Veronica O’Brien (1905-1998)
If Cardinal Suenens was the best known personality for the development of the FIAT Association, Veronica O’Brien was its inspiration. Here is a summary of her life, followed by some of the reactions to her departure for Heaven.
1.The Legion of Mary
Louise-Mary O’Brien was born in Midleton, Ireland, on 16 August 1905. She was the eleventh of thirteen children. Responding to the Lord’s call, she joined the religious congregation of the Ladies of St. Clotilde, where she had attended a boarding school near London. There she gradually realised that this way of life did not correspond to her vocation and that she was called to a direct apostolate.
After fourteen years of convent life, and on the advice of her superiors and ecclesiastical advisors, she left the congregation and began to seek her own way, while continuing to use her name as a nun, “Veronica”, which reflected her desire to be personally united to Christ in His Passion.
After much trial and error, she discovered the Legion of Mary, which, under the impetus of a fellow countryman, Frank Duff, its founder, was experiencing an astonishing expansion.
On the eve of the Second World War, after attending a single meeting of a “praesidium” in Dublin (the praesidium is the basic team of the Legion of Mary), she left Ireland for France on the last ship to make the crossing. Her intention was to establish the Legion there. Veronica finally arrived in Nevers at the beginning of the German occupation of the city. At the risk of her life (her British passport made her suspected of espionage) and those of the nuns of the Saint-Gildard convent who had taken her in, she founded the Legion of Mary in Nevers in August 1940.
After the war, she travelled throughout France where she founded more than 800 praesidia. For twenty years, she was a delegate of the Legion of Mary, which she also founded in Belgium, Greece, Turkey and former Yugoslavia.
2. The common apostolate with Cardinal Suenens
In Memories and Hopes, Cardinal Suenens writes that the meeting with Veronica O’Brien in July 1947 “will be a milestone in his life”. Later, in Les Imprévus de Dieu, he explains: “In the course of the conversation, she spoke to me about union with Mary as an opening to the Holy Spirit. I immediately perceived that she was speaking from experience, with a rare depth”.
This first meeting was not without a future. The second meeting took place in Lourdes, in April 1948, and was the real starting point of a close collaboration that lasted half a century in the service of the Church. With a university education from Cambridge, Veronica also knew Latin perfectly. This was invaluable to Cardinal Suenens during the Second Vatican Council. In 1966, the Cardinal wrote to Dr. Kathleen Owler, Veronica’s sister … “Isn’t it wonderful the life of Veronica and how the Lord has prepared this life step by step to be fruitful for the Church and for the world. Without her, a number of things would not have happened during the Council”.
The number of books that Cardinal Suenens wrote in collaboration with Veronica was considerable. In all his writings, the same call is addressed to Christians, a call to participate in the essential mission of the Church: evangelisation.
In the second volume of his memoirs, “The Hidden Hand of God”, Cardinal Suenens describes Veronica’s life and their collaboration. On the subject of the Renewal, he writes: “…in matters of discernment of spirits, my task was singularly facilitated by Veronica’s constant collaboration. Her doctrinal certainty, enlivened by her unparalleled spiritual experience, helped me to identify the authentic presence of the Spirit and his charisms, from the excesses or deviations encountered along the way”.
Another decisive encounter was with the Charismatic Renewal. It was through a press article in the United States that Veronica first heard of the Renewal. Always on the lookout for new developments in the post-conciliar Church, in 1972 she went with Yvette Dubois to several university centres where this spiritual renewal, inspired by Pentecostalism, had arisen among Catholics.
She took an active part in the growth of the Renewal in Belgium, France and the United States. She played an important role in the elaboration of the doctrinal texts The Malines Documents, which contributed significantly to rooting the charismatic enthusiasm in the Catholic tradition, while warning against certain fundamentalist drifts.
She was a special adviser to ICCRO, the International Secretariat of the Renewal, which had its headquarters first in Brussels, at the residence of Cardinal Suenens, and then in Rome.
3. Apostle to the end
Veronica was an apostle to the end of her life. With great pedagogy, she tried to make each collaborator a missionary of the Good News, with great respect for the freedom of each person. Thus, she was the founder of the apostolic team which, gathered around Cardinal Suenens, became the FIAT Association.
Let us allow Cardinal Suenens to speak: “No longer able, at her age, to offer herself to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, Veronica encourages and stimulates various initiatives that allow the same objective to be achieved. We must love and serve, she says, not only with all our heart, but also with all our imagination. Hence the FIAT Initiatives. Their aim is to intensify the spiritual and therefore apostolic life of Christians…”.
During the last years of her life, old age forced her to stay in bed almost continuously. In bed, she received visitors, whom she always prepared to welcome in faith and in prayer. She asked God for the grace to be able to say the word of comfort by living in a spirit of faith: “Just say the word and I shall be healed”, so that she could give “the word” of comfort.
One day, during a sharing, she confided that she never accepted to say a single useless word. She was always oriented towards “the presence of Christ in the soul of the other”, even when her sharing was interspersed with a humour that made the most reserved people laugh.
4. Veronica longed to join the Father’s house
After the death of Cardinal Suenens on 6 May 1996, several bishops and priests came to celebrate the Eucharist at his bedside. Veronica apologised to them for still being there. Despite her fatigue, she actively participated in the Mass, the liturgy of the offices and the FIAT rosary.
Very weakened, she entered Eternal Life on 19 February 1998, surrounded by her loved ones, the day after the feast of Saint Bernadette Soubirous.