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Arsenius CrowleySister Mary Arsenius Crowley

1917 - 2013

Born: 18th February 1917

Entered Religious Life: 1st June 1936

Died: 8th February 2013



Sr. Mary Arsenius Crowley was born on the 18th February 1917 in Bantry, Co. Cork.  Nora Crowley was the daughter of Patrick Crowley and Bridget Sullivan and was the youngest of a family of eight children.
Sr. Arsenius entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity in Milltown on the 1st June 1936 and made her Religious Profession on the 19th January 1939.
On the 24th January 1939 she went to St. Vincent's Hospital to train as a nurse.
On the 28th September 1943 she moved to Temple Street Hospital to nurse and on the 30th June 1949 she went to Temple Hill community and was there until 30th August 1951.  She was missioned back to Temple Street community on the 31st August 1951 and worked in Temple Street Hospital as a nurse.

Sr. Mary Arsenius was a very dedicated and committed Sister of Charity.  As a nurse she was very efficient, kind and compassionate.  Holistic care of the sick children was a priority for her. She also cared for their parents and extended family, always sensitive to their needs and very aware of their struggles. One nurse said "Sr. Arsenius's generosity knew no bounds when it came to helping others in their time of need". She gave a great training to her nurses and many of them kept in touch with her long years after they left Temple Street.  Recently a small group of them met, they had trained in Temple Street 35 years ago.  Many of them started their "hands on" training in "Top Flat" with Sr. Arsenius.  An extract from their letter read "We all experienced her "sixth sense".  Sometimes on night-duty Sr. Arsenius would appear down at 12:00 midnight or 2:00 a.m. from upstairs and tell us to keep an eye on a specific child; invariably she was right - something would happen or change in that child's condition, but we were prepared as we had been forewarned.  Nowadays people would say that the "sixth sense" was a combination of experience and intuition, but to us it was almost a magical thing".  Another nurse recalls "Sr. Arsenius and Miss King getting Paddy (the Porter) to put an occasional bet on a horse.  She was very interested in horse racing".
Sr. Arsenius was a shy, private and retiring person.  She related very well on a one-to-one basis.  She was always cheerful, welcoming and hospitable.  When she finished in Temple Street Hospital she took up Sacristy duties in the convent and was always available to help generally in the community whenever there was a need.

When she needed full-time care in November 2005, she moved to St. Monica's Nursing Home, Belvedere Place.  She eventually settled and over the years when people visited her she always expressed her appreciation of the care she was receiving from the sisters and staff in St. Monica's.  Sr. Arsenius died peacefully on the 8th February 2013 R.I.P.  On 10th February 2013 her remains were taken to Temple Street Convent Chapel, reposing overnight.  Her funeral Mass was celebrated by Fr. Donal Neary S.J. in St. Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner Street, on Monday 11th February and she was buried in the community cemetery in Donnybrook.  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.