Sister Damian O’Brien Turns 104

On March 30, we honored Dubuque Presentation Sister Damian O’Brien who celebrated her 104th birthday! Yep 104!!!!! She’s not just a year older, but a year more fabulous and inspiring. Sister Damian’s love, kindness and laughter has left a lasting impact on countless lives who are blessed to know her. The Dubuque community celebrated Sister Damian with a delicious lunch, a birthday cake and the following special tribute/prayer reflecting on what living to be 104 has meant written by our house administrator, Jean Lange.

Prayer for Sister Damian on her 104th Birthday

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
We give thanks to our mighty creator, who on March 30, 1920, gave the world the gift of Mary Annabelle O’Brien.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)
We give thanks for a child so wonderfully made. A young girl growing up in Ryan, Iowa, destined for greatness.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (Thessalonians 5:16-18)
We give thanks that with prayer and rejoicing, Mary Annabelle joined the Sisters of the Presentation 86 years ago to become Sister Mary Damian. 

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus. (1Corinthians 1:4)
We give thanks for the many years Sister Damian gave in service to Christ, believing always in the grace of God, deciding at the age of 98 to retire.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1John 3:1a)
We give thanks that not only are we here to celebrate the 104 years Sister Damian has already lived, but that the Father has loved her so greatly to be starting year number 105!

Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. (Ecclesiastes 7:11)
But mostly we give thanks for the person of Sister Damian who has shared her wisdom with so many people, for the many lives she has touched and continues to touch, and for the time and opportunity to celebrate with her today.

God has abundantly blessed you, Sister Damian, and for that we are all grateful.

And the people said:  Amen!


So, what does it mean to live to 104?

It means that Sister Damian has endured the politics of 19 presidents and 24 presidential terms. Woodrow Wilson was nearing the end of his term when Damian was born. He was followed by Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden.

It means living through the sadness of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs, the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and more.

It means many changes from the Roaring Twenties, through the Great Depression, into the civil unrest of the 60s, the Y2K scare at the turn of the century, the horror of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the totally unexpected COVID-19 pandemic.

When Damian was born, the Model T was relatively new. The car radio was introduced a few years later. This was followed by four-wheel drive, power steering, air conditioning, cruise control, seat belts, digital dashboards, air bags, and GPS.

In 1920, computers were virtually unheard of. In 104 years, technology has exploded! From computers that took up a whole room to the smart watch we now wear on our wrist. From just knowing your way around the backcountry roads to GPS directing our every move. From floppy disk storage to cloud storage.

Running parallel to all those changes, Sister Damian experienced changes within her beloved community, Sisters of the Presentation. She entered the congregation in 1938 at the age of 18. The motherhouse was at 1229 Mt. Loretta. The mother superior was Mother Perpetua Ryan. Damian entered in full habit, with a shaved head and saw the big changes from black and white only to black, white, and gray patterned clothing. The veil became optional, followed by a move to secular clothing. She was not allowed to drive when she entered. Home visits were limited in frequency and duration. Prayers were in Latin.

So here you are Sister Damian, 104 years later having endured many changes and still going strong with a spirit that welcomes whatever each day brings! God bless you for the journey you have had and the journey yet to come.

Happy Birthday, Sister Damian! You are loved!