Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

I was saddened to learn of the death of Sister Carol Anne O'Marie. She touched so many lives during her career, as a mystery writer, a religious, an educator, a humanitarian. She will be missed by so many people.

Sister Carol Anne O'Marie wrote 11 mystery novels featuring sleuth Sister Mary Helen, a gray-haired, crime-solving nun. O'Marie said her San Francisco-based character was based on the principal of a grammar school where she had taught, and she used people and situations she experienced during her life in her novels, even going to the Calistoga mud baths for 'research"-a bit out of the 'order.'

Sr Carol Anne was very supportive of everyone in the mystery community and spoke at many conventions and literary events. It was during one of these events in San Francisco that the inspiration to open a women's shelter came to her, and in 1990, her dream became a reality in downtown Oakland. "For her, nothing was impossible," said her sister, Kathleen O'Marie.

With Sister Maureen Lyons, Sr. Carol Anne opened A Friendly Place for women recovering from alcohol and drug abuse in an old storefront on West Grand Avenue. The need quickly outpaced the building, and in 1994 she and Sr. Maureen bought a dilapidated hotel in Oakland and turned it into a 26-room refuge.Both nuns were honored in 2008 with a Jefferson Award for their community service. "She was a dreamer," Lyons said of O'Marie. She had faith in God and in herself, Lyons also said.

O'Marie joined the St. Joseph of Carondelet order in 1951. Her decision to become a nun shocked her family, but she spent the next decades fulfilling the founding spirit of her order by serving the ordinary needs of people around her. In addition to teaching, O'Marie edited the Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, and was the development director at Carondelet High School in Concord for many years.

To give you a sense of O'Marie's energy, spirit and sense of fun and whimsy, she won 2nd place in the 1979 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in San Francisco. She was the first woman, and surely the first nun to do so.

Lyons called O'Marie a warm, generous and strong-willed woman with a magnificent sense of humor. But, Lyons added, "She was serious about helping people, and she had a great devotion to God."

I had many conversations with Sister Carol Anne over the years, and her boundless energy and dedication to all people impressed and influenced me. I will miss her.

Read a NYT article from 1987 about Sister Carol Anne O'Marie.


Judy Bobalik said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. I met her a couple of times and she was delightful. I also managed to catch the Dick Cavett show with her, Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain and Robert Parker. What a hoot.


Nancy Bischoff said...

I was very saddened to learn of her death! When did it happen? I was not brought up Catholic nor am I a religious person, but I loved the Sister Mary Helen mysteries and will really miss not having others to look forward to as time goes on. The picture of her, above, is just how I imagined Sister Mary Helen to look! My sincere sympathy to her family and her order.

Suzanne Hoffstetter said...

I was unaware that Sister O'Marie had passed away. I enjoyed reading her books and always looked forward to the next one. I was brought up Catholic and attended Catholic school for 12 years which probably heightened my enjoyment of her mysteries. My sincere sympathy to her family, friends and members of her order. I will genuinely miss reading her books.

Leora said...

I am a huge fan of Sister Carol Ann O'Marie. Even her name delights me. I have told so many of my friends about her and shared my books with them. I will miss her books so much. I buy everyone I see in used book stores and new book stores and give them to everyone I know who appreciates a good mystery. My heart goes out to her family and friends. I know she must have been a delight to know.