Sister Patricia O’Brien

I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts and am the first born of six children with four brothers and one sister. I lived for ten years in Lowell, then my family moved to western Massachusetts. I came “back east” for college and attended Wellesley College.

I was actively involved in campus ministry during my college years and had the opportunity to meet Sister Marie Augusta Neal, who taught Sociology at Emmanuel College at that time. She introduced me to some other Sisters and, as I learned more about the SNDdeN mission and the sisters’ passion for education and commitment to the poor, I discerned that I wanted to enter the community and did so in 1981.

When I first entered, I lived in South Boston, in the D Street housing project, with Sisters Sue Murphy and Margaret Lanen. One of my favorite memories of those day is my first Easter living in community. Sister Kate Panetta, who was the director of religious education for the parish in which we lived, approached me with a dilemma; It was a long-standing tradition that the Easter Bunny would distribute candy after the children’s Mass on Easter Sunday, but the priest who had played the Easter Bunny had moved on. Kate had a six-foot pink flannel Easter Bunny suit and wondered, since I was just about six feet tall, if I might be able to help out. And, of course, I did!

I have been privileged to work in education for my whole life, and much of that time has been spent in higher education. My current position, where I have been for more than 18 years, is with an accrediting agency. Our mission is to promote the quality of higher education–to ensure that all students, regardless of where they enroll, receive an education that is of the highest possible quality. I also served on the board of trustees of Trinity Washington University in DC for many years and was chair of the board for nine of those years. One of our greatest joys as board members was the chance to meet Trinity students, including DACA students. Their stories of resilience and courage were inspiring to all of us.

At this time of Jubilee [Sister Patricia's 40 Jubilee in 2021], I am grateful for the gift of Sisterhood, the opportunity to serve God’s people as a member of the community, and the opportunity to serve the EW Unit and the congregation through membership on boards and committees. I am also grateful for the 25+ years I have lived in Everett, Massachusetts, a city that has, over the course of those years, become much more ethnically diverse.

I’d like to share with you my favorite quote from St. Julie Billiart. In 2012, I gave a talk entitled “Leadership Lessons of Saint Julie” for school administrators. I used three “good words” from Saint Julie and discussed implications of those good words for leaders. One of those good words was Julie’s exhortation to her sisters to display a “manly courage”- a concept that sounds a bit strange in the 21st Century. Here is what I wrote in my talk:

“In urging her sisters to embrace a “manly courage,” Julie is not, I think, simply asking them to be brave or fearless. She is encouraging them to engage in unfamiliar behavior, to behave in ways atypical for young ladies. She is asking them to step out of their comfort zone, to leave behind the familiar and the known, to adopt attitudes and behaviors that will stretch them to grow. And to do this for the sake of a greater good, for the mission of the congregation.”

I believe that, like St. Julie, effective leaders encourage those in their community to leave behind the comfortable and the familiar, to be confident and unafraid, to develop their talents and abilities for the sake of the greater good.

Sister Patricia's Recent Ministries

New England Commission of Higher Education, Burlington, Mass. (Senior Vice President)
Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Mass. (Director of Institutional Research and Assessment, and Associate Vice President for Planning and Assessment.

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