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Sister Joseph Ignatius Phelan

1921 - 2010

Born: 11th February 1921

Entered Religious Life: 30th June 1952

Died: 4th December 2010



Appreciation of Sr Joseph Ignatius Phelan

Eulogy given at Sr. Joseph Ignatius' funeral by John Blake Dillon

Good morning and thank you for being here with us today.

My name is John Blake Dillon and I am one of my Aunt Pearl's nephews.  I appreciate that many here will have known Aunt Pearl as Sister Joseph Ignatius, her name in religion for almost 60 years; but please indulge me if I refer to her as Aunt Pearl in these few words, which the Community has kindly invited me to say today.

At the outset and lest I overlook saying it at the end of my remarks, I want to thank the Community for all the work done by them in making the arrangements for Aunt Pearl’s removal yesterday and her Mass and burial today. In this regard I would specially thank Sister Anne Marie Costelloe who has carried the brunt of the necessary organising and who was Aunt Pearl's "Girl Friday" over the past 18 months of her declining wellbeing. I would also thank Fathers Christopher and Andrew for travelling up from Glenstal yesterday to be with us, along with Fathers Brendan, Ralph and Kennedy, as we celebrate Aunt Pearl's passage to heaven.

Had Aunt Pearl survived she would have celebrated her 90 birthday next February and she liked a good party, so one could almost say that for the only time in her wonderful life she has let us down and now we'll have no 90th birthday party !
Aunt Pearl would also have shortly celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in the Community of the Irish Sisters of Charity, of which more in a few moments.

Sister Anne Marie wisely referred to Aunt Pearl's strong Clonmel connection in the text of the death notice in the newspapers yesterday and today.
We sometimes felt that Aunt Pearl pitied those of us not from Clonmel and that she wondered how and why we did not have a considerable inferiority complex due to this perceived inadequacy in our place of upbringing!

Aunt Pearl's unbridled enthusiasm for everything she undertook was a distinguishing hallmark of her way of doing things.
She was an eternal optimist, though a practical one and I suspect that the concept of "No" was not in her mind-set.

Aunt Pearl really had 4 families, each of them very dear to her and I would like to say a few words about each of them because each was a very important part of her wonderful life. I mention them not in any ranking of importance to her but rather in the natural sequence of their impact on her life:

Firstly, her 3 Sisters and 2 brothers, all now waiting to welcome her.  Both of their parents died in Clonmel when Aunt Pearl was in her mid-teens so the bond with her siblings was intense and intimate.  Her nephews and nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces and her great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces were very special to her and she to them. Aunt Pearl loved to always hear their latest news, exulting in tales of life's little successes and always greeting any news of some setback with an unexpected and startling optimism - not always clearly felt by those involved in the setback, at the time of telling!  She was the hub in the wheel of this one of her 4 families, all the spokes of that scattered wheel rim led back to her and we were always enthusiastically welcomed there.

Secondly, her 70 years commitment and devotion to the Community.  12 years as a trainee and then Theatre nurse in St Vincent’s on Stephens Green and then, aged 31, she left an active social life in Dublin to join her Order in St Anne’s at Milltown, almost 60 years ago.  This was not an easy transition for her because she would have been considerably more mature than most of the other postulants joining along with her and the regime was, as was customary then, very rigid and prescriptive – Aunt Pearl might have classified that description of it as being generous!

Once professed, she returned to her beloved St.Vincents on the Green and in time ran all the theatres there for many years and then presided over their design and physical move to Elm Park in 1970.

Aunt Pearl had many wonderful friends in the Community and while I may risk unintentionally upsetting some by not specifically mentioning them by name, in my own head the names of Sisters Teresa Avila, Ibar, Canisius, Paula, Stephanie, Mary John and Francis Rose, happily here with us today, resonate with me from hearing Aunt Pearl talk of them over the years as soul-mates.

Aunt Pearl then moved on to what she will probably be most remembered for - her work here at Our Lady's Hospice.
Sister Francis Rose, then Mother General of the Order and with us here today, as she was last Saturday with Aunt Pearl when she so peacefully died, tasked Aunt Pearl to re-engineer and modernise the Hospice's work and she certainly picked a winner in Aunt Pearl.
Aunt Pearl's generous leadership style and skills - she would have been very reluctant to concede that she had any of these attributes - are best summed up in the words of the Chinese Philosopher, Lao Tzu, who lived around 600 BC, some 2,600 years ago and whose words are still so apt today:

"As for the best leaders - the people do not notice their existence.
The next best - the people honour and praise.
The next - the people fear.
But when the best leader's work is done, the people say "We did it ourselves""

The third "family" is the Hospice and this will unquestionably be Aunt Pearl's lasting public legacy.  Not just the wonderful physical facilities, still being further developed by those who carry her baton onward, but more importantly the ethos and the dedication of the entire caring team and all those here who support that frontline team, who deliver that vital, caring, loving comfort to those in need, both on-site and through the various homecare initiatives.

Aunt Pearl went to Hackney, shortly having come to Harold's Cross in the mid 1970’s, to learn of the then latest developments in palliative care, terminal pain management and the other skills needed to help patients and their families as individual lives drew to a close. Dame Cicely Saunders, a pioneer in this field, was a generous and valued mentor to Aunt Pearl from then on.

I am not without hope that in time, following consultation with the Community and the Board of the Hospice, some suitable memorial will be created to mark Aunt Pearl's contribution to Our Lady's Hospice and what it stands for.  But that is for another day.

Aunt Pearl's fourth "family" was always the families of those whose loved ones had availed of what the Hospice had to offer and had thus entrusted their loved ones to the team at Our Lady's to help support them on that final journey in peace and dignity.  She often spoke of them and the families left behind in loving terms.

Aunt Pearl was a very spiritual person, but in a very worldly and practical way. She never wore her religion or spirituality on her sleeve, she didn't have to, it radiated from her and was inspirational.
When Aunt Pearl died so peacefully last Saturday, in the loving care of her nursing staff and the Community here in the Hospice, I could only think of that wonderful passage from the book of Job, where he articulates his hope that when he meets his God it will be "not as a stranger"; I have no doubt that that is what happened to Aunt Pearl last Saturday, when she crossed that threshold.   If it didn't, God help us all.

In conclusion we want to thank all the wonderful people here in the Marymount section of the Anna Gaynor wing of Our Lady's Hospice for the superb and loving care they gave Aunt Pearl, particularly over the past 18 months as her physical health declined and she had more "senior moments".  To have watched them lovingly help Aunt Pearl transit from this life to the next last Saturday was inspirational and so, if I may presume to speak on behalf of all 4 of Aunt Pearl's "families", we are forever grateful to you, God bless you all.

Finally I have always been moved by this anonymously written piece, which, in my view, so well captures the mystery of death and the transition to life hereafter.  I will read it now:

"A ship at my side spreads its white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand to watch her until at last she looks like a speck of white cloud
on the horizon, where the sea and sky mingle with each other.
Just then someone at my side says " There, she's gone"
"Gone where I ask myself? Gone from my sight, that's all"
She is just as large in mast and spar and hull as ever she was when she left my side.
Her diminished size is in me, not her.
And just at that moment when that someone said "There, she's gone" there are other eyes watching her come
over the horizon and other voices ready to take up the glad shout "Look, here she comes!"  How lucky they are.
This is dying"

God bless you Aunt Pearl, thank you for your inspiration - we will all miss you greatly.

Sr Joseph Ignatius Phelan's 'Month's Mind' Mass took place on 11th February 2011 - The following appreciation was given by her nephew John Blake Dillon

"Good afternoon.  Welcome and thank you all for being here with us today to celebrate my Aunt Pearl's Month's Mind.

For those of us here today who could not attend Aunt Pearl's funeral on 7 Dec last, I am John B Dillon and am one of her nephews. My mother and Aunt Pearl were sisters.
With your agreement I will, in my few words of welcome and introduction today, refer to Aunt Pearl as Aunt Pearl, rather than as Sister Joseph Ignatius, her name in religion for almost 60 years, since she entered the Order in 1952, aged 31, which at that time was an unusually mature age at which to join as a Postulant.

Firstly, I would thank Father Ralph for saying this Mass for Aunt Pearl today; she would have been very pleased to have it celebrated by him because they came to know each other well over the past 25 years here in Harold's Cross. He spoke very charmingly about Aunt Pearl when he presided over her removal to this chapel on 6 December last.

Secondly, I would also thank Aunt Pearl's Community in the Irish Sisters of Charity generally, and here at Our Lady's Hospice in particular, who are our hosts today.
In this regard Sister Anne Marie deserves special mention as both the MC for all of Aunt Pearl's funeral arrangements and more importantly for having been Aunt Pearl's "Girl Friday" for the last 2 years of Aunt Pearl's declining well-being -- thank you Sister Anne Marie and to those other Sisters who supported you in that "Girl Friday" role.

Thirdly, it would be wrong of me not to specially refer to Aunt Pearl's soulmate, Sister Francis Rose, who happily is here with us today. 
It was she, who while Mother General of the Order, appointed Aunt Pearl to revamp this hospice at Harold's Cross 35 years ago and Sister Francis Rose was with us at Aunt Pearl's side when she died so peacefully here in Marymount on 4 December last.

Now, you may well wonder why we are having Aunt Pearl’s month's mind almost 10 weeks after her death, rather than within a more conventional period, like a month or so?

The answer is simple - had Aunt Pearl survived until today it would have been her 90th birthday.  The Community kindly agreed that it would a shame not to combine this religious marking of her passing away from us last December with the more worldly anniversary of her arrival into this world in her beloved Clonmel on 11 February 1921.  By happy coincidence today is also the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, being the 153rd anniversary of her 1st Apparition there and is now the World Day of the Sick.  Therefore let us all celebrate Aunt Pearl's memory today on this combined occasion, spiritual and temporal, remembering that she always loved a good party!

Sister Anne Marie strictured me to be economical with my words today and today I will be.

At Aunt Pearl's funeral Mass 2 months ago I referred to what I called her "4 Families":

1. Her Conventional family, of which I am one, along with many others and her many friends here today;
2. The Community, where she gave 70 years of devoted commitment as both nurse and nun - some 10 years as nurse and almost 60 years as nun.
3. This Hospice, with its inspirational staff, both on-site and homecare, and its wonderful caring ethos, and finally
4. The families of those who availed of the Hospice's care and support when they needed it, whether delivered on-site or through her great homecare initiatives.

In conclusion, I would again presume to speak on behalf of all those 4 families, who were each so important to Aunt Pearl in their different ways and at different times during her long optimistic life and to thank all of the wonderful staff (medical, nursing and support staff) here in Our Lady's Hospice and especially those in the Marymount unit of the Anna Gaynor wing, for the loving care with which they nursed Aunt Pearl from this life to her better next one during the past 2 years.   It was inspirational to see it happen as it did.

Thank you and God bless you all."