Doreen (Hooper) O'Brien


Doreen Catherine O'Brien
Surname as Student: Hooper
Education: United Church Training School
Graduation Year: 1959
Designated: May 27, 1959
Where: Bay of Quinte Conference
Denomination: United Church of Canada
  • 1930 - Born

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Doreen Catherine Hooper O’Brien was a member of Cataraqui United Church near Kingston, Ontario, where her parents and grandparents were long time members.  One of her ancestors was an original signee of the Cataraqui church deed.  A highlight in her life was being invited to be speaker at the 200th Anniversary of the congregation in 1993.  It was an opportunity for Doreen to draw together the various aspects of her church life as a congregant, a Deaconess, a church secretary, and active volunteer. Doreen took on the task of editing clippings and stories collected by her mother and wrote two books to mark the Anniversary.

Doreen attended Normal School in Peterborough, Ontario, and in 1950 became a teacher, teaching 8 grades in the Pittsferry Public School and Grade 2 in Department of National Defense schools. She played an active leadership role in the church, particularily with Young People’s Union in the local, presbytery and Conference levels.  She attended 2 National YPU conventions and participated in summer camps.  Doreen also spent 2 summers as a Caravaner, a program that brought a team of young people into smaller and remote communities for a week of Vacation Bible School and other Christian Education programs.  Becoming a Deaconess allowed Doreen to carry on with the activities that gave her greatest satisfaction in life: teaching and nurturing faith in young people.

In 2009 Doreen prepared this biography for a reunion of her Deaconess school class (edited here with a few additions from newspaper clippings)

50 YEARS -Wow! -A Lot Has Happened

It doesn’t seem possible, but I, Doreen, was one of those seventeen who were awarded the Diploma of The United Church Training School and thus became a “U.C.T.S. Graduate of ’59”. (Click here to see UCTS 1959 Student Yearbook.) The end of May, I was designated a Deaconess by the Bay of Quinte Conference and soon headed west to answer the call to serve on the Indian Reserve at Morley, Alberta. It was-a beautiful spot beside the Bow River and halfway between Calgary and Banff. Here I taught in the local school -partly residential ­for Native children for three years and then did community work on the Reserve for two years under the Board of Home Missions.

While at U.C.T.S. we often heard Helene Manning speak of Bathurst, N.B., sometimes “Bathurst-by-the Smell” (a pulp and paper mill there), so when an ad appeared in The Observer for a Christian Education Director in Bathurst, it seemed I should answer it.  A phone call came right back, and sight unseen, I headed east and served in First United Church, Bathurst from 1964 to 1968. They owned a church camp so the calling there involved directing various camps and training leaders for such camps. Of course, Helene’s parents who lived across the street from me, became Ma and Pa and I became their tall daughter.

From the Saint John Telegraph Journal in 1964, announcing her appointment:

The program of Christian Education is a heavy one with more than 500 children, teenage and under, to be instructed in the various organizations, such as the Sunday church school and thorugh the week organization.  There is also a summer camp owned by the church at Elm Tree which serves the whole Miramichi South Presbytery during the summer camping period.

I liked N.B. and in 1968, I received a call to serve as Christian Education Director in Wilmot United Church in Fredericton. It was the church known by its 199 ft. steeple topped with a 7ft. hand pointing upward. Here too, I was involved in camping -particularly C.G.I.T. Camp Council.

From a 1996 Wilmot United Church newsletter:

Doreen is fondly remembered by the people of Wilmot as a devoted, hard-working, meticulous Director of Christian Education, a lovely human being who really made a difference in the evolution of our church at a crucial point in its history.

In 1974, as I felt I should be nearer my aging parents, I returned home to the farm, just out of Kingston, Ontario. However, there were no openings for a Director of Christian Education in the immediate area.  I did obtain part time work as Co-ordinator for the Marney Patterson Crusade in Kingston, and then as a church secretary and working with a Senior Citizen’s Group. During this time my father became ill and passed away in November 1976. I continued to live with Mother on the farm.

Next came a big change in my life, when on September, 20, 1980, I married Rev. Harold O’Brien, who had just become the minister in my home church in July. The Cataraqui Pastoral Charge people were surprised and thought it was fast, however, I had known Harold in Woolastook Presbytery and also in Kingston Presbytery as he and his family had moved to Brockville the year before I came home.  His first wife died while he was in Brockville.  He had three children, one of whom was married with one child, so, besides a husband, I obtained three children and one grandchild, then within a year another grandchild arrived and a son was married. I acquired a big family all at once.  Shortly after another daughter received her law degree . Now, (2009) I have 4 grand children and 3 great grandchildren.

Harold served the Cataraqui Charge until 1984 when he took disability retirement and we moved into Kingston. Mother had been living with us and she passed away in 1986 at the age of 94. Both Harold and I liked to travel so for a few years we were off in our R.V. to the Maritimes in the summer and to Florida for a month in the winter. Of course we kept up some church related activities. Along with Harold’s several ailments, he developed diabetes and dementia. He passed away in April, 2002.

The last few years I have enjoyed some beautiful cruises to Alaska, Hawaii, and New Zealand and Australia. Also each summer I have gone with step-daughter, Anne and family, to Berwick, NS, where we attend the United Church Camp Meeting: along with nearly 900 others!

For the last 7 years I have acted as the U.C.W. President in our church and have been involved in the Presbyterial. I have also been involved in Presbytery since returning to Ontario, first the Christian Education Committee (youth), then Education and Students (little older), Pensions (older still), and now I’m in the Archives; Committee that is!  That is my report.

Doreen is a humble and gracious woman, concerned about other people foremost, she doesn’t like to draw attention to herself.  As this following update to her biography indicates, Doreen is optimistic and sees the positive in situations:

Two years ago in July I had a stroke which affected my right side, arm and leg. So I now use a wheelchair or a walker and since I was very right handed have had to learn to do things with my left, including write. As it would be difficult to look after myself entirely, my step children got me a room in a nice retirement home where some help is available, a nurse always on duty and all the staff are very nice. In June I sold my house, so that meant a lot of going through things.

Now, to explain my little delay in replying. I hadn’t been feeling well all spring and finally while in hospital 6 days in July they found it was a bleeding ulcer. Also in May I had a small lump removed from my right breast (one removed in 1989 too, the same spot) and as a follow up had radiation treatments the latter part of July and first part of August so it won’t come back again!  Now all that is behind me and I am feeling fine as a fiddle. Enough about me!


This biography was edited by Caryn Douglas from material written and provided by Doreen O’Brien.