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Sr Mary Regina RenahanSister Mary Regina Renahan

1921 - 2013

Born: 21st June 1921

Entered Religious Life: 21st June 1954

Died: 2nd August 2013



Sister Mary Regina’s sister, Sister Catherine Patricia, was with her when she died very peacefully on August 2nd.  Just an hour earlier Bishop John Buckley had visited her and blessed her. 
Mary Renahan was born on 21st June 1921 in Kanturk, Co.Cork.  The family moved to Cork City and Mary completed her final year at school in Eccles St. Convent School in Dublin.  She qualified as a Dress Designer at the Sybil Connolly School of Design.  But while she enjoyed her work, she “did not find it satisfying” and felt that Nursing would be a more fulfilling career.  Contact with a Sister of Charity, resulted in acceptance for training at St. Vincent’s Hospital, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin.  It was wonderful.

However, after her Preliminary Examination, Mary experienced a further call - and so she entered the Religious Sisters of Charity on 21st June 1954.  She had “found what she wanted” and was very happy.  Though the Noviciate was hard it did not take from her peace and Sister Mary Regina was professed in January 1957.
After Profession she spent a brief period in Stanhope Street Convent and then returned to St. Vincent’s Hospital to complete her Nursing Training.  She did Midwifery Training, at Barking in London, and worked for a short time in St. Vincent’s Hospital and Cappagh Hospital before she was missioned to Zambia where she spent 10 years.

Sisters who lived with her in Zambia say “living with her was a joy”.  Her kindness to the younger sisters was greatly appreciated and she supported and encouraged them with her “Wisdom”.  She enjoyed any “treats” that were available like visits to the Game Parks and especially a memorable holiday in Umzumbo, Natal.

On her return to Ireland, Sister Regina was missioned to St. Patrick’s Hospital Cork where she spent 22 years, in different Wards.  Sr. Regina loved St. Patrick’s and was keenly interested in its development.  She was appointed Assistant to Sr. Carmel Riordan and together with Dr. Finbarr Corkery they opened Marymount Hospice.

Following, a Sabbatical, she returned to St. Vincent’s Private Hospital, Elm Park, as Pastoral Care Sister to the terminally ill.  She remained there until her retirement from active duty.

Sr. Regina spent her last years in St. Camillus’ Ward, St. Patrick’s Hospital, Cork, lovingly cared for by Doctors, Nurses and Ward Staff.  St Patrick’s transferred to the new site at Curraheen in 2011 and she was the last patient to depart the site at Wellington Road, also the last Sister of Charity to leave St. Patrick’s.  Immediately she settled into the new surroundings and really appreciated the “luxury” of all the modern facilities.  Sr. Regina was a great example of accepting change and “letting-go”.
She was a woman of deep faith.  For her “everything is in the Crucifix, the more you look the more you see”.  She had a special devotion to Our Lady, especially to Our Lady of Good Counsel, and to the Rosary.  The Rosary Beads were never out of her hands.  Sister Regina had a great love for the Congregation and was always interested in everything concerning it.  A favourite saying was “anything strange”.

She never complained during her illness it was all part of her initial offering and “God’s Will”.  “I am so well cared for and everybody is so good” were her constant remarks.
Her funeral was attended by many sisters, relatives, friends, staff, former staff, and relatives of those she had nursed and befriended.




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.