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Sister Mary HolohanSister Mary Holohan

1945 - 2014

Born: 9th September 1945

Entered Religious Life: 6th July 1964

Died: 10th January 2014



An Appreciation of Sr Mary Holohan
Reflection given at Sr Mary's funeral by Sr Mary Christian RSC

We are gathered today to remember Mary, to comfort and console each other as we recall her unexpected and sudden death and above all to give thanks for her life.
Sixty-eight years ago Mary was born in Kilkenny and shortly after was baptized.  Since then Mary has lived her life conscious of her baptismal call to live a life of faith.  
The readings chosen for this liturgy remind us of our call to the fullness of life.   In the first reading taken from the Book of Revelations we have been given several consoling images of what awaits the elect – they now stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night and the One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.  They will never hunger or thirst again, neither the sun or scorching wind will ever plague them, because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe all tears from their eyes.
The Gospel passage reminds us of how Jesus prepared his disciples for his own departure.  Jesus told them that he was going to prepare a place for them and that ‘I will come back again and take you to myself so that where I am you also may be.’  He assured them that where was going they knew the way.  He also told them: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’
These words of Jesus spoken to his disciples are also spoken to us.  These words were spoken for Mary.  Jesus has now called Mary to the place which he has prepared for her.
Almost fifty years ago Mary left her home and family to enter the Sisters of Charity.  Christ called her and she responded with a resounding  ‘YES’. ‘Here I am Lord I come to do your will’. Little did she know when she left home on that day, 6th July 1964, that within about two years her mother would die.  This must have been a terrible blow to her father and her sisters.  Mary was in England on her ministry experience and in those days’ sisters, even novices, did not go home, even for funerals. Yet despite this and knowing that her father and five younger sisters were left without her mother, Mary continued to say her ‘Yes’ to God and knew that God would take care of her family. She was professed on the 3rd February 1967.
Motivated by the motto chosen by Mary Aikenhead for her young Congregation, Caritas Christi urget Nos – the love of Christ impels us, Mary tried her best to live a life of charity and love for all those she served.  The living out of religious life will always have its joys and its challenges. The ideals are put before us and demand a constant ‘yes’.  This ‘yes’ can only come about through an intimate relationship with Jesus.  Speaking of evangelization, Pope Francis tells us: ‘The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known.’
The second reading which we have just heard outlines the importance of love in our lives. We are told that ‘if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. This reading goes on to tell us that love is patient, love is kind.
These words –love is patient, love is kind – were the words which inspired Mary to live her life as a Sister of Charity in the caring profession of nursing.  This she had chosen before she entered and it continued to be her passion to the moment of her death.  Much of her life was spent working with people who were mentally challenged.  To them she showed great love and concern whether in Cregg House, Ballybane or Kilkenny. Later when she completed her general nursing training she spent some years in St. Vincent’s and many years in Cappagh as a theatre nurse until such time as we moved from Cappagh.    Mary had a great rapport with her nursing colleagues and this is very evident from the large number of her friends from Cappagh who are here today and at the removal last night.  Friends she made in Ballybane many years ago remained in contact with her up to her death and have come to pay their final farewell.
In her latter years Mary developed health problems and was no longer able for active nursing.  However, her passion for nursing continued during her time in St. Monica’s when she showed the same love and concern to the elderly sisters there who were in need of care.  Her death has been a huge shock to them and they remember with fondness her goodness to each one.
For Mary death came quickly and unexpectedly.  In the days before her death she had the opportunity to visit with her family.  This year in July she was due to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.  While she was home in those last days she had arranged her Jubilee celebration with her family.  For her it was a time of excitement.  Just before Christmas those of us who are celebrating Golden Jubilees this year met to arrange a celebration.  Mary was full of plans.  The first thing she requested would be that there would be a hymn to Our Lady.  We all agreed on a Magnificat for the recessional hymn.  Little did we know then that we would be gathering here today to bid farewell to Mary and singing that same Magnificat as a final hymn for her funeral Mass.
For her sisters Joanie, Bridie, Cecilia and Bernadette, her nieces and nephews, extended family and her community at St. Monica’s this is a very sad day.  It is the culmination of over two weeks of shock and numbness.  Mary has now reached her eternal reward to be with her parents Edward and Mary and her sister Kathleen who predeceased her.  We draw consolation from the fact that in the days prior to her death Mary had accomplished a lot.  She met with her family, prepared for her jubilee, visited Sr. Christopher who is now in Kilkenny but was formerly in St. Monica’s and for whom Mary showed great care and concern and her last great act of care  was to visit her friend Sr. Anne Marie McGeever who was a patient in an English hospital recovering from serious surgery
Today we are filled with sorrow as we bid farewell to Mary. At the same time it is a time to rejoice as we give thanks for a life well lived and celebrate Mary’s almost fifty years as a Sister of Charity.  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 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.