Sr. M. Paul O’ Brien
There is a quote that reads: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” In true Irish fashion, we would say that Sr. M. Paul was a character, a character who was truly unique. Over these years since she returned to God on the 15th of June 2014 we have heard so many stories about Sr. M. Paul. Stories which were also new to us, her sisters. They are stories of all the hidden good which she did, to those who were suffering, to those in need, to those who needed a kind word of encouragement at the right time, people whose lives were changed for the better because Sr. M. Paul listened to and advised them, and above all, simply loved them as they were. She had a wonderful gift of listening and whoever was in front of her at that time was the most important person in the world. God alone knows how many people she accompanied in life, directly, not to mention the multitudes who were constantly present in her daily Adoration.
Sr. M. Paul, named Helen Marie but affectionately known as Marie or Ma in her family was born on the 14th of August 1935. Sr. M. Paul shared herself of her story: “I attribute my wonderful vocation to the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My mother had lost two baby boys before I was born. When I was born, my mother prayed: “This is your child, leave her with me and I will take care of her for you (Mary)!” I visited the parish church every day after school to pray at the shrine of Our Lady and since this was in the sanctuary area, I was powerfully drawn to the Eucharistic Presence. From this time on, nothing could ever satisfy me.”
Sr. M. Paul was an avid and talented sports person. Yet, it was to be sport that would force her to make a choice about her future. She recounted: “On the very day I was chosen to be goalkeeper for the Dublin team, I was faced with the terrible dilemma to choose between the joy of my life: sports, or the inner magnet pulling me toward the convent. By convent I mean the deep inner attraction of getting close to Jesus, to the love of God. If ever there was a war between spirit and body, well, this was it. I was 21 at the time.”
Her cousin Sr. Muriel (Patricia) Fetherson, the first Irish Disciple of the Divine Master, was already a member of the Congregation and it wasn’t long before her enthusiasm and love for this same Congregation would attract Sr. M. Paul. She was immensely struck by the value of Perpetual Adoration for the glory of God and salvation of souls. She was fascinated by the family spirit, the meekness and joy of the sisters, the community bond and the simplicity of their lives. The love she experienced in her natural family was the same generous and simple love she would bring in loving her Sisters and those to whom she ministered in different expressions of the apostolate. She professed first vows in Rome in 1960 and would go on to serve in England, Italy, United States and then back to her native Ireland. Wherever she went, she sought earnestly to serve Him selflessly.
Having renounced a sporting career, God gifted Sr. M. Paul with other opportunities to live the fulness of life and flourish. Her artistic talent would be an instrument of beauty, goodness and truth and found a fitting niche in the Congregation. Throughout the years her artistic pieces adorned many convents, Chapels, Churches, throughout Ireland and the United States. Although she wasn’t a ‘qualified’ architect, her vision, along with the fruits of Adoration, long prayer and often sacrifice, would see her involvement in designing and bringing to fruition different convents and places of ministry. She worked best at night, in the quiet stillness of the dark where she and the Divine Artist would paint many marvels of his glory.
Those of us who lived with her also remember how she thrived on doing things last-minute! Her spontaneity was something too which, whilst moving us out of our comfort zones, didn’t seem to phase her at all, even when she wasn’t always understood. One of my earlier memories as an aspirant of helping Sr. M. Paul in the artroom was for an order for four 10 ft Advent banners, hand painted, which were needed for the Saturday evening mass of Advent. The priest was due to collect them at 5.00 pm. At five minutes before five, both of us, wielding a hair dryer in each hand were still drying the paint on the banners. Yet at 5.00 o clock when the doorbell went, the priest was greeted by a smiling Sr. M. Paul as she presented him with his banners! She always seemed to manage to have just ‘enough’ time to do whatever she needed to do.
One of Sr. M. Paul favourite quotes from Scripture was: “Lord gives me wisdom of heart that I may know the shortness of life”. Whilst her life was not ‘short’, ongoing sickness and ill health were part of the story of Sr. M. Paul’s life. This she transformed into daily offering for the needs of the whole world and taught others to do the same. The last months of her life were marked with a battle with pancreatic cancer. Although being very sick herself, Sr. Paul continued to instill hope and encouragement in others especially through simple text messages and emails or pencil-written notes of self-betterment and Gospel light. She always seemed to know when someone needed a bit of motivation and moral support. She never lost an opportunity to teach, to impart some words of wisdom to us who were fumbling through life and the various different challenges which accompanied them.
The Lord called her to the eternal wedding 15 June 2014, at the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin.
During this time she was accompanied by Sister Louise O’Rourke, who testifies: “I was blessed to spend the last hours keeping vigil with her and accompanying her as the Lord came to take her home early in the hours of Trinity Sunday, which in Ireland was also Father’s Day that year. It was fitting as Sr. M. Paul was very close to her father and often spoke of him. Her peaceful passing over into the arms of Jesus whom she loved so much took away any fear that I might have of dying. Even in death Sr. Paul taught us about life. The question she had as a young woman, struggling to understand her path, is relevant for all of us today: “I have only one life here on earth, what am I going to do with it? There are over 6 billion people on this planet and so few of them have given themselves to serve the Lord- Here I am, Lord, send me!”