St. Monica fundraiser to honor Sister Noreen O’Connor’s 70 years of religious life

By Christina Gray

At 88, St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Noreen O’Connor has certainly earned her rest, even if she is unlikely to take it. As she approaches her 70th jubilee on April 21, she told Catholic San Francisco she has “no plans to stop working.”

“I’d rather be out ministering and bringing the love of Christ to people in any way I possibly can,” said the native San Franciscan. She’s in a longtime role as pastoral associate and director of religious education at St. Monica – St. Thomas the Apostle Parish.

Almost a dozen sisters from her community will join Sister O’Connor’s family, friends and former students on April 21 for a Platinum Jubilee Mass and Luncheon at St. Monica Church.  The luncheon following the Mass is a fundraiser for the Outer Richmond District parish and school, and is open to anyone who wishes to join the celebration.

Sister O’Connor said it was “almost inevitable” she would join the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. As an elementary and high school student at Star of the Sea School in the Inner Sunset, she was under the tutelage of the order for 12 years.

‘We had at that time, CSJ Sisters in every elementary classroom, and also teaching various subjects throughout the high school,” she said. Star of the Sea School closed in 2019.

The omnipresence of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the school and in their student’s lives literally formed her, said Sister O’Connor.

They were like the “hands and eyes and feet of Christ” present in our lives, she said. 

“They always exhibited unifying love, acceptance, support and kindness,” Sister Noreen said.  “The vows they took as religious sisters was translated in the way they treated us as students. They were always helping us be the very best versions of ourselves.”

She and 11 other girls from her senior class at Star of the Sea School entered the novitiate in 1953 upon graduation.

“Clearly you could see how powerful their influence was on us,” said Sister O’Connor. “When you have a role model that is that loving and kind, you think, well, I would really like to be one of them.”

Sister O’Connor said the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet mark religious anniversaries on the year the habit is received. The CSJ habit is received six months after entry. So while she entered in 1953, she received the habit in 1954.

Sister O’Connor attended Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, where she studied Education, English and History.  She ministered for decades in Catholic elementary schools in California, Oregon, and Washington as both teacher and principal.

She was also a regional superior for the Congregation of St. Joseph of Cardondelet in the Oakland Diocese and then a development director.

Sister O’Connor said she has “spiritually and personally raised hundreds of children” throughout her vocation as a religious sister.

“I’m here to help you to be the happiest person you can be,” she tells her religious education students. “God loves you and we love you.”

We asked Sister O’Connor how at almost 90 years of age she still has the energy of a person decades younger.

 “A life surrounded by the love of God and the love of people, that keeps you energized and young,” she said.

Christina Gray is the lead writer for Catholic San Francisco.