San Quentin is known for world-class volunteers who share visions of social reform and philanthropy. Volunteers are often academics and social justice advocates, but some are known for their angelic voices.
One of them is Megan O’Brien, director of San Quentin’s Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Chapel Choir. She celebrated her return to the prison recently by performing songs at the media center.
Choir member Alan Brown said of O’Brien, “… a true superhero; mother of five, who sings and speaks in five languages and has travelled the world singing for the Church … and she picks San Quentin to teach music to five parishioners.”
O’Brien is currently a voice teacher at a local music school, where she provides lessons to students of all ages. Her expertise spans several styles and genres. She donates two days each week to teach and lead San Quentin’s Catholic Choir.
“Like a voice from the heavens. How a world-class singer can come in weekly to practice and perform with four to eight inmates is a miracle in and of itself,” said SQ resident Louie Light.
Her music ministry included stops as a cantor and soprano soloist for the Archdioceses of Baltimore and New York before her family relocated to the West Coast.
O’Brien served in choral capacities for the Archdiocese of San Francisco before she found her way to San Quentin.
“Megan’s choral leadership provided me with the confidence I needed to improve all aspects of my rehabilitation,” said ex-choir member John Krueger. “She is the shining star of the Catholic Church.”
O’Brien joined San Quentin’s volunteer ensemble right before the pandemic of 2020. “A volunteer and fellow parishioner, Jean Ramirez, mentioned to Father George Williams that I was interested in volunteering with prison ministry. Father George happened to be looking for a choir director at the time and things evolved from there,” she said.
O’ Brien’s church volunteerism started at a very young age. “My parents were and continue to be volunteers at the Franciscan Center in Baltimore. They were role models to my sisters and me regarding the importance of actively helping in our communities. When my children were very small, I delivered Meals on Wheels in our downtown Baltimore neighborhood. They often accompanied me, and hopefully they also learned the importance of helping neighbors,” she said.
“I was so nervous,” said O’ Brien about being recorded and interviewing at the San Quentin media center. But once she started singing, she was able to relax.
Steve Brooks, San Quentin News’ Journalism Guild chair, interviewed O’Brien. He spoke of how impressed he was with her singing. “She is a world-class soprano; there’s no doubt about that. We hope to record more sessions with her.”
In her interview O’Brien acknowledged the “amazing longevity of service,” of other volunteers at the Catholic Church.
“From Vic and Judy Perrella at 32 years each, to Dr. Tom and Mary Dixon with 30 years apiece, to Willis and Linda Rice with 30 years individually, to Walter Mallory, Brian Cahill, Brian Gagan and all the other volunteer parishioners … I am honored to be the newest member of the Church,” said O’Brien.
“We hope Megan stays for as long as our other volunteers,” said Jesuit Priest Father Manuel Chivara. He praised her for the improved performance of his choir on Sundays and the amount of time O’ Brien spends practicing with the choir.
“We hope Megan becomes a lifer at the church,” joked senior volunteer Vic Perrella. “Her gift to this congregation is, without question, one of the greatest gifts Father George left our community.”
The Catholic Choir is always
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residents who would like
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