The Call - S. Alice Ann O'Neill
By Josh Zeller, Communciations Intern
(From left) Sisters Lois Jean Goettke, Alice Ann O’Neill and Mary Bookser
at S. Alice Ann’s pre-entrance.
Since I was a child, I was always attracted to God. I grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, and my church was called St. Mark’s parish. We went to church every Sunday, and we were involved in our church. Even at First Communion I was really excited—I don’t know if people remember their First Communion so much, but I was a reader at the Mass, and I brought up the gifts. That morning I woke up with chicken pox, so I was devastated. I put on a shirt with a tall collar so my mom wouldn’t see me itching, or wouldn’t see the rash. But she caught me, and wouldn’t let me go. I just remember feeling so sad that I couldn’t go (and the priest did give me First Communion the next week).
I became an altar server when I was 9 years old, and when I was 11 years old, I started playing cello at Mass every Sunday. In high school, I worked at the church in summers, and I taught music. The lessons were offered in the basement of the rectory, so every day the priest and I had lunch together; I worked there for three years, so we had a lot of talks. I started thinking about becoming a Sister when I was 16, and there were Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception in my hometown. I had known them in my parish, and I really felt that I wanted to become a Sister of Charity. I wrote to them, instead of talking to them directly (we didn’t have email then), and I started meeting with them, and discerning; I did that until I was 20. Those Sisters taught me a lot about prayer and religious life, and I loved them and still love them very much—I still am friends with them. But when I was at university, I decided that I was going to go off and follow wherever my musical adventures were going to take me.
When I was about 30, I felt a very strong call to religious life, and to be a Sister. I called my friends, the Sisters of Charity in New Brunswick, and they helped me discern; I joined the formation program in their community. It just seemed like I was very different from them, and I didn’t really know any other Sisters [other than the ones I had spoken with]. I was living in Columbus, Ohio, at the time, and I found out about a retreat through the diocese in Columbus that was for people discerning religious life. You had to be interviewed by the Vicar for Religious to be able to go on the weekend, so she interviewed me, and we ended up talking for an hour and a half; she let me go. Once you went on the retreat, you were then eligible to go to monthly meetings; I ended up participating in that group, the monthly meetings, for three years.
It was with my friendships and my discernment through prayer and spiritual direction that I decided to not join the community in my hometown. I had a hard time when I decided to do that, because there were so many options. I really thought I might be a Dominican in Columbus, or a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. It took about a year to be sure about where I belonged, and I thought it was with the Sisters of Charity, because I really love Elizabeth Ann Seton. I have a long history with her. My mother was taught by New York Charities, so I had known about her my whole life, even though I grew up in Canada. I entered in 2003, on my 33rd birthday, the actual day.
Since I’ve been in the Community—this is the 13th year—I feel very deeply this is where I belong. Part of what makes me so happy and proud to be a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati is we have always had a very strong tradition going back to Elizabeth Seton herself of teaching music. I feel that thread is continued through me, which is orchestrated by God.