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teresa clare fitzpatrickSister Teresa Clare Fitzpatrick

1926 - 2020

Born: 1st April 1926

Entered Religious Life: 23rd January 1944

Died: 5th April 2020


The following is the Reflection given by Sr Úna O'Neill, Provincial Leader at Sr Clare's Funeral Mass

There is a depth of sadness in this Church today. It deeper and more painful than the sadness we feel at Clare’s death. It is a cosmic sadness because a virus grips our world and forces us to isolate and separate and suppress our emotions. It forces us to put artificial limits on our mourning - to celebrate our Mass in a Church that is almost empty; a virus that means that those of us here are separated. We share that experience with so many who are burying loved ones – in lonely isolation day by day. In that sense today’s reading from Isaiah is particularly appropriate for all of us: “Those who hope in the lord renew their strength . .”

In a funny way I think that Clare would be alright about it. She attended many funerals herself on her ipad in Belmont and she would be intrigued to think that there are others of her family, community, friends and neighbours attending with us here this morning through that same means.

Clare died peacefully on Sunday night. Her illness was short and even though none of her community or her family was with her, the nurses and doctors took our place. Thus came to an end the life of a woman of constancy, fidelity and generosity.

Born in 1944 to Patrick and Sabina in Athenry on 1st April 1926 she entered the Congregation in 1944 and thereafter spent her life in selfless service of others in Milltown, Hackney, Linden, Tramore, Seville Place, Temple Street and finally in Belmont Nursing Home. She was involved in the ministry of hospitality and she was Assistant Leader in two communities but her last assignment to the Social Services Centre in Sherrard Street drew her into the area of social work. She would have been at Mass here every day and knew and loved the parish and its people. Maybe her service to the needy is best summed up in the quotation from the Book of Job that is on the gravestone of our foundress Mary Aikenhead: I comforted the heart of the widow, I was an eye to the blind and a foot to the lame. To the poor I was a mother.

Clare’s needs were few, her living was simple and her days were centred on others. So it was a great delight for us to see how, in her latter years, her creative and artistic gifts blossomed. Part of the richness of her life was her relationship with her family whom she loved deeply, prayed for constantly and always welcomed happily.

Clare had a great capacity for gratitude. She was grateful for so much: her family, her community, the care in Belmont, the time she spent painting, the visits and the outings in these latter years. So today we give thanks to God for her life and pray that we too will hold fast to Jesus and to His promise of life, as she did. These are dark days for all of us. The future is unpredictable. We have lost control of our daily lives. Our daily choices are limited. We may well feel as if God has deserted us. But if our hearts are set on Christ, as Clare’s was, then in the midst of the dark moments, the suffering, the anxiety, we will know that the Lord is with us and that we can depend on him because his love for us is without limit.

In the Gospel today Jesus asks us to put our trust in him as the way, the truth and the life. He invites us to put our hope in his promise to be with us, steadily and constantly, as we try each day to walk his way, to speak his truth and to live His life.

When we live in dark times faith in God has to be the foundation stone, the unshakeable rock on which our lives are built. The future for Clare is safe in the fullness of God’s love. The future for us at this time in our history as a nation and a church is uncertain and insecure. But we are assured of one thing: that Jesus, through his resurrection is with us every moment of every day and that Clare too remains with us in a way we do not understand - loving us, caring for us, willing what is best for us. And so, as we say our goodbyes to a woman of constancy, fidelity and generosity we pray an ancient celtic blessing for her:

God of life, be with you,
God of love, absorb you
God of light, enfold you,
The Holy three, encircling thee into eternity.


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.