Masses will be celebrated in honor of Sr. Elizabeth O’Neill at Saint Therese The Little Flower Church on Sunday, March 15 at 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. a reception will follow each Mass. Please also consider sending your memories of Sr. Elizabeth to Little Flower School Attn: Principal 1300 Casazza Ln Reno, NV 89502
Sister Elizabeth O’Neill
Oct. 2,1922 – Jan. 22, 2020
It is with great sadness that the Diocese of Reno and the Little Flower community announce the passing of our beloved Sister Elizabeth O’Neill. She passed away peacefully on January 22, 2020, at the age of 97. To many longtime members of this community, she was also known as Sister DeSales, until the Sisters of Mercy returned to the tradition of using their birth names.
Sister Elizabeth was born on Oct. 2, 1922 in Dublin, Ireland. Her parents, James and Sarah O’Neill, welcomed their first child with great joy. Sadly, her mother died shortly after the birth and her father passed away 3 years later. She was lovingly cared for by relatives. Sr. Elizabeth attended schools in the local area. Following completion of secondary school, she joined the Sisters of Mercy Community in Longford, Ireland in 1941. She took her vows in 1947. Sr. Elizabeth furthered her studies in education and music and taught in the local schools in Ireland.
In 1963, the Sisters of Mercy accepted the assignment to serve as teachers at Little Flower Catholic School in Reno, NV and Sr. Elizabeth volunteered for this mission. She loved Nevada, the people, the climate, and most especially, her students. From the moment she arrived, this diminutive lady stole the hearts of this community. While small enough to fear a strong wind, Sr. Elizabeth managed a classroom of 40 students with authority and love. Her effectiveness as a teacher was unparalleled.
In addition to the traditional subjects, Sr. Elizabeth spent countless hours assembling and conducting a choir comprised of students. Her love of music was apparent as she firmly kept the beat with her foot, and played the piano to accompany the choir until she wore Band-aids on her overused fingertips. She took on ambitious songs, including the Hallelujah Chorus, with a group of restless children. Every year a musical performance was the culmination of her work, where students sang every verse of the selected songs. It is safe to say those songs remain in their memories.
Sister Elizabeth also had a passion for geography. She prepared interested students for the Geography Bee annually, spending hours of her own time on this endeavor. She continued this commitment with great success long after she had retired from classroom instruction. She joyfully accompanied successful students several times to the National Geography Bee in Washington D.C., enjoying her trips to our nation’s capital. In addition to her devotion to her classroom, she furthered her studies, primarily in music, at the University of Nevada and the University of San Diego. Somehow, Sr. Elizabeth also found time to serve as the church organist and visit the homebound, adding a bright light to their lives.
In 2011, Sr. Elizabeth fully retired and returned to Ireland. She remained active, keeping abreast of world news and affairs, and spending time in Dublin visiting cousins and friends.
For those who missed the opportunity to know this great lady personally, it should be shared that while she always maintained the professional and orderly nature of a nun, she had a wonderful sense of humor. A slight smirk of amusement and understanding could be seen when her beloved students engaged in mischief.
She taught generations of families. Many students returned to Little Flower enrolling their own children. With great joy, they would learn Sr. Elizabeth remained there. Her incredible memory allowed her to recall details about these current parents as students. Her impact on the Little Flower community cannot adequately be expressed. She will always remain a presence here.
While her passing brings sorrow, it also brings peace and joy. After her beautiful and long life of service, she now rests in the arms of our Lord, whom she served so faithfully all of her days.
Masses will be celebrated in her honor at Little Flower Church on March 15, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. A reception will follow each Mass. We invite you to attend. Please consider sending your memories of Sr. Elizabeth to Little Flower School Attn: Principal 1300 Casazza Ln. Reno, NV 89502.