Sister Margaret Ellen O’Connor
“Even the wilderness will rejoice in those days.” (Isaiah 35:1)
“During this season of Advent, many Scripture readings will be similar to this reading from Isaiah (35:1-6). Images of a saving God … accounts of tired hands and weak knees strengthened … of the lame leaping … of flowers blossoming in the dry land … of joyous singing. Just a few days ago, Scripture was not so positive, as we were very seriously admonished to ‘Stay alert’ … to be ‘on guard’ and ‘to watch and pray’ because ‘we do not know the hour when our God will come.’ During the final weeks of Sister Margaret Ellen’s life on Earth, she heard those ‘end time’ readings. Early last Sunday morning, the first Sunday in Advent, she experienced the coming of her saving God; she transitioned from ‘end time’ to ‘everlasting time’ as she drew her final breath. She left us quickly and without fuss in the quiet of early morning when her God came,” said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Margaret Ellen O’Connor, who died Dec. 3.
The oldest of seven children of Irish immigrants Vincent and Ellen (Barton) O’Connor, Ellen Margaret-Mary was born June 24, 1917, in South Bend, Ind. She attended St. Joseph Grade School, Summit, Ill., and St. Francis Xavier High School, La Grange, Ill., and St. Agnes Academy, Indianapolis, before graduating from Providence Juniorate at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She entered the Congregation July 19, 1934, and professed first and perpetual vows Jan. 23, 1937, and 1943, respectively. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in education from the University of Dayton.
For 30 years, Sister Margaret Ellen taught middle-grade students, beginning in 1937 at St. Mel, Chicago. In Chicago, she also ministered at St. Andrew and Immaculate Conception. In Indiana, her classrooms were at St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne; Sacred Heart and St. John, Whiting; St. Simon, Washington; and St. Joan of Arc, St. Agnes and St. Andrew, Indianapolis. She also taught at St. Ann, Washington, D.C., and Holy Redeemer, College Park, Md. In 1972, she began serving as a librarian at Immaculate Conception, Chicago. She ministered in other libraries including Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove, Ill., and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She retired in 1992 and provided volunteer service in many areas.
“I found it interesting as I talked with sisters who had known Sister Margaret Ellen through the years that their fondest memories of her did not relate to what she did or how well she did it or for how long she did it. No, she was remembered for her presence. The descriptors were many … always so gracious … very pleasant … upbeat and positive … happy … smiling … never complaining. Sister Marie Ellen Sullivan, her table companion in Mother Theodore Hall, told me that she looked forward to meals because that meant being in conversation with Sister Margaret Ellen and hearing her many stories,” said Sister Ann.
“When asked how she was, Sister Margaret Ellen’s standard response was ‘fair, fat and pampered.’ I’m not going to risk comment on the ‘fat’ response, but I think we can safely say that ‘fair’ was an apt description of her general health, for she suffered from crippling arthritis which gradually affected her walking and her ability to crochet, which she did so beautifully. She also truly considered herself ‘pampered,’ especially in Mother Theodore Hall, where she often commented on the attentiveness of the nurses and aides, saying on more than one occasion that she ‘wanted for nothing’ and ‘how very kind everyone was to her,’” continued Sister Ann.
“Sister Margaret Ellen was very devoted to her family. She knew what everyone in the family was doing and what was going on in their lives. Evidently at family gatherings she would have to hold any baby present, despite her very crippled hands in recent years. It was she who maintained close contact with relatives in Ireland. She loved to visit Ireland and in one person’s recollection, she had barely returned from Ireland when she would be planning her next trip. She had the noted Irish wit, loved Notre Dame football and on March 17 would don lots of green, at the same time maintaining that she really didn’t need any green because ‘one look at me tells you I’m Irish!’
“Sister Margaret Ellen was content to be by herself and often passed the time by listening to opera either on radio or from her own collection of tapes. She loved to study and to learn new things, especially through reading. Favorite subjects were Irish history and genealogy, as well as news magazines for current events,” said Sister Ann.
“Imagine Sister Margaret Ellen’s delight, then, as she escaped the confines of her earthly dwelling and found herself with her God last Sunday morning. Imagine her weak knees and crippled hands strengthened as she leapt for joy, eager to learn all the new things of being in God’s presence. Christmas came early for you, Sister Margaret Ellen. We rejoice with you!” concluded Sister Ann.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Margaret Ellen was celebrated Dec. 7, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She is survived by two sisters, Sister Ann Kevin O’Connor, a Sister of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., and Elizabeth “Betty” Bastien, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. She is also survived by two brothers, Maurice, Overland Park, Kan., and Donal, Normal, Ill.
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