Visit us on Facebook and Twitter

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter

Sister Mary Conleth SheerinSister Mary Conleth Sheerin

1930 - 2012

Born: 25th July 1930

Entered Religious Life: 3rd October 1950

Died: 3rd April 2012



An appreciation of Sr Mary Conleth Sheerin

Homily given at Sr Conleth's funeral by Sr Úna O’Neill RSC

The readings today reflect the fact that we are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus: We are told to think of the love that God has lavished on us. We are told not to be afraid. We are told that our good deeds go with us. And because of the Resurrection of Jesus we know that he is present to us this morning as we gather in His name to celebrate the life and death of Sr. Mary Conleth.

The first reading tells us that those who die in the Lord can rest for ever after their work and that their good deeds go with them. When we reflect on the life of Conleth (or Ellen as she was known to her family) we know that her good deeds were countless. Whether she was caring for the sick in Milltown or catering in St. Vincent’s hospital or in the Provincialate in Herbert Ave., her presence was always kindly and compassionate and generous. It was the same when she served for 8 years as assistant to the local leader in St. Monica’s before moving once more to the Provincialate in Harold’s Cross. Her hospitality marked her out and her kindness to all was unswerving.

I was reading some of Mary Aikenhead’s letters last week and came across some advice she gave to a young Superior in Clonmel in 1854. The superior was anticipating a rare visit from her mother and Mary Aikenhead writes: “I wish you may be able to have a car, or whatever the Clonmel vehicles are called to meet her ... and be sure to have such a little bit of dinner ready at the Convent as the day will admit and you can procure. I hope you have such a thing as wine, but be sure to have a cup of good coffee after the bit of dinner.” .. And reflecting on that letter later on I though how deeply and truly Conleth had imbibed the spirit of Mary Aikenhead.

Her compassion and caring for others knew no limits. Her thoughts were always about others, rarely about herself. She looked for no recognition. She asked for no accolades. She was a very private person who lived simply and with great integrity.

No doubt she first learnt such hospitality in her home in Foxford. She loved her family deeply though she was not a demonstrative person. We thank God today for them and for the many people who have loved her into life, encouraged her in her choices, sustained her in her struggles and challenged her in her growing, above all her parents, her family and her friends.

In the 2nd reading where we are told of the lavishness of God’s love for us - a love that is selfless, compassionate and forgiving - a love that challenges us to believe in the light when we are surrounded by darkness, to know peace when we are suffering, to find consolation even as we mourn.

There is a lot of joy in the Readings too – though indeed the Gospel speaks of a violent earthquake and we are told that the poor guards were so frightened that they were like dead men. Conleth I think would shake her head at those dramatics but her core faith in Jesus was unshakeable. The Gospel then says not to be afraid and we hear that the women, filled with awe and with great joy, hurried to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection. That central belief in the Resurrection of Jesus requires our constant and faith and trust in the word of Jesus. Conleth did that. I believe she held on to her trust in the Lord through all the hard times and all the happy times.

She moved to Lakelands in October 2004 and was very content in that community who cared for her as she had cared for so many in her lifetime. She suffered in her growing debility and weakness these last years and all of us – family, community, friends - were saddened as she became less able and less independent. And the question we ask ourselves as we watch someone, so kind, so caring, so committed suffer is Why? And while there is no answer, maybe in Conleth herself we find the meaning, because in all her pain she never complained, never burdened others with her suffering, never gave up. Mary Aikenhead wrote: “May we be true and faithful followers of our Crucified Lord.” Conleth was surely true and faithful. May we too be true and faithful in these dark days and troubled times.

The future for Conleth 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 Conleth too remains with us in a way we do not understand - loving us, caring for us, willing what is best for us. The psalm says: “I thank my God each time I think of you and when I pray for you I pray with joy.” Today we thank our God for Conleth and remember her with joy. May she rest in peace.



Sr. Joseph Helen Cunningham.

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 years she 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 in Walthamstow 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 1978 she 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 her friends – 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, she yielded 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.