2013 Jubilarian – Letitia (Florence) O’Connell

Jble O'ConnellTo become a nun was not Sister Letitia O’Connell’s choice growing up. In fact, as she obediently prayed each night to know her vocation, she ended with, “…but don’t make me be a sister.”

She decided finally to say “yes” when she fell in love with the IHM spirit and studied St. Teresa of Avila in Spanish class.

Because she grew up in Oklahoma and was living in Dallas, how did she get from there to here?

She was studying in Springfield, Ill., and intending to visit the family over Christmas. She was asked to bring the sisters returning from St. Louis University from the train station and then drive them to their home. This she did but had to take a late bus home.

“You must know that this was the gangster period, and the getaway route ran Chicago, Springfield, Collinsville, East St. Louis, St. Louis and right in front of my grandmother’s home.

“So when my bus arrived around 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, my aunt, in from Detroit, was very upset. With my permission, she called my mother and asked if she would let my aunt take me to Detroit and Marygrove. Mother said yes; the rest is history.”

Sister Letitia entered the IHM community a few weeks after graduating from Marygrove. Although she thinks her first few missions were “disasters,” as soon as she began teaching in an all-girls’ school, she found herself. Here, she could easily relate to the girls and their problems.

Looking back, God has always been doing the guiding. Sometimes you fought it. But, God knew what God was doing.
-Letitia O'Connell, IHM

She eventually taught at five such schools: Girls’ Catholic Central, Blessed Sacrament, Immaculata, St. Mary Academy and Marian, all of which she enjoyed thoroughly, especially Immaculata – “such a spirit in its early days.”

She later went on to teach religion and English classes in Japan. Sister Letitia talks fondly about a particularly “peppy” eighth grade religion class.

The students told her “all kinds of things about their religions. There were many different religions and cultures.” When they described how they practiced and what they believed, she really learned a lot. “They truly had very beautiful religious customs.”

Next, Sister Letitia taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at a Japanese university, Nanzan Daigaku. As she neared retirement age, she wanted to be closer to home and found a job in Washington, D.C., teaching ESL. This was a truly wonderful experience with all adults, from all cultures, professions and socio-economic backgrounds.

As for Vatican II, that was like “suddenly coming out of a dark box into God’s bright new light, and a new freedom to be creative in many ways never before thought possible. It offered a new and deeper understanding of what really mattered – that religious life, vocation, was not only external, but a total gift to God.”

Sister Letitia is very grateful for the amazing opportunities she has had as a result of being part of the IHM community. Her greatest joy has been, and is, “that Jesus was always there to help. Always!”