Catherine O'Neill, born on April 7, 1932 was the fourth of the ten children of Michael and Elizabeth O'Neill in Coolnacuppogue, Co. Carlow, Ireland. Catherine had five brothers: Laurence, James, Martin, Patrick and Michael. She was also blessed with four sisters: Mary, Brigid, Elizabeth and Ellen. Catherine's education was provided at the Garryhill National School in Coolnacuppogue. Catherine thought from time to time about entering religious life. She was acquainted with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in New Jersey through her sisters Mary and Bridgid. They had been members of the community for brief periods of time. On July 28, 1954 at age 22, Catherine O'Neill entered the Aspiranture for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in County Down, Ireland. Twelve months later, she moved to the US to start her postulancy training at St. Michael Novitiate in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. On July 2, 1956, Catherine received the religious habit and was given the name Sister Mary Lillian. Her novitiate program continued for two years, and on July 2, 1958, Sister Lillian pronounced her First Vows.
Following her First Profession, Sister Lillian was assigned to St. Joseph Juniorate in Saddle River, NJ to continue college studies. After one year, she was assigned to teach the First Grade at St. Luke's School in Hohokus, NJ. Her studies continued part time while Sr. Lillian taught primary grades in New Jersey: first, at St Luke's, School, then at Most Holy Name School in Garfield, St Mary's School in Salem, St. Joseph School in Medford, Immaculate Conception School in Norwood and Our Lady of Victories School in Landisville. In 1971, Sister Lillian was asked to change her position of First Grade Teacher to become the Principal of Our Lady of Victories School. Sr. Lillian served as an outstanding, highly regarded Principal for the next 22 years. A parent wrote, "Sister Lillian loved children, and the children loved her. She always had time to visit the sick and the lonely, and gave generously to the poor." In 1993, Sr. Lillian enjoyed a mini sabbatical program at Villa St. Dominic in Glasco, NY. She was then given permission to visit the Holy Land and Egypt Sr. Lillian greatly appreciated the opportunity for these experiences. In 1994, she embraced a new ministry, that of pastoral care for the elderly. For the next ten years, Sr. Lillian served at the Villa Marie Clare in Saddle River, NJ, St Michael's Villa in Englewood Cliffs, NJ and the Cusack Care Center in Jersey City, NJ.
In 2010, Sr. Lillian's energy level gradually lessened. She also developed problems with remembering, and moved to the Infirmary at St. Michael's Villa. In 2015, her memory problems worsened and Sr. Lillian was diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors. Sr. Lillian died peacefully on January 22, 2016, surrounded by the Sisters and Fr. James McDonald, Villa Chaplain. Her funeral Mass was offered on January 27th in the St. Michael Villa Chapel. She is survived by her brother James in England, her brother Michael in Ireland, her sister Brigid Donlon in New Jersey, her sisters Elizabeth Holahan and Ellen Devine in Ireland and several nieces and nephews.
"Life and prayer are intertwined, because the natural thing to do is to talk to God, to pray. Nothing is compartmentalized. "
Margaret Dove, CSJP