MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin went back to Barry University, but this time as a visitor, thrilled to be back in South Florida.
“I feel that I never left South Florida, nor has it left me,” said Sister Jeanne.
Sister Jeanne was Barry’s president for 23 years. She stepped down ten years ago and spent the past several years in Michigan battling lung cancer.
“I have been quite ill the past several years, but somehow the Lord is smiling and raising me up again,” said Sister Jeanne.
She also said that her cancer is in remission and pointed out that she never smoked a day in her life.
Sister Jeanne was well enough to spend her 85th birthday at Barry. The school has grown from a small women’s college to the fifth largest private university in Florida. Sister Jeanne always felt her mission was beyond the borders of the university and through the years she found herself at the center of many local and national controversies.
She was an advocate for women, a fighter for South Florida in Washington, and a cheerleader for Barry. She was also a crusader for change in the Catholic Church, supporting women in the priesthood.
“If I could I would say Pope Frances, ‘the day has come for women, the day has come for women,’” said Sister Jeanne.
Sister Jeanne fought for the homeless, and for Haitian refugees fighting deportation. During the Elian Gonzalez affair she was called in as a mediator was criticized for saying the boy should have been allowed to stay with his South Florida family.
“For me it was the mother. I know the boy belonged with his father at some point, but the mother had died getting on that boat with her child seeking freedom, and for me she represented every mother who ever got on a boat with a child and made it or didn’t make it,” said Sister Jeanne.
Sister Jeanne has always shown her love for people, and at 85 years of age, on a visit to a community she loves, there is no holding her back.
“I think I’ll stay and as long as the Lord allows me to hug people, I’ll hang around and be known as the nun who hugs you to give you the strength to hang on,” said Sister Jeanne.