Retiring after 30 years with the Adelaide Archdiocese, Dr Jenny O’Brien has described the “great blessing” of being accompanied by so many “good, talented and committed” people as she forged a career in liturgy and music.
At her farewell Jenny reflected on the influence of the Mercy Sisters in her early years and later the wisdom shared by priests and Archbishops as she devoted much time to studies in the areas of liturgy, theology, religious education, music and teaching.
“I think of Sister Janet Mead who first taught me how to sing the Gregorian chant at the age of eight, and my piano teachers who encouraged me to continue to study music,” she told the gathering.
“I think of the Mercy Sisters who not only educated me through most of my school days but also formed me in the spirit of mercy when I joined the Order for five years way back when.
“I think of the heady days after the Second Vatican Council when, as a university student, I was part of a group that ‘devoured’ each of the documents as they came off the press. It was a fantastic grounding in theology, ecclesiology and, of course, liturgy.”
Jenny spoke of becoming a parish musician at the age of 13 and how in the ensuing decades this ministry has been such an important part of her life.
After teaching in Catholic schools and lecturing in music, Jenny’s career took a different path when in 1990 she was invited by Fr Anthony Kain to join the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. Three years later she was appointed the diocese’s liturgy coordinator and resource person.
“Archbishop Len Faulkner was most supportive of me in this new role and I set about developing programs for liturgical education and meeting with people who might form parish liturgy teams, and helping to write diocesan policies that would underpin all this,” she explained.
“At the same time I began a wonderful journey of study and research with Denis Edwards, whose wisdom, skill and friendship guided me through a preliminary Masters and then a Masters in Theology.”
In 2003, on the recommendation of Archbishop Philip Wilson she embarked on further study at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. It was no mean feat as the lectures were in Italian but unperturbed, Jenny enrolled into after-school classes at Adelaide High to learn the language.
After returning from Italy, Jenny joined the newly-established Office for Worship team as a liturgy educator, working with Fr Kain and Sr Ilsa Neicinieks.
In 2012 she was drawn back to further study, returning to Sant’Anselmo to begin a Doctorate in Sacred Liturgy. Seven years later she successfully defended her thesis, adding a SLD to her long list of academic achievements.
Jenny was on the editorial committee of Catholic Worship Book II and has published four volumes of Responsorial Psalm settings. She served nine years on the National Liturgical Council, 11 on the National Liturgical Music Board and is currently a member of the Australian Academy of Liturgy, the Australian Pastoral Musicians Network, Societas Liturgica and assistant editor of Studia Liturgica.
In thanking the many people she worked with over the years, Jenny made special mention of the “most important person of all”, her husband Terry, who had “patiently endured the stresses that have accompanied many of my endeavours”.
Jenny will continue to be an active member of the Brighton parish where she is one of the organists and a cantor.