Until We Meet Again

My friend, Sister Carol Anne O’Marie, returned to her Maker on 27 May 2009.

Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

SOURCE: Sister Carol Anne O’Marie (Oakland, Alameda County, California). Photographed by Stephen J. Danko on 08 Mar 2004.

Sister Carol Anne O’Marie, the daughter of John and Caroline O’Marie, was born on 28 Aug 1933 in San Francisco. She attended St. Emydius Grammar School and Star of the Sea Academy. After graduating in 1951, she entered the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

In the early 1980s, Sister Carol Anne attended a workshop in creative writing and, by the end of the workshop, she had nearly completed a murder mystery entitled “A Novena for Murder”. The novel was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York in 1984. “A Novena for Murder” centers on a murder at the fictional Mount St. Francis College for Women in San Francisco. One of the nuns at the college, seventy-five year old Sister Mary Helen, recently sent to the college to lead a quite life of retirement and contemplation, just can’t help but get involved in the murder investigation despite her best attempts to leave the investigation to the police.

The success of her first novel led Sister Carol Anne to write a total of eleven Sister Mary Helen mysteries:

  1. A Novena for Murder (published in 1984)
  2. Advent of Dying (published in 1986)
  3. The Missing Madonna (published in 1989)
  4. Murder in Ordinary Time (published in 1991)
  5. Murder Makes a Pilgrimage (published in 1993)
  6. Death Goes on Retreat (published in 1995)
  7. Death of an Angel (published in 1996)
  8. Death Takes Up a Collection (published in 1998)
  9. Requiem at the Refuge (published in 2000)
  10. The Corporal Works of Murder (published in 2002)
  11. Murder at the Monk’s Table (published in 2006)

On one of her book tours in the late 1980s, while Sister Carol Anne was rushing to a book signing in San Francisco, she took a short cut through an alley and witnessed two homeless women urinating in the alley. After arriving at the luxurious hotel where she was to sign books, Carol Anne couldn’t get the thought of the sight of the homeless women out of her mind.

The contrast of the squalor of the alley in which Carol Anne saw the homeless women and the opulence of the nearby hotel in which the book signing was held led Sister Carol Anne O’Marie and her friend Sister Maureen Lyons to found A Friendly Place in downtown Oakland in 1990. The pair intended A Friendly Place to be a daytime drop-in shelter for homeless women, offering them a safe environment to have a cup of coffee, watch television, read a novel, or wash their clothes.

By 1996, Sister Carol Anne and Sister Maureen expanded the facility to include transitional housing for homeless women. They called the new facility A Friendly Manor.

In 2004, one of my friends discovered that I was a great fan of the Sister Mary Helen mysteries and arranged for me to meet Sister Carol Anne. I asked Carol Anne what the most common question she was asked while on her book tours. She told me that people wanted to know what a Catholic nun was doing writing murder mysteries. Carol Anne said that she was involved with the conflict between good and evil in her daily life, and she thought that murder mysteries weren’t all that far removed from her real-life experiences.

In December 2004, as Carol Anne was finishing the final edits of her eleventh Sister Mary Helen mystery, she hit a key on her computer and the entire electronic file disappeared.  Carol Anne called in experts to find the missing file, but even they couldn’t locate the electronic file of her nearly complete novel. Carol Anne, rather distraught, called me, explained what had happened, and asked if I could help.

At the time, Carol Anne was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, and found it difficult to type. Retyping the entire novel herself was not an option. The final draft was due to her editor the next week. Luckily, Carol Anne had printed out a copy of the novel before the electronic file disappeared from her computer and she sent the printed manuscript to me. I scanned the entire document and converted the scanned images to text using optical character recognition (OCR) software.

While the scanning and OCR processes proceeded fairly smoothly, all formatting in the document was lost and I had to reformat manually. Furthermore, the software sometimes made errors in recognizing the characters, and so I had to read and edit the entire manuscript. In particular, one of the people in the manuscript was named “Father Keane”, whose name the OCR software insisted on converting to “Fathead Keane”. Carol Anne and her colleagues at the convent got a real kick out of that.

Sister Carol Anne’s eleventh and final Sister Mary Helen mystery was published in 2006. She continued to write, however, and had completed the manuscript for a historical novel about the founding of her religious order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Earlier this year, Carol Anne sent me a copy of this unpublished manuscript, entitled “Like a Swarm of Bees”.

Sister Carol Anne’s health began to deteriorate in 2009 and she moved to a skilled nursing facility. I was able to visit her there and have lunch with her a few months ago, but our plans for dinner on Palm Sunday had to be cancelled due to her worsening health. She died a week ago, just as I was preparing for a trip to Canada.

The Celebration of Life Mass, one of the most beautiful I have ever attended, was held today at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Oakland. Following the mass, Sister Carol Anne O’Marie was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Oakland, California.

Donations in memory of sister Carol Anne O’Marie may be made to:

A Friendly Place, 2298 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94612,

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, 11999 Chalon Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90049, or

Mercy Care Center, 3431 Foothill Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601.

Or, just do something kind for one another in her memory.

Copyright © 2009 by Stephen J. Danko

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4 Responses to Until We Meet Again

  1. Dru Pair says:

    This is a beautiful tribute. Thanks for sharing.

  2. My friend Professor Dru shared your writing with me. I loved it, loved what you share about your amazing friend: Sister Carol. her writings sound fascinating. I will be in search of her work. I too have some Nuns (The Oblate Sisters) which are friends, and a relative that I am very fond of. These human angels are extremely gifted and resolute about their call to ministry-it’s an admirable quality! God bless you and your endeavors.

  3. Donna says:

    Steve, what a powerful tribute. I am sorry for your loss. It sounds like many people will miss her, but hopefully many will be inspired to follow her example. I had never heard of her books, but they are definitely on my “to be read” list now! She sounds like an amazing lady – thanks for sharing your memories.

  4. I just heard about Sister Carol Anne’s death and found your lovely tribute. I never met her but felt like I knew her through her Sister Mary Helen books. I am so sorry to hear of her death and to learn that she suffered from Parkinson’s disease. She was such an amazing lady! May she rest in peace.

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