Remembrance of the Life of Sister Frances Ann O’Bryan SL
Francie Ann O’Bryan was born on the family farm in St. Paul, Kansas, a rural community that was the site of Loretto’s first mission to the Osage Indians and a beloved home to generations of Loretto sisters. Francie Ann and her cousins, Sisters Rose Agnes O’Bryan and Alonza Smith grew up together on the homestead of their grandfather, who had left Loretto, Kentucky, to settle on the Kansas Plains. Her parents, George Ignatius and Rose McGann O’Bryan, were also farmers.
Francie Ann wrote a lengthy and charming autobiography which begins: “…on July 23, 1920, at 5 a.m. my mother arose to begin her day’s work by preparing chickens for the noon meal. What an interruption—at 8 a.m. my parents’ only daughter arrived!…Three years later and for only two months, my brothers Buzz and Dick and I enjoyed a new baby brother, Michael Joseph. He wasn’t well; the pastor, wearing ‘a long black dress’ came to our home to baptize him. Soon he died. My father prepared a box, mother covered it with white material, and together they left to take him to the cemetery.”
Francie Ann started at St. Francis Grade School when only five, and would occasionally “trip out the door and three blocks home” to escape the loneliness. Soon, however, she developed an amazing spelling ability and for years her name headed the list of entries in the County Spelling Contests. While in the fourth grade, Francie Ann joined her parish community in viewing the life-sized skeleton and intact religious habit of Sister Bridget Hayden during the transfer of the pioneer Sisters from Osage Mission to St. Paul. “Viewing their remains …provided my first contact with the Sisters of Loretto!”
During her senior year at St. Francis High School, Francie Ann’s mother advised her to take the Normal Training Course. She passed the State Boards and received a two-year teaching certificate. “I secured a teaching position the following year. Welcome was the sixty dollar check each month.” She boarded near the country school twenty miles from home, and the next year, as a postulant at Loretto Motherhouse, she was grateful “that that time away from home had hardened me somewhat.”
Francie Ann was received into the novitiate on April 25, 1940, taking the name Sister Mary Dominic. She made her first vows two years later, and her final vows August 15, 1945. She went from the novitiate to St. Benedict’s in Louisville, then to Sacred Heart in Kansas City in 1944. In 1947 she began a ministry to the school children of the Archdiocese of St. Louis which would span more than a half-century. She began at St. Cronin’s for three and a half years. “What a pleasure it was to receive students who had been under the supervision and teaching of Sister Seraphine Fairbanks and other Loretto teachers. Singing was their joy. Study was their pastime. Success has been their ventures!”
To Francie Ann’s great surprise, a special delivery letter arrived in December 1950 directing her to prepare to open a “Special Room” at some Loretto school in St. Louis. This would be Loretto’s contribution to a unique diocesan program in which highly individualized teaching addressed the needs of each student, creating a holistic learning environment that promoted faith and moral instruction along with life skill training.
Through the Christmas break she visited special education classrooms taught by other religious communities in St. Louis and found space for her room at St. Pius V Parish School:
“A feeling of tender closeness and friendship evolved from my associations with the Dominicans, Precious Blood, Ursulines, Notre Dames and St. Joseph Sisters through the visitations, meetings, and social affairs during my ten years as a special ed. teacher….The children were kind to one another; we had much fun. …With one exception, the children attained sufficient knowledge of religion to receive their First Holy Communion.”Francie Ann O’Bryan
In the summer of 1960 Francie Ann was appointed Superior and Principal of St. Paul the Apostle School in Pine Lawn. In 1962 she held the same job at Visitation-Holy Ghost School, and in 1965 she was Principal at Immaculate Conception School in St. Louis. These were times of population changes in neighborhoods, of consolidation of parishes and schools. Francie Ann was a teaching principal while collaborating with pastors and community-minded citizens to stretch meager budgets and establish home visiting programs.
Returning once again to St Pius V and to classroom teaching in 1967, Francie Ann completed her final three years in parish teaching. From 1972 until 1988, Francie Ann resumed “my favorite work similar to that I did in the fifties”, teaching students with special needs at the Loretto Center for Learning on the campus of the Loretto Center in Webster Groves. In 1989 she put aside full-time teaching and took up the role of tutor for the Center for another six years. Francie Ann retired from formal teaching in 1995.
Francie Ann continued in service to her local at the St. Louis Loretto Center for another fifteen years. An article for the St. Louis Review written by Sister Barbara Ann Barbato in 2010 said “Her local Loretto community believes Sister Francie Ann knows just about everyone in the Archdiocese and she is often consulted for information which is delivered with back story and context for a full understanding. Her gracious optimism and encouragement and her concern for the poor and the disadvantaged are as much a part of her as the joy she emanates when she speaks of Loretto, her classmates, her communities through the years, her associations, her memories—in her words, “How can I thank God for all the wonders He has wrought!”
Sister Frances Ann O’Bryan moved to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary in June 2011 and died gracefully early in the morning of April 30, 2013.