sinner: Mary Magdalene. She is passionate and human. (I entered the Congregation on her feast day.)
activity: swimming and walking
My best friend says I’m: funny, can tell a good story.