The University held a ceremony to present the annual Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Award for Distinguished Contributions to Ignatian Mission and Ministry to Sr. Margaret Ann O’Neill, S.C. Thursday for her work in El Salvador. In particular, The University celebrated O’Neill for her position as the director of Centro Arte para la Paz (Art Center for Peace).
O’Neill, originally from Jersey City, has spent the last 25 years working towards justice and peace in El Salvador. She has pursued her most recent ministry with Centro Arte para la Paz in Suchitoto for the past 10 years.
This educational organization, located on the grounds of the Santa Imelda School and Convent, works to provide an alternative learning experience and advocate peace through creative expression. Its activities include music, dance, drawing and painting.
At the ceremony, O’Neill spoke at length about her experiences with Centro Arte para la Paz.
The artistic expression provides an outlet and encourages people to become their truest selves, according to O’Neill.
“What makes us open up is the art,” she said.
Junior Jackie Stash, who attended the ceremony in preparation for her upcoming International Service Project trip to El Salvador, found O’Neill’s talk the most captivating portion of the ceremony.
“She was so energetic and enthusiastic, and just seemed so happy to be there, so passionate about what she was doing and about everything she said, that it was really inspiring to me,” Stash said.
The talk covered a range of topics, including details about O’Neill’s time in El Salvador and with Centro Arte, as well as more general commentary on love, humanity, solidarity and Ignatian values.
O’Neill emphasized God’s call to treat others with compassion and to embrace vulnerability. By opening ourselves up to others, she asserted, we can grow as individuals and continue to learn.
This sentiment fuels the call to live in “solidaridad,” or solidarity, with the people of the world. O’Neill defined solidarity as “tenderness between peoples.”
In order to repair the world, humanity must first recognize its suffering, O’Neill said. She argued that to love people completely, we must see their pain and, in turn, be strengthened by their love.
“We have to see the world as it is,” O’Neill said. “We will accept being hurt if we know we can love more.”
Stash appreciated O’Neill’s focus on constantly growing as a person, which reflects the Jesuit ideal of the Magis.
This ideal took on a new significance when O’Neill applied it to Lent.
“(O’Neill said) ‘I need to be a better version of myself every day—that’s what Lent is all about.’ I really liked that because sometimes Lent feels like going through the motions and doing things because that’s what you feel like you’re supposed to do,” Stash said, “but I think it should be about becoming a better person — thinking about why you’re fasting — and trying to help other people.”
Ultimately, O’Neill celebrated the uniquely human capacity to love, which inspires her ministry and informs her life.
“I am wired to love,” O’Neill said.