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carmel-mary-flannerySister Carmel Mary Flannery

1918 - 2015

Born: 18th July 1918

Entered Religious Life: 3rd October 1938

Died: 29th January 2015



Sr. Carmel Mary Flannery was born Evelyn Mary to John A. and Evelyn M. Flannery (nee Noble) in Springmount, Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo on 13 July, 1918.  She entered Milltown on the 3 October, 1938, was Clothed on 18 April, 1939 and Professed on 23 April, 1941.  This is her story in her own words:

“I took a good while to come to a decision to enter Religious Life having spent a year abroad before making the decision.  My alternative was to train as an Almoner (Medical Social Worker) and my mother who was a doctor felt that it would be to my advantage if I could speak French as there was no training courses for Almoners in Ireland.  After a year in the south of France, teaching English and learning French I made my decision and at last took the plunge when I entered Mount St. Anne’s Milltown on the 3rd October, 1938, then the feast of the Little Flower at 6pm and was the last arrival of eight. I had a last visit to the cinema to see Merle Oberon in “Test Pilot”.  Mother Mary Bernard, Mother General and Mother Francis Angela greeted me most warmly.  I said a quick goodbye to my parents and my sister and was heartbroken at leaving my home in the West.  I took a good while to come to a decision to enter Religious Life and at last took the plunge.

Sr. Margaret Teresa was my ‘angel’ and was most extremely helpful especially during the first week when we were on retreat and introduced me to St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.  During that week the silence at meals and the large numbers were quite daunting.  On Sunday we were introduced to the Noviceship and about 20 novices.

The life there was very routine, everything was done systematically and in silence. We were allocated manual works for a week at a time and the method was apparently similar to Mother Mary Aikenhead’s experience in the Bar convent in York.  This new way of life was very challenging.  At recreation you talked to the person normally beside you.  The run up to Christmas was busy making clothes for the poor and given to the sister Missioner in the house.  We had concerts for the entertainment of the Professed Sisters.

About a year and a half from entrance we were sent to a professed house to experience life in their company.  That year, 1939, the 2nd World War broke out although there were rumours of war long before.  There was a very striking Aurora Borealis early in 1938 which could be seen as far south as Spain and many felt something disastrous was in store.  In 1939 and 1940 rationing was enforced.  England was at war with Germany and at one stage there was danger of being invaded to attack England which fortunately never happened but the German planes flew over Ireland and were particularly in evidence on the way to attack the North of Ireland.  At one stage Dublin city, North side was bombed and there were fatalities.

For my “Outing” as it was then styled I went to Mountjoy St. Convent to accompany the Missioner on her visits to the needy people – there was so much poverty and deprivation.  Most of the community were teaching in King’s Inn St. School and the Secondary School in the convent.  Mother Mary Ita was Rectress and very busy refurbishing King’s Inn St. School.  Having spent about six months there I was sent to St. Vincent’s Hospital, Stephen’s Green which was so courageously opened by Mother Mary Aikenhead in the Earl of Meath’s house in 1834 for the great benefit of the inner city needy, although castigated by the local press.

I was assigned to St. Joseph’s Surgical Ward, the first ward opened in the old house.  After some time I was assigned to taking the four-hourly temperatures and one evening when the Angelus rang at 6 o’clock I was due to check the temperatures.  I was not finished my jobs in the Convent but told the Ward sister – Sr. Mary Canisius I came to take the temperatures, she said “You’ll do”.

On returning to Milltown our profession date was getting nearer and at last on the 18th April 1941 the great day dawned.  On getting our destinations I was sent to St. Vincent’s to train as a nurse.  Unfortunately my health did not stand up to the pressure and having spent the next three years 1943 -1946 fulfilling other posts I was sent for one Saturday when I was in Baldoyle convent and told I was to do a Social Diploma in UCD and to be there on Monday morning at 11 a.m. to sign on prior to my training as an Almoner. Because Ireland had no accredited training school students had to spend some of the post-diploma practical training period (about six months) in England.  I was assigned to St. Thomas’ Hospital in London and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Saltley.  I qualified in December 1949 and was assigned to St. Vincent’s Hospital to start the work of an Almoner there.  When the move to Elm Park took place we all moved out and I continued but at this stage we were Medical Social workers.  When I reached retirement age officially I went to Milltown Day Centre and then Crumlin Social Service Centre until old age set in.
I can now look back on 70 years of Religious Life and am so grateful to God it was the life he laid out for me.  I followed in the steps of Mother Mary Aikenhead who’s Sisters I was so familiar with since early childhood and the teen years and so approached the order I knew so well and admired.”

Sister Carmel Mary worked tirelessly for the poor and needy.  She had a great sense of poverty – always mending and repairing.  She was very grateful for any service done for her.  She loved her family deeply and was very interested in all their lives.  They, in turn, were extremely attentive to her and accompanied her in her last journey here on earth.  She retired to Loyola, Merrion on the 14 April, 1998 and remained there until her death on 29 January, 2015.  She was a true 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.