sister elizabeth ann o'donnell

(Sister Joseph Benedict)
January 1, 1930 - March 7, 2016

Compassionate, generous, welcoming

On January 1, 1930, in Marquette, Michigan Elizabeth Ann was born to parents John and Catherine (Balbierz) O'Donnell. Her father earned his living as a machinist and her mother stayed at home with Elizabeth and her brothers. 

She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph September 15, 1947, was received March 19, 1948 and given the name Sister Joseph Benedict.  When requesting to make final vows, she wrote her superior and said she felt that “vows are the means by which I may advance in virtue and love of God and thus be more pleasing to Him.” Her local superior at that time, S. Thomas Marie, said that “Sister Joseph Benedict has welcomed and acted upon every suggestion which might help her become a better religious. She is very generous in assisting others.”  Her request was granted.  She made her final profession August 15, 1953.  The College of St. Teresa, now Avila University, in Kansas City granted her a bachelor’s degree in education in 1957.  She earned a master's in biology from Central Michigan State in 1964. 

Sister Joseph Benedict began teaching primary grades in St. Louis at St. Margaret of Scotland (1950) and Nativity of Our Lord (1952).  She continued teaching primary in Kansas City, at Assumption (1955), and then returned to St. Louis teaching at Immacolata (1958).  Moving into secondary education, Sister Elizabeth taught at St. Francis de Sales in Denver (1959), Bishop Baraga in Marquette (1966), St. Thomas Aquinas in Florissant, Missouri (1968), and finally at St. Joseph's Academy in Green Bay (1969).

After teaching for almost 30 years, she ministered as a nurse aide at St. Joseph Hospital in Kirkwood (1979).  In 1980 she became a nursing student at St. Louis Community College, receiving an associate in nursing degree in 1982.   S. Kathleen Karbowski said at her funeral, “All the time she was teaching she felt that there was something missing in her life.  She wanted something more. That more was leading her in another direction completely.  She began studying nursing at Meramec Junior College.  No one was happier than she when she received her nursing degree and began to serve here at Nazareth Living Center as a head nurse; a position she held for nine years (1983-1992).”   Remaining at Nazareth as food service supervisor (1992), she became purchasing manager in 1994.

In 1997, Sister Elizabeth Ann was again drawn to another ministry but one where she could continue to use some of her nursing skills.  She began to work with CSJ Care which provided home care to seniors, helping them to age in place.  Her skills and her small dog, Holly, were both welcomed into a number of homes.  S. Ann Chamblin, the Founder and Director of CSJ Care, remembers her as a calm and comfortable presence who was loved by the people she served.  In 1998 when she celebrated her Golden Jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph, in an interview with the diocesan newspaper in Marquette, Michigan, her home town, she was quoted as saying:  “There is a great need in the world today for compassion.”  She had an additional opportunity to be compassionate in 2000 when she temporarily left CSJ Care to do private care for a dear friend in Columbia, Illinois and stayed with her friend until she died.  Sister Elizabeth Ann returned to CSJ Care in 2001 continuing to serve actively until 2006 when she retired to minister in prayer and presence at Nazareth Living Center where both she and Holly were welcomed. 

In her later years, after suffering a massive stroke, she found herself on the receiving end of care and compassion of others – and responded in gratitude.  Sister Elizabeth Ann donated her body to science.   She was 86 years of age.                                                                   

Helen Oates, CSJ

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