“The spirit of the Lord is upon me to spread the good word.”
-Luke 4: 18-19
Catherine says “That’s what my life has been about.”
“Await everything from the good God and have endless confidence in him.”
-St. Julie Billiart
Catherine says “My mother used to say ‘All good will come to those who wait.’”
Sister Catherine grew up in the greater Boston area. Her parents, Michael and Mary (Donovan) O’Brien had emigrated there from Ireland, and Catherine was the youngest of five children. She considers herself very fortunate that her family was very religious, because it contributed to a peaceful and happy home.
Catherine first met the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur when she went to Cardinal Cushing High School. She loved her elementary school teachers (the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston), but began to think the SNDdeNs were also a possibility as she considered entering religious life. Ultimately, her decision was strongly influenced by the fact that the SNDdeNs were an international community doing missionary work around the world, which really appealed to Catherine.
During Catherine’s senior year of high school, her only sister died. She decided to wait a bit before entering the SNDdeNs, so she spent the year at Emmanuel College in Boston, and entered the SNDdeN novitiate the following year, taking the name Sister Michael Mary.
After graduating from Emmanuel College, Catherine joined the faculty of St. Mary Elementary School in Waltham, Mass. There she met 47 bright second-graders, eager to learn. Luckily, Catherine had a co-partner who helped her through her first year. She realized that she had made it through, and was grateful. She continued teaching for the next ten years.
In the mid-1970s, Catherine completed a Master's degree in Pastoral Studies at the Fairfield University in Connecticut. Catherine spent the next 26 years as either a PDirector of Religious Education and /or Pastoral Associate. These years were filled with wonderful experiences and special gifts for her. As she met new experiences, she learned much about herself and what works.
One of her favorite stories stems from an assignment to an Italian-American parish as the Religious Education Coordinator. The parish had just lost its long-time pastor and a wonderful team of priests had begun the process of moving the people into a post-Vatican II perspective. Catherine spent 11 years there working within this community that she quickly came to love, and the catechetical program grew by leaps and bounds as the original 200 or so students increased to more than 1,000. The Italian parishioners loved the experience of transforming into a post-Vatican community and many a lively celebration encouraged them on their path.
Following this ministry she served as a Pastoral Associate in two more parishes before becoming the Boston Site Director for Notre Dame Mission Volunteers AmeriCorps. After her last sibling died Catherine took a sabbatical in Ireland. While participating in an enrichment program she also had the opportunity to reconnect with many cousins. In 2010 she began teaching ESOL at the Notre Dame Education in South Boston, Mass. and is presently ministering at the Notre Dame Education Center in Lawrence, Mass. as the Volunteer Coordinator and teacher.
At the time of her 60th Jubilee in 2021, Sister Catherine expressed gratitude for a loving family, her education and opportunities and good health, all of which propelled her into dozens of exciting and challenging opportunities to work with people whom she loved. She continues to nurture a very positive attitude, a genuine enthusiasm for life and her experiences, and has gratitude that she has spent her life as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. She feels blessed.