“It is very impressive how she remembers us by name,” said Yanett Torrez, who gave the rosary to Sister O’Reilly on behalf of the alumni, parents and teachers she represents as the president of the PTO. “She is very dedicated and a hard-worker,” she said with tearful eyes.Sister O’Reilly, 78, retired effective July 1 and will be replaced by Vanessa Rivas, former principal of St. Matthias School in Huntington Park (the first lay principal in the school’s history). With Sister O’Reilly’s departure, two DJM sisters remain at the school from the original group of five.“We really don’t want her to leave, but she deserves a rest,” said Torrez of Sister O’Reilly, who left town July 10 to her native Ireland to take care of a sister who is seriously ill.For her part, Sister O’Reilly is reluctant to talk about herself, but she gets excited when talking about vocations and education. She delights when school alumni visit to show her their college degrees and to thank her for her contribution in their lives. And nothing thrills her more, she said, than to see the younger students get actively involved in parochial activities. She believes it helps develop the child’s spiritual maturity, but she thinks efforts still need to be done across the archdiocese to show the younger generations what is available for them.“They are the future church leaders and we need to make it more appealing,” Sister O’Reilly told The Tidings. “I believe if we’re going to have more vocations the Catholic Church has to be open to all ministries. I feel there are a greater variety of opportunities for young people in the area of ministry than when we entered [to a religious community.]“At that time we did whatever ministry that order was doing,” she continued. “Ours was a teaching order and so we went into teaching but since then it has branched out as many orders have.”She notes the surge in those working in restorative justice, in prison ministry. “That would have been unheard of when we entered,” she observed. One way to attract the younger people is to invite them to explore what the different orders offer during their come-and-see sessions, she suggested. Expansion of the youth ministry programs in parishes is also needed, she said. Her eyes open widely when referring to a Rosary School alumnus who is in training to become the head of the church’s confirmation program.“It is great to see these young people take these leadership roles,” she said of the youth, noting that when the boy was in school he did not show the spiritual depth he shows today.“What happened?” the nun recalled asking the teenager on a day he stopped by to visit her. He explained how in eighth grade he started feeling the need to volunteer at the church, a desire that increased while attending high school. “I started thinking about the great love that Jesus has for us,” he told his former principal.“But the key,” said Sister O’Reilly, “is helping them to discern so they can focus on whom they are serving. “They’re giving their life to someone who has given his life for us,” she noted. “That will take care of any other obstacle, such as the fear of the rules of priesthood or religious life, which is part of the acceptance of vocation, of giving back to God.”‘They are my inspiration’It was in 1955 when Sister O’Reilly arrived in Los Angeles from Ireland, where members of her congregation had gone on a recruiting mission. She recalls how, at age 11, she heard the call from God to follow a religious life, but “I put it aside and never thought of that anymore.”When the women religious visited her school to promote religious vocations she quickly responded, encouraged by her parish priest. She was 18 then; a year later she arrived in California after doing some training in Ireland and Belgium — where the congregation was founded — to “absorb the spirit of the order.” “It was hard coming to California,” she said. It was a five-day boat trip to New York by herself. Then she took a plane to the West Coast. She did not see her parents until nine years later when she went back to her homeland to visit. They kept in contact by mail.“At that time you were told you were saying good-bye to your parents for good, and phones were very limited,” Sister O’Reilly said.After earning a degree in education at Immaculate Heart College, she taught second, third and fourth grades at St. Paul the Apostle School in Westwood. In 1960 she moved to the then recently opened St. James School in La Crescenta, where she taught for eight years. In 1968 she started teaching fifth graders at Our Lady of the Rosary, becoming the principal in 1973.She devoted most of those years to conveying the message that parents’ involvement in church and in their children’s school activities is a key factor. “I’ve enjoyed it all,” she said. “Each first Communion, each graduation, and each school new year. It’s hard not to get fulfilled and grow spiritually when you’re around young people. They are my inspiration.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0715/sprosary/{/gallery}