Mary Josephine O’Brien

Entered Life: December 29, 1922
Entered Religious Life:  October 27, 1940
Entered Eternal Life:  May 7, 2021

“Thy will be done.”  
May she rest in peace.


May 17, 2021 Celebration of Life Mass
Homily by Father William Vollmer

The ancient Irish monks called them the “thin places” – places where heaven and earth overlap.  To be in a “thin place” is to be in the present, real world we know but somehow, at the same time, see or touch the world of God as well.  They contemporary Irish poet Sharlande Sledge in this way

“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.  

The Irish associate thin places most often with wild landscapes, rugged mountain tops, windswept islands, and the rugged seacoasts.  Any place or encounter in which one experiences a sense of the divine, the holy, the sacred, is a “thin place”. 

A “thin place” is anywhere our hearts are opened.  Thin places are places where we behold the Divine all around us.  

The great Irish saints such as Patrick, Bridget and Columba considered the moment of death to be the ultimate “thin place”.    

Josephine has traveled through that “thin place” from this life to the life of God.  With the Risen Christ as her guide, she has walked the final steps’ of her life journey, through the “thin space” to God’s dwelling.  

Today in this “thin place” we celebrate Josephine’s life, a life that has been filled with thin places, people, times, and the experiences of life that filled her live with the presence of God.   Our love for Josephine and her love for us is also a thin place that overlaps God’s love for us.  Grief and sadness unites all of us in the “thin place” of God’s compassion.  Our gathering around this altar to give thanks for Josephine’s life and to commend her to God is a “thin place”, for it is here that the sacrament which is the bread and wine of everyday becomes the Eucharistic banquet of eternity.   This very Eucharistic banquet so important to Josephine.  In the Eucharist, Josephine found nourishment, solace, challenge, joy and communion with the Trinity and community.   The Bread of Life was at the center of her life.  She who ate of it, became it for all of us.  

Josephine had a great thirst for knowledge and she could readily be found studying and journaling different spiritual subjects.  She once asked by RCIA to give a brief witness on prayer and its importance in her life.  Josephine spoke for the entire session, opening to us the richness of the Lord’s Prayer.  As a teacher she had all the boys in her classroom in the palm of her hand.  As a faculty member she imparted her great insights of life.  One of those insights was the following, “As much as we talk about the ‘glories of heaven” and we can’t wait until we get there, we do whatever we can to put if off as long as we can.  

Josephine’s faith in Jesus and the traditions of the Catholic Church ran beep in her blood.  Her faith was the core and heart of her life.  And in sharing that faith with so many of us, she herself became a thin place.  Josephine was a great confessor, whom you could tell anything and she knew God would understand. She was very proud of the wisdom and spiritual insights of her beloved saints of Ireland.  But she also had a large place in her heart for the great St. Ignatius of Loyola.  To know Josephine was to know and treasure the wisdom, joy and laughter of God.  A friend of Josephine who has known her for many years and who dedicated a poem “The Cross on the Hill to her, called her, “a beautiful Catholic nun. She was a true representative of God.  

One can say, that Josephine’s ministry was her being a thin place.  Whether teaching in school, being part of a prayer group, bible study, in the silence of contemplative prayer, as Queen of the Garage sale, the twinkle in her Irish eyes or the wisdom she parted, Josephine radiated the presence of God.  Somehow in the mystery of God’s love, Josephine by her very being helped us all glimpse the divine.  

In many ways, the manner in which Josephine lived he 98 years of life was ministry and thus a thin place.  She had a sweet tooth, especially when it came chocolate.  One of her former students who owns a fun shop on the East Coast would send her a box here and there which she would so graciously share only after she hid in a safe place her few “Special” ones.  She also delighted in the spirits, the occasional 7&7 with her meat and potatoes at LaGrange Country Club. Her drink was always ready for her upon arriving.  I also to know she loved her Tullymore Dew.    If you ever watched Josephine, she never seemed to walk, she always had a trot to her.  Her signature sign-off on every phone call was “goodbye for the present.”   

In the “thin place” between life and death, the light of God illuminates the path we walk, the peace of God alleviates our fears, and the life of God transforms our souls. 

Having traveled the “thin place” with Josephine, may we continue to see the “thin places” around us: moments of grace, experiences of compassion and celebrations of joy.  Wherever and whenever we experience God’s presence we experience a “thin place”.  May our experiences of “thin places” bring us at last to the ultimate “thin place” that Josephine has traveled, the eternal dwelling place of God and all the saints.