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finian bourkeSister Finian Bourke

1913 - 2014

Born: 5th June 1913

Entered Religious Life: 2nd February 1942

Died: 25th August 2014



Maura, daughter of Patrick and Mary Bourke (nee Burke) was born in Coonough, Carbury, Co. Kildare on the 5th June 1913.  She was the seventh child in a family of ten, six boys and four girls.  She was the first girl in the family and was affectionately known as Stóirín.  She received her secondary education at the Dominican College, Eccles Street, Dublin.  She entered the novitiate of the Religious Sisters of Charity in Milltown on 2nd February 1942 and received the habit and the name Sr. Mary Finian on 27th August 1942.  She made her Religious Profession on 30th August 1944.

After profession she was missioned to the infirmary in Merrion.  Having spent twenty-eight years in Merrion, she was then appointed as Local Leader in Lakelands, a post she held for nine years.  During her time in Lakelands she witnessed many changes.  The new convent was built during her term of office.  She also served as Manager of the Primary School and the new Primary School was built during that time.  From 1981 to 1987 she served as Local Leader in St. Joseph’s, Kilkenny.  From 1987 to 1994 she was assistant to the Local Leader in Baldoyle, after which she retired but continued to live in Baldoyle until 2009, when she returned to Lakelands.

Sr. Mary Finian was a gentle woman, a woman filled with deep faith.  She was greatly loved by all with whom she lived and worked.  Since the death of Sr. Joseph Kelly in May of this year, she had the distinction of being the oldest member of the Congregation at 101.  On the 14th of June she attended the fortieth anniversary of Star of the Sea School in Sandymount, where she had the honour of cutting the 40th birthday cake.  She had been the school manager when the school opened forty years ago.  Her photograph was proudly displayed on the notice board.

Sr. Finian had a keen interest in sport and captained her local camogie team before she entered.  She followed the GAA matches and supported the Kildare team to the end.

Sr. Finian received a personal invitation the Closing Ceremony (Statio Orbis) of the Eucharistic Congress which was held on Sunday 17th June 2012 in Croke Park.  She was seated in a special area among those who had attended the 1932 Congress as was her sister Sr. Josephine Bourke. Sr. Finian was nineteen years old and her sister Josephine was nine years old when they attended the 1932 Congress.

She celebrated her 100th Birthday on 5th June 2013 and chose her own readings for the Mass and also decided on who was to be invited to the celebration.  Fr. Bergin was the chosen celebrant.  When the official came from Áras an Uachtaráin to verify that she was resident in Lakelands she conducted most of the conversation through the Irish language to the amazement of the official.  

Her devotion to Mary Aikenhead was very much alive and her response to any request was ‘I will pray to Mother Aikenhead’.  Naomh Brid, patron of Cill Dara was another of her favourite saints.  

Her years in religious life were spent almost entirely in Dublin, except for the six years spent in Kilkenny.  Sr. Finian was a woman who grew old gracefully and she was greatly loved by the staff in Lakelands.  This was evident by the way they spoke to her and looked after her. The photograph on the booklet prepared for her funeral liturgy was taken on the 15th August, just about ten days before she died.

Sr. Finian died peacefully on 25th August 2014.  Her remains were returned to Lakelands on the afternoon of 26th.  A large crowd joined us for Evening Prayer to celebrate her life and many more visited later that evening.  She was removed to Star of the Sea Church on the morning of the 27th where her requiem Mass was celebrated.  She was buried in Donnybrook Cemetery.  

Her cheerful smile and sense of humour, as well as her unfailing kindness, will always be remembered by those who knew her.  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.