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catherine patricia renahanSister Catherine Patricia Renahan

1926 - 2020

Born: 20th May 1926

Entered Religious Life: 5th October 1959

Died: 16th July 2020

 

Sr. Catherine Patricia Renahan was born in Kanturk, Co Cork on 20th May 1926. She was christened Philomena but was called Ena by her family and all who knew her. She had one sister who also became a Sister of Charity and was known as Sr. Mary Regina who died in 2013. Her two brothers also pre-deceased her - Father Pat Renahan who was an Augustinian and Don Renahan who died in 2018. After school Ena studied in Dublin and qualified as a Radiographer in 1946. She worked in St. Ultan’s and the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin but got her first permanent post in the North Infirmary in Cork.

In October 1959 Ena returned to Dublin to enter the Sisters of Charity novitiate in Mount St Anne’s Milltown. She took the name of Sr Catherine Patricia at her clothing and made her First Profession in May 1962. She was then missioned to St Vincent’s Hospital in St. Stephen’s Green and worked as Superintendent of the X-Ray Department there until the hospital transferred to a purpose-built premise on a new site at Elm Park. She continued her work in the radiography department but she also studied and obtained a Diploma in Hospital Administration in 1966. As part of these studies she spent some time in Middlesex Hospital and was awarded a Council of Europe Scholarship enabling her to visit hospitals throughout Europe to gain experience and gather information on all aspects of Hospital Administration. She generously passed on the benefits of her wide experience to those with whom she worked.

In 1967 Sr Patricia was appointed Principal of the reconstructed School of Radiography at St Vincent’s Hospital Elm Park and remained in this position until she retired in 1993. Under her leadership the St Vincent’s School of Radiography entered into discussions with University College Dublin as a result of which her school was the first in Ireland or England to start a degree programme for radiographers. In view of her outstanding contribution to radiographic science Sr. Catherine Patricia was elected to Fellowship of the College of Radiographers in London. Professor Ronan O’Regan, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in University College Dublin wrote to Sr. Patricia on her retirement to express his appreciation of the outstanding contribution she had made to the development of the academic aspects of radiography in UCD and St. Vincent’s Hospital. He said “the magnificent School of Diagnostic Imaging is a worthy monument to your dedicated work over many years”. At the time of Sister’s death, because of the restrictions in place due to the Covid 19 pandemic, none of her friends and/or past pupils were able to attend her funeral in Cork. Many of them paid tributes to her on-line in the Condolence Book set up by the Undertakers, Jerh. O’Connor of Coburg Street. The following are some samples:

“Sr. Catherine Patricia was my boss, my mentor and friend when I started in Radiography Teaching and she taught me so much, as she taught so many young radiographers. Sister, your legacy lives on in the Profession of Radiography in Ireland.”
“I was a radiography student 1974-76 and was privileged to have studied under her guidance. I will always remember her as a kind, fair and fun person.”
Another lady said Sister was “gentle and kind and always wanted the best for her students”. A friend and colleague of Sr. Patricia’s told us that she felt lucky to have known Sister and worked closely with her for almost 20 years.

After her retirement from Radiography St. Patricia had a break or a sabbatical which she spent in Cork. In February 1994 she was back in Dublin as Assistant Leader in St. Mary’s Merrion. In September 1999 she was appointed Leader in St. Mary’s and again threw herself into a whole new ministry with the blind ladies there. She attended a seminar in Poland for the Visually Impaired to help her better understand their needs. A Sister who worked closely with her there said that she was very kind and caring and the lay staff there could talk to her about anything. She was very approachable and always available if they wanted to talk about their personal or family problems. When her term of office there ended in September 2005 Sr. Patricia was missioned to St Patrick’s in Cork and the last 15 years of her life were spent on the Banks of the Lee.

When Sr. Catherine Patricia came to St Patrick’s in Cork, she was blessed to have her sister, Sr. Mary Regina in the community there and her brother, Don, lived in Rosebank on Douglas Road which was not far from Wellington Road. She had a sabbatical year in Cork and joined the St Patrick’s community on 08th October 2006.

Sr. Patricia did some pastoral work with the patients in the wards and when Sr. Mary Regina was confined to bed, she visited her and prayed with her daily. Early in 2009 the convent in St. Patrick’s Wellington Road was closed and handed over to the hospital and the various Sisters in the community were missioned to other houses.

Sr. Catherine Patricia joined the community in St. Vincent’s, St. Mary’s Road in Cork on 1st February 2009. Her sister, Sr Mary Regina, was a patient in St Patrick’s and Sr. Patricia went there almost every day by car with Sr. Rose Murphy to visit Sr. Regina. On the morning of Saturday, 17th September 2011 St. Patrick’s Hospital moved out to the new Marymount University Hospice and Hospital in Curraheen and all the patients, including Sr. Mary Regina, moved out that morning. Sr. Patricia now took a bus to visit her sister several times during the week. She settled into life in the community in St. Vincent’s and when she no longer felt able for the hassle of the bus journey, she took a taxi. Sr. Regina died in August 2013 and Sr Catherine Patricia organised the liturgy for her funeral Mass in St. Vincent’s Convent. Sadly, her own health declined and she herself was admitted into Marymount for long term care in August 2014. She was still quite active and as she went to the Chapel and chatted to other patients she was well known to the staff and many people in the hospital. Her brother, Don was admitted as a patient and as they were in different wards they visited almost daily and usually said the Rosary as part of their time together. When Don died in April 2018 Sr. Patricia had no near relative left and she missed Don a great deal but she attended his funeral in Kanturk with the community from St. Anthony’s as St Vincent’s had closed the previous year. As she grew more frail and weak, she spent more time in bed but the nurses all speak of her with great affection and say she knew all about their families and never forgot a child’s birthday. She told the Sisters who visited her that she was very happy there and felt very well cared for. Whenever she heard a Sister in the community was not well she would say ‘she should come in here and she would soon get better’. She was very deaf and suffered a lot because of that but she could read even small print and in the end that is how the nurses communicated with her. Her voice was strong and less than a week before she died, she told one nurse “I am on the way home to God”. Many people wrote in the Condolences about her beautiful smile which was all-embracing, her generous disposition and kindness. Another wrote “She will be fondly remembered by so many as she touched many lives here in Marymount”.

On the day she died a nurse had just settled her comfortably in the bed and Sister looked up at her and said “Thank you” with a smile. That was the last word she spoke and when the nurse returned to the room a few minutes later Sr. Patricia had gone home to her God. May she rejoice now in his peace and glory.

 

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.

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