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imelda kearneySister Imelda Kearney

1928 - 2019

Born: 13th August 1928

Entered Religious Life: 7th July 1958

Died: 7th January 2019


Catherine Imelda Kearney was born on the 13th of August 1928, the fifth child of ten children of Thomas Kearney and Beino (Bridget) Martin, Ballymac, Effin Co. Limerick.

Before joining the Sisters of Charity she had graduated from the Grafton Academy with a certificate in Arts and Design which influenced her whole ministry as a Sister of Charity.

Imelda entered the Religious Sisters of Charity on the 7th July 1958 and was received into the Novititate on the 30th April, 1959 receiving the name Sr. Joseph Borgia. She was professed on the 2nd May 1961.

Following profession Imelda was assigned to Kilcreene, Kilkenny for a few months and then to the Nursery in St. Joseph’s Kilkenny where she cared for the infants and had a great love for the most vulnerable. Her next experience was Parish work in Macclesfield and Langley, England. She then completed a course in Rehabilitation Nursing in Buxton before returning Ireland. Imelda being a versatile person was asked to look after the housekeeping in Mount St. Anne’s from January 1965 to November 1966 which also gave her an opportunity to develop her gifts in Arts and Crafts and to follow her dream in passing on those skills to those most in need. In November 1966 she moved to Our Lady’s Hospice Harold’s Cross and to St. Monica’s Nursing Home Belvedere Place in 1969. She was then assigned to Pacelli School for the Blind in Lagos Nigeria where she taught Arts and Crafts from May 1972 to July 1974. On her return to Ireland she did some Home economics with children in Baldoyle Hospital and from there spent the next ten years in Clarinbridge
In 1986 the Congregational Leader was asked for Sisters to work in a rehabilitation centre in Kenya and Imelda was chosen to serve there because of her skills in this area. This she did and her stories were many on her return in 1987. From then until 1997 she taught her favourite crafts in the Brothers of Charity Clarinbridge, Donnybrook Dublin and St. Patrick’s Cork after which she took a well-earned sabbatical.

From December 1999 to October 2005 she was assistant local leader in Crumlin and St. Vincent’s Cork. She then retired to St. Anthony’s Cork and was there until she needed care in Lakelands and finally in The Anna Gaynor Unit Harold’s Cross where she endeared herself to the staff and other residents. She made many new friends in the Anna Gaynor Unit and engaged in all the activities. She especially enjoyed baking, painting, music and tending her flower pots on the veranda of her room.

Imelda was a very versatile person with a great gift of storytelling which provided much entertainment in Community. She had very happy personality. She was loved by all and especially her family whom she loved dearly. They have many happy memories of her especially the younger generations. Her grand nieces and nephews looked on her as their Grannie. She was described as being magic being able to pull something out of her bag bringing joy to them always. On her visits home she was always found in the midst of the younger generation entering into their lives and just loving them.

Sr. Imelda died in the Anna Gaynor Unit on the 7th January 2019. Her remains were returned to Lakelands on January 10th where she lay in repose following a special Evening Prayer. She was removed to Star of the Sea Parish Church, Sandymount on Friday 11th for her funeral Mass. She is buried in the community cemetery in Donnybrook.
May she rest in peace.

We are standing this morning on holy ground: the place where Mary Aikenhead spent the last years of her life as an invalid – a woman whose vision, courage and practical common-sense gave birth to our Congregation and to our long and graced history of service of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.Today we are celebrating the life of Sr. Joseph Helen, a woman who cherished that charism, serving those in need with fidelity and generosity, and who also spent the last years of her life here in the Hospice.


The readings this morning are both comforting and challenging.In the Gospel Jesus speaks of himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life.He invites us to put our hope and our trust in Him and in His promise to be with us, steadily and constantly as we try each day to walk his way, to speak his truth, to live his life.It is an apt description of the life and commitment of the woman whom we are remembering here.


In her 103 years of life, Sr. Joseph Helen lived through historical and global changes that are impossible for us to imagine.She experienced seismic shifts in Church and state.She witnessed wars and famines on a world scale.Through all of those yearsshe remained steadfastly faithful to the constant core of who she was as an RSC.She was born Dorothy Cunningham in Ballacolla in Portlaoise on 1st July 1908. She was an only girl, with one brother, and was much loved by all.Her childhood and youth reflected the calm ordinariness of children’s lives at that time.Following her degree studies she spent some months caring for her mother who was ill and then secured a job teaching in Mountjoy St. School in Dublin.Her father was not impressed!His comment on hearing of that place was:“It doesn’t sound like much of a job but you like working for the poor and you’ve always been good at it”.She remained there until she entered the Sisters of Charity on 5th October 1931.


In the first reading we are told that God gives strength to the wearied; that those who hope in Yahweh will soar like eagles, run and no grow weary, walk and never tire.That was so true of J. Helen throughout her active life.She was missioned back to Mountjoy St. after her religious profession and taught there for 12 years.Following a year’s further study in Scotland, she went to teach in a Secondary Modern school inWalthamstow in England for a year.And then came the call to be one of our three founding Sisters of the Zambian Region, or Northern Rhodesia as it then was.


In 1948 they set sail, travelling for four weeks by boat – The Athlone Castle -rail, bus and lorry before arriving in Chisekesi Siding on a dark morning on 28th October 1948. Sr. Helen kept a diary of the journey which was printed for the 50th anniversary and which gives a fascinating insight into their journey and how they coped with, what was for them, such a strange and almost ‘alien’ environment.


One can only imagine the anticipation and anxiety, the challenge and the loneliness, the wonder and the doubts that marked that journey and her first months in Zambia.It was a place and people that she came to love and cherish.She committed herself to the education of girls and brought the gift of knowledge and freedom to countless women who still remember her with gratitude and appreciation.There are many past pupils with sad hearts in Zambia at the moment – their sadness at her passing tempered only by their gratitude that she is free from the debilities of her age.And that mourning is echoed this morning among our sisters there in the Region and here in this Chapel in the sisters who lived with her and shared her life for those 30 years.


Her first 15 years in Zambia were spent in the Teacher training college run by the Jesuits and began her work in promoting the education of girls – beginning with the setting up of a girls secondary boarding school in Roma in Lusaka.Nine years later she was appointed Regional Leader and on Independence day 1978she was conferred with the Order of Distinguished Service for 30 years of outstanding service to the people of Zambia in the fields of Education and Social work.


While she was a formidable woman in many ways, with high standards and expectations, her devotion to her religious life and her commitment to education was recognized and appreciated by all who knew her.She was a strict disciplinarian, spoke the truth without apology and demanded very high standards.At the same time her heart was compassionate and her generosity and hospitality were known and appreciated by all.


Like all of us, Helen has known suffering and joy, tears and laughter, pain and happiness, loneliness and friendship.And she had strong relationships with herfriends – too numerous to mention – but exemplified in the love and devotion of Sr. Mary Bernadette Collins and Catherine Fallon.Up to the end she valued and enjoyed her relationships with her nieces, nephews and other family members and followed their lives with interest, with love and with prayer.


In 1978 she was missioned to Ireland and worked on our Constitutions.Subsequently she was appointed as local leader to our community in Crumlin before her appointment to our Provincial Leadership team and consequent arrival here in Our Lady’s Mount in 1981.


Sr. J. Helen’s commitment to Mary Aikenhead's charism was single-minded and she never compromised on that.The second reading confirms her attitude to life:nothing outweighs the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus. It is only through Him, with Him and in Him that we can find life and happiness and fulfilment.Rooted in that conviction, she endorsed and embraced anything that served the people for whom she cared in a better, more dignified or respectful way.


She suffered in her growing debility and weakness these last years and all of us – family, community, friends and colleagues - were saddened as we watched her suffering and her struggle to cope.In spite of the wonderful, caring staff who surrounded her and the sisters and friends who were her constant support,she had difficult and dispiriting days.Yet she never gave up .Her faith in Providence was the touchstone of her life.In the midst of all her pain and letting-go she was confident that he was with her, holding her, comforting her and in the end, calling her to himself.And when that call came, sheyielded her spirit to the Lord, peace-filled, calm and trusting - blest with a death that had no struggle, no pain, no fear.And perhaps I can end with some words of hers, written in the diary of which I spoke, on her arrival in Chikuni:“Now that we have reached our Promised Land we must thank God and Our Lady for our very pleasant and on the whole easy journey which we have had . . . . “Those words echo, not only the journey to Chikuni, but her life journey, now at its end as she moves, we believe, into the fullness of the Promised land of God’s life and love.