How much more D'Arcy O'Neill Secord of Edina would have accomplished in the service of others, if early-onset Alzheimer's disease had not slowly robbed her of her mind?
O'Neill Secord, who was a former nun and psychiatric social worker, died in Bloomington on Sept. 8.
She was 66.
By the time she was 52, she had led or begun help agencies in her native Cleveland, Boston and Minneapolis.
Fourteen years ago, she noticed she was becoming a bit scattered. At first, she and her family chalked it up to being so busy, working and raising a family, including foster kids.
In the 1970s, she was an associate professor in the joint school of social work for the University of St. Thomas and the College of St. Katherine.
She is a founder of Families Moving Forward, and the former executive director of one of its predecessors, the North Commons Interfaith Hospitality Network.
She also led efforts to help Vietnamese youths and stem delinquency, said Bachyen Nguyen, a social worker for Hennepin County.
"She was a fighter and a good advocate for those without a voice," said Nguyen, adding that O'Neill Secord was an inspiration to her.
At Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina and at Catholic Charities, she led efforts to help the needy.
Her husband, Jim Secord of Edina, said she fought against the effects of Alzheimer's at first, denying it and striving to continue her work.
Her suspected Alzheimer's disease was diagnosed in 1996, and her memory lapses were hard on her school-aged children.
"Even with all these problems, she was still an exceptional mother," said her husband.
By 2001, she entered a nursing home, most recently living in Bloomington.
In the 1960s, she was a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine, and worked as a Social Worker in a Jewish Mental Health Clinic in Boston, helping Russian refugees.
It was a tough decision, but by the 1970s, she had left the order, believing that she could accomplish more outside of the convent. In Cleveland, she developed a group for the Catholic community, supporting and educating unwed teenaged mothers.
She met Secord, who was temporarily living in Cleveland for business reasons. They married in 1973, and made their home in Edina.
"She wasn't afraid to be a revolutionary," said her husband, calling her program for unwed teen mothers "landmark work."
"She would be a good one to get into trouble with -- she wouldn't desert you."
In 1965, she earned a bachelor's degree from Notre Dame College of Cleveland in South Euclid, Ohio. In 1968, she received a master's degree in psychiatric social work from Boston College.
In addition to her husband of 35 years, she is survived by her daughters, Megan Milligan of Des Moines, and Mary Secord of Minneapolis; sons, Paul of Des Moines, and Billy of Burnsville; foster son, Danh Tong of Brooklyn Center; brothers, Dennis O'Neill of Highland Beach, Fla., and Michael O'Neill of Troy, Mich.; sisters, Ann Wallace of Tega Cay, S.C., Mary Monroe of Rocky River, Ohio, and Sue O'Neill of Sarasota, Fla., and seven grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at the Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, 5071 Eden Av., Edina. Visitation will be held at 9 a.m. at the church.