Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw, Irish writer and social activist (1856-1950)
While quite a few Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown are of Irish descent, Sister Brendan is unique in that she emigrated from Ireland. She faced discrimination when she first arrived in the United States, but her faith in God was a source of strength that empowered her through life’s challenges.
Sister Brendan came from a large Irish family. Growing up in poverty, in the 1920s and 30s, her family worked hard to make ends meet. She was the third of ten children, and because she was considered the strongest of her siblings, often helped her father around the farm.
At age 19, after working in a Dublin restaurant, Sister Brendan traveled to England, where she learned English from a priest (she’d only spoken Gaelic), and the world opened up before her. With her mother’s encouragement, Sister Brendan left her family’s farm and immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s to pursue a religious vocation.
As an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown, Sister Brendan has ministered in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and beyond. Wherever she goes, she has been a witness of God’s unconditional love. “She makes everyone feel special,” Ursuline Sister Kathleen Minchin says. “That’s what God does for us, makes us feel special. People see that reflected in her.”
Sister Brendan’s ministry began in the field of education. She spent 20 years teaching grades 1-5. After that, she began working at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, supervising the housekeeping staff.
More recently, Sister Brendan served as a pastoral minister at St. Michael Parish in Canfield. She ministered to the home bound as well as those in hospitals and nursing homes. She looks back on those 13 years with particular fondness. She enjoyed getting to know the families of the parish and working alongside the pastor, Father Terry Hazel. With a beaming smile, she remembers, “I liked Terry since the first day I saw him. But if he gave you work to do, he expected to find you working.” The two have remained close friends.
Sister Brendan’s adventurous spirit led her to new places and experiences. She found a kindred spirit in fellow Ursuline Sister Virginia McDermott, a friend who shared Sister Brendan’s sense of adventure until her passing a few years ago. Sister Brendan also incorporated her passion for driving into her ministry. When she visited St. Michael’s parishioners in their homes, she bought a GPS to help her navigate the different neighborhoods. She was one of the first among the Ursuline community to have a GPS and she quickly learned how to use it, first gauging the distance on a map, and then following the GPS’s directions.
“She loved visiting people,” Ursuline Associate Rosemary Yaniglos says. “She’d tell me how she would encourage them and pray with them and give them hope, and how in turn they gave her hope—and wisdom, too.”
During Sister Brendan’s years with St. Michael Parish, she made monthly visits to Paisley House, an assisted living facility in Youngstown for women, where she prayed with the residents and distributed communion to them. Sister Brendan’s visits united people of different faiths, and she made everyone feel welcomed and loved.
Though retired, Sister Brendan remains active, drawing energy from the company of others as she has her whole life. During the week, she participates in activities such as crafts, exercise, and bingo at the Antonine Sisters’ center in North Jackson. She enjoys talking with the other seniors there and seeing the delight in their eyes when they win bingo prizes. “That thrills them, you know,” Sister Brendan observes. “And they’d say: I’m taking this home to my aunt, I’m taking this home to my sister… It’s a nice thing to give them.”
For women discerning a religious vocation, Sister Brendan offers these words of encouragement: “Go for it. You’ll make it. I’ll tell you that. Even with hardships—you overlook those, because they have meaning.”
Through joys and hardships, Sister Brendan’s good-hearted nature touches all those she meets, and Rosemary Yaniglos admires her spirit and strength. “Somehow she grows with it, and, those of us who love her, we grow with her. She makes us stronger,” Rosemary says.
Sister Brendan enjoys community life and is grateful for the friendships she’s formed with the other members of the Ursuline community. “They’re helpful, in every way that they can,” she says of the Sisters. “There’s a lot of joy to have women together.”