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Sister Agnes Eileen O’Brien

Sister Agnes Eileen O'Brien“Love is always patient and kind.”
1st Corinthians 13:4

Our current example of the virtue of patience in her almost 80 years of religious life is our Sister Agnes Eileen, said Sister Mary Roger Madden in her commentary for Sister Agnes Eileen O’Brien who died March 23, 2013.

Eileen Nora O’Brien was the daughter of John J. O’Brien of County Cork, Ireland and Ellen Early of County Roscommon, Ireland. Eileen was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 20, 1915. She had one sister, Marie O’Brien Hill, who preceded her in death. The O’Briens were members of Saint Sylvester Parish and later of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, and the girls were educated by the Sisters of Providence in both schools. Later Eileen attended Providence High School where she graduated in 1933.

In August of 1933, two months after her graduation, Eileen was accepted into the postulancy of the Sisters of Providence. A few months later she received the name Sister Agnes Eileen.

Sister Agnes Eileen earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary of the Woods College and later received a Master’s degree in education from Ball State University.

As an educator, Agnes Eileen spent 38 years as a teacher of primary grades in Sisters of Providence elementary schools. She taught in Indiana at St. Philip Neri, Indianapolis; St. Simon, Washington; St. Joan of Arc, Indianapolis and St. Mary in Lafayette. In Illinois she taught at St. Sylvester, St. Mel, St. Angela and St. Genevieve in Chicago; St. Athanasius in Evanston; Immaculate Conception in Norwood Park; and St. Joseph in Lockport. In Oklahoma she taught at Immaculata Conception in Tulsa. In California she taught at St. Joseph in Hawthorne and St. Elizabeth in Van Nuys. And in Missouri she taught at Our Lady of Providence in St. Louis.

Her gentle, thoughtful spirit flourished in an environment where the demands of the very young schooled her in patience for her ministry among the elderly and infirm which she began in 1974 in Lourdes Infirmary at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. For eight years she served in various capacities among the sick. In 1976 she initiated the SPs first physical therapy department. This endeavor was the seed bed of the flourishing physical therapy facility in what has become Providence Health Care.

In 1982 Mother Theodore High School in River Grove, Ill., put out a call for someone to fill a non-teaching position. Sister Agnes Eileen responded in her usual generous way and spent five years in supportive services for the faculty and administration, as receptionist, secretary and supervisor of students. At age 73, Sister returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods where she took up once more her service in health care for the next six years.

Now nearing 80 years of age and with increasingly failing health, Sister Agnes Eileen began what may have been her most trying ministry of all. For the last l9 years of her life she suffered from neuropathy which required that she wear heavy, uncomfortable metal braces on both legs. The disease seems to have spread so that in the end the nerves throughout her body were affected and she had almost constant pain and could scarcely bear a human touch. Now she, who had given so many years of her life to service of the sick, was forced to be herself a patient and the recipient of care. The years she had spent molding young minds and characters, the years she had spent patiently meeting the varied needs of the elderly and infirm were to bear fruit. The patience she learned on behalf of others would be needed now for herself, Sister Mary Roger continued.

Dictionaries give as synonyms for the noun “patience”: forbearance, endurance, perseverance. But the etymology of patience suggests a deeper significance. The Latin root of the word patience is a word for suffering found also in passion, sympathy, empathy etc. This virtue is acquired only by long, intense, internal struggle. Patience with our life situation; patience with our ministry and its demands; patience with the body and temperament we have been given; patience, most of all, with the mysterious other. It is out of these struggles that emerges at last the quiet mind and the quiet heart that we see reflected in a peaceful countenance. It is out of this unseen struggle, often unsurmised by others, that one is refined over a lifetime into the image of our patient God who has waited for us so long and never grows weary. For Sister Agnes Eileen, the peace her patience has purchased at a great price lives now and forever in her undistracted unity and joy with her infinitely patient God, Sister Mary Roger concluded.

The funeral Mass for Sister Agnes Eileen O’Brien was April 2, 2013 in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Burial was at the Sisters of Providence cemetery. Sister Agnes Eileen was 97 years old and had lived 79 years as a Sister of Providence.

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