Maura O’Halloran

Maura O’Halloran
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Maura O’Halloran, by Tenku, CC by – NC 2.0

Maura O’Halloran, who was born in Boston and raised in Ireland in a large Catholic family, displayed from a young age a deep compassion for human suffering. After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, she worked in soup kitchens and traveled widely in Latin America. Her concern for social justice was accompanied by a serious attraction to the spiritual life. After experimenting with various methods of prayer, she decided to explore the wisdom of the East. 

In 1979 she flew to Japan and applied for admission to a Zen Buddhist monastery in Tokyo, at the time rather a novelty for a woman in a very male setting. Her journals record her experience—sustained periods of meditation, manual labor, and an ascetic discipline of mind and body. After six months she experienced an ecstatic breakthrough, which her Master recognized as enlightenment. So impressed was he by her progress that he made an extraordinary offer—to entrust his monastery to her. But Maura did not believe this was her vocation. “I’m twenty-six and I feel as if I’ve lived my life,” she wrote. “Strange sensation, almost as if I’m close to death. . . . I’m totally content. Of course I want to get deeper, see clearer. . . . If I have another fifty or sixty years (who knows?) of time, I want to live it for other people.” 

After leaving the monastery she was killed in a bus accident on October 22, 1982. The publication of her journal brought a devoted following by both Christians and Buddhists. A small statue of her in the monastery in Japan is revered by many pilgrims. 

“Suddenly I understood that we must take care of things just because they exist.”  

—Maura O’Halloran 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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