Dr. Bren Adair Ortega-Murphy died on April 26th, 2021 as afternoon sunlight filled the room. It was a warm and fitting moment of passage, as Bren never curtained a window. She adored open half shutters, which allowed for direct communion with light and plants, birds and wonder. Her husband was present to read a final children's book and her two grown kids held her hand. Bren was born November 27, 1949 in Beaumont, Texas and raised in Houston by her parents Edward Ortega Jr. and Esther Ortega née Larsen. She often reflected on her time at Mount Carmel Catholic School, where she shone as a debate champion and dedicated classmate. Her incredible work on the forensics team led to a scholarship at Northwestern University where she eventually completed her undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees. In June 2020, Bren retired from a cherished 36-year career at Loyola University Chicago, where she held a joint appointment in the School of Communication and Women Studies and Gender Studies. She taught numerous courses in both areas and in 1996 received the Sujack Award for teaching excellence. In her time at Loyola, she also served as the Chair of the Communication department, Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, Chair of Faculty Council and Director of Women's Studies. With a focus on rhetoric and ethics, Bren championed children's literature, women religious, and service learning. A favorite assignment was to teach public speaking by requiring students to read children's books out loud to the whole class. She cried openly whenever anyone read Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco. For Bren, children's literature had a power beyond measure, allowing the reader to delight, to cry, to discern and, finally, to act in the name of all that is good. She advocated equally for celebrating Catholic women religious or, as many know them, Nuns. In 2011, Bren directed A Question of Habit, a documentary narrated by Susan Sarandon. The film explored popular culture's fascination with all things "nun" and illuminated the history of women religious in the United States, from their life as battlefield medics in the Civil War, to their persistence as political activists fighting against capital punishment. Outside of academia, Bren dedicated her life to friends and family through a constant stream of greeting cards, cookie packages and film suggestions. She was obsessed with cut flowers, lit candles, excellent butter, and supporting lonely-looking farmers at the Evanston Farmers Market. She could be found often at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera, Steppenwolf Theatre, and the KidSeries at Lifeline Theatre. She was Catholic. She was a feminist. She was a wonder - and she had all the buttons, bumper stickers, and subscriptions to prove it. This is all to say, she was a multiplicity and her communities are bereft at her passing. Bren is survived by her husband Christopher Murphy, her children Connor Murphy (Seattle, WA) and Laurie Ortega-Murphy (Wells River, VT), as well as by her siblings Laurie Ortega (Portland, OR), Martin Ortega (Oklahoma City, OK), and Tom Ortega (Phoenix, AZ). In addition to these names are beloved nephews, nieces, in-laws, and friends who made-up her personal communion of earthly saints. Visitation Monday May 3, 2021 9:00 until 11:00 a.m. at St. Nicholas Church 806 Ridge Ave. Evanston, IL 60202. Due to Covid-19 Funeral Mass will be private. To livestream the Funeral Mass go to wwwdonnellanfuneral.com
at 11:15 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations requested for Josephinum Academy: josephinum.org/support-us
or Bookwallah: donate.bookwallah.org
. Info: donnellanfuneral.com
or (847) 675-1990.
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Published by Chicago Tribune on May 2, 2021.