Sister Elizabeth Ann O’Reilly and Dr. Katie O’Reilly are identical twins. Growing up in New Orleans, they both enjoyed science and both considered careers in medicine. However, in college both had spiritual conversions that led them on different, yet often parallel, paths.
Despite their different vocations, major events in their lives have occurred at about the same time.
“The year I got my white coat, my second year in medical school, she got her habit,” Dr. O’Reilly said. “The year I got married she professed her final vows.”
“And the same year she started medical school, I began convent,” Sister Elizabeth Ann said. “Both take eight to 10 years.”
They arrived in Central Texas a month apart, living their vocations in different ways. Sister Elizabeth Ann was among eight Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist who arrived in August 2009 from the motherhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the invitation of Bishop Gregory Aymond, who is now archbishop of New Orleans. She works at the diocesan Pastoral Center, helping to expand the presence of the sisters in the diocese.
Dr. O’Reilly works for LitePath, a group of pathologists that contract with area hospitals, including Seton Medical Center Hays in Kyle, where she offices. She and her husband Doug Consiglio are parents to eight-month-old Theresa.
In high school, they forged their own identities and when it came time to choose a college, they went their separate ways.
They joke that they took different paths because Dr. O’Reilly attended a Jesuit university –– Loyola University New Orleans –– while Sister Elizabeth Ann attended a Franciscan university –– the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
The separation was hard on Dr. O’Reilly.
“When she left, people called me ‘water works,’” she said, recalling all the tears after being separated from her twin for the first time. “I was thinking of how different things would be.”
When Sister Elizabeth Ann entered convent, the separation seemed more permanent to Dr. O’Reilly. However, she soon realized their different vocations did not separate them.
“Even though she’s a sister, she’s still my sister,” Dr. O’Reilly said. “I realized God gives the family graces when he takes away a sibling.”
That grace led the two of them to grow deeper in their faith. The two continue to support each other in their vocations as well as in their spiritual lives.
“We are best friends, even when we are separated,” Sister Elizabeth Ann said. “The conversion experience allowed me to change paths because I let God use the gifts I have.”
Despite the fact that she has been Sister Elizabeth Ann for several years, sometimes Dr. O’Reilly uses her given name –– Carey –– although she quickly corrects herself in the same sentence. Sister Elizabeth Ann realizes old habits die hard –– especially since they’ve been together since before they were born.
Dr. O’Reilly feels blessed to have her sister as a spiritual role model.
“There was a period when I questioned my faith and didn’t go to Mass,” said Dr. O’Reilly. “But her faith is rock solid.”
Their faith was tested as their parents divorced when they were 16. Their brothers were 18 and 12. The two brothers drifted apart after leaving home but have recently become close to their sisters.
“My sister’s faith was incredible,” said Dr. O’Reilly. “Because of the strength of her faith, my faith was strengthened and it continues to grow.”
Sister Elizabeth Ann said she knows she can count on her sister for support and to always be there for her the way the sisters in her religious community are. She greatly admires her sister’s dedication to her vocation as a wife, mother and doctor.
“She gets up very early but is always so joyous in the sacrifices she makes for the people she loves,” said Sister Elizabeth Ann. “The love for her spouse and child makes me want to love Christ more and sacrifice joyfully.”
Sister Elizabeth Ann said her sister is also a good role model.
“One time I was watching Theresa all day and it was time for vespers,” Sister Elizabeth said. “I was tired and didn’t feel like it. But I remembered how my sister gives the sacrifice of time and I thought, ‘I want to be like that.’ It’s very concrete.”
“Except it doesn’t feel like sacrifice,” noted Dr. O’Reilly. “It’s a gift.”
The foundation for both women is God. Dr. O’Reilly likes working at a Catholic hospital because she can attend daily Mass and take time during the day for prayer in the chapel. She also has benefited from her sister’s wisdom, which comes from her deep spirituality.
“There are troubled times in life when only a sibling can understand,” Dr. O’Reilly said. “She’s very wise. It comes from prayer and faith. Any time I come to her with an issue she gives me the wisest advice.”
Sister Elizabeth Ann said her sibling supports her through prayer and by simply living her vocation.
“She’s a faithful reminder that in those moments when I’m tired, my sister is busy being a doctor, wife and mother,” said Sister Elizabeth Ann. “It makes it easier for me give of myself to my vocation.”
Printed with permission from the Catholic Spirit, newspaper for the Diocese of Austin, Texas.