In Memoriam: Sister Regina O’Connell, OSB

imoconnellrSister Regina (Kathleen Carey) O’Connell, 85, died January 15, 2003 at the Monastery of St. Gertrude, Cottonwood, ID. The first of three children, she was born to Louis and Ellen Carey O’Connell on May 2, 1917, in Republic, WA.

She joined the Monastery of St. Gertrude in 1935 where she made her Profession as a Benedictine sister in 1937. She earned a B.A. in Education from Holy Names College in Spokane, WA and an M.S. in Music Education from the University of Idaho.

Her wit, personal interest in each student, and dedication to quality education won Sister O’Connell many life-long friends among those for whom she was classroom and/or music teacher at St. Joseph’s School in Genesee, St. Paul’s School in Nampa, St. Mary’s School in Boise, and St. Joseph’s School, St. Gertrude’s Academy and the College of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, ID.

Her love for learning and the skills she gained from teaching served Sister O’Connell well when, following some course work in Hospital Administration at St. Louis University, she was appointed administrator of Our Lady of Consolation Hospital in Cottonwood in 1959. Her next years were very busy with the planning and building of St. Mary’s Hospital in Cottonwood which opened March 21, 1965.

In 1967 Sister Regina’s life changed course again when the Benedictine sisters elected her Prioress of St. Gertrude’s. Her ten years in leadership called forth her deep faith, openness to new possibilities, ability to risk, passion for life, and gentle but firm style as the community responded to the changes called for by the Second Vatican Council. She led the community through the freeing and sometimes painful transition from an authoritarian to a more collaborative form of governance. She found many of the changes energizing, and inspired the sisters with hope and courage as they let go of some familiar ministries and began to meet new needs in the church and society. At the same time, trusting God’s call and seeing the life and growth that came from the changes, did not eliminate the pain she continued to feel over many sisters leaving the community during her administration, and the closing of St. Gertrude’s Academy and other diocesan schools where the sisters had taught.

At the end of her term as prioress, with characteristic courage Sister Regina joined Sr. Maria Elena Schaefers in Cali, Colombia, SA, to work with the poor. In 1980 they moved to Bogota, Colombia where they joined other Idaho Benedictines to open a dependent monastery with hopes of founding a permanent community there. The sisters chose her to lead the new community, and she worked with the other sisters in the school there. Although she felt disappointed when this new community closed in 1994, Sister Regina saw God’s hand in the decision, returned to Idaho for a year of renewal and then ministered with Hispanic people in Caldwell until 1998 when she served as Subprioress at St. Gertrude’s until her retirement in 1999.

She is survived by her monastic community in Cottonwood, her niece Kathleen Smith of Ephrata, WA, her nephew Jerry and Andrea Jarvis of Auburn, WA, and her cousin Mary Lynch of El Paso, TX. She was preceded in death by her parents, her brother William and her sister Mary.

A Vigil Service was held in the monastery chapel at 7:00 p.m. on January 17, 2003 and Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated there at 1:30 p.m. January 18, 2003. Rev. Meinrad Schallberger, OSB, Chaplain at St. Gertrude’s, was the presider. Sr. Jean Lalande, OSB, Prioress, gave the reflections.