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madeleine-kellySister Madeleine Kelly

1937 - 2015

Born: 22nd January 1937

Entered Religious Life: 17th October 1955

Died: 9th November 2015


Sr Marianne Doherty, the Regional Leader in Zambia/Malawi writes an account of Sr Madeleine's Vigil Mass, Funeral and Burial:

fr-michael-blessing"At 2.30p.m. on Wednesday, 11th November we brought Madeleine home to the Regional House.  Fr. Michael Kelly S.J. joined us and celebrated Mass with us for her.  During his homily he spoke of there being plenty of room in the Father’s house and of how Madeleine would be welcomed by Jesus.  He would look at her and not only say that she was beautiful but that she was divine.  We were reminded that each day in the Eucharist we hear the priest say – by the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.  Madeleine is now sharing in the divinity of Christ.

Later on Wednesday we had a Vigil Mass in the Regional House.  There were over 300 people present, of all ages.  It was testament to the esteem in which Madeleine was held.  We were grateful and humbled also by the fact that we were joined by the Archbishop of Kasama and four of his brother bishops together with some priests for this Eucharistic celebration.  In his homily Archbishop Chama recounted his personal experience of Madeleine when she lived in Mulanga and his words found an echo in all of our hearts.  He spoke of her inclusiveness – how on a Christmas Day she had organised a Christmas meal for the elderly in Mulanga and how he himself had been inspired by that gesture to do the same.  He tied this in with one of the readings for the mass – the letter of St. John – “think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children”.  Madeleine’s gesture showed the elderly in the Mulanga community that they too were loved and included.  

As is the tradition in Zambia from the time a person dies people come to the house to sing and pray and stay.  Madeleine’s funeral was no different.  From Monday we welcomed many visitors offering their condolences, coming to console and support us.  Members of the small Christian community in Roma were constantly present and choirs from the other communities in Roma parish came during the night to pray with us and sing.

sisters-bringing-madeleine-to-churchOn Thursday we took our sister Madeleine to the parish church and once again we were humbled by the presence of so many people, religious and clergy.  Twenty priests concelebrated the Eucharist for Madeleine.  The new Irish Ambassador to Zambia was also in attendance.  During his homily Fr. Clement Chibuta, parish priest, spoke of his personal encounters with Madeleine.  He recalled that when he came to the parish and was not a week in the place Madeleine came to introduce herself and also to inform him that he had to visit Mary Aikenhead Village and the other houses in Roma, and not only visit them but bless them.  He did and he acknowledged that she was the driving force for that and that it probably would not have happened if she had not intervened.  He spoke of her love for Mary Aikenhead and the Congregation and how passionate she was when telling anyone about her.  He also spoke of her contribution to the parish in the teaching of catechism and how she was available even to go to people’s homes if they were not in a position to come to the church.  The Eucharist on Thursday was a celebration of Madeleine’s life and all present were able to think of a time she had touched their lives.
Our community burial place is in Chikuni in the Southern Province so we took Madeleine there on Thursday morning following her funeral mass.  As an elder the people wanted to honour her in the traditional way.  Having lived in the south for many years Madeleine would have been aware of the traditions.  When we arrived in Chikuni we were met by a group of traditional dancers who sang, drummed and danced.  The message of their singing was that they were taking Madeleine to the graveyard to let her rest.  They led the way to the graveyard.  It is difficult to put into words the situation and experience.  Graves are filled in during the service in the graveyard and the women were involved in this ensuring that Madeleine’s final resting place was fitting for an elder.  Again the number of people present women-gravewas humbling.  Clergy and Religious from many parts of the Diocese of Monze travelled to be with us and support us.

Amai, may you rest in God’s eternal peace and thank you for what you have been to each of us."



On Saturday, 14th November, Sr Madeleine's family and friends together with many Sisters of Charity gathered in the Chapel at St Mary's, Merrion to give thanks for the life of Sr Madeleine.  Below we reprint the 'Welcome' given at the Mass by Sr Winfridah Chileshe:

"This morning we gather here in Merrion for the Eucharistic celebration in thanksgiving for the life of Sr Mary Madeleine Kelly.
On behalf of the General Leadership Team and indeed on my own behalf, I am happy to welcome our main Celebrant Fr Donal Neary SJ, a good friend of the RSCs, Fr John Dooley and Fr Hector Mwale, from Zambia who has been in Ireland since September.  Fr Mwale was born and reared in Nakambala, where Sr Madeleine worked for a number of years.  Special welcome to Sr Madeleine’s brothers and sisters, Tom, Joe, Rita, Mary and Therese, her sister-in-law, Bridie, her brothers-in-law, Seamus and Keiron, her nephews, nieces,  extended family and friends from within Ireland and beyond.  I welcome all our friends in Religious life, the Sisters, Brothers and Priests.  Lastly, but not the least, I extend my welcome to all the Sisters of my own Congregation, the RSCs. We are deeply grateful that you all are here with us to celebrate Sr Madeleine’s life.
Sr Madeleine Kelly named by her parents as Helena Elizabeth, was born to Bernard Kelly and Alice Rowen in Clontarf, Dublin on 22nd January 1937.  She joined our Congregation here in Milltown in 1955.  On 21st April 1958, she made her religious profession.
Her immediate assignment was in England.  She did part time teaching and pastoral ministry in Walthamstow before she was sent to Hammersmith to do her Teacher Training.  Having completed her studies, she taught in Walthamstow for three years.
In 1963, Sr. Madeleine began a new phase in her life when she was missioned to Zambia where she spent the rest of her life. For this reason Sr Madeleine’s unexpected death is a big landmark in the life of the Congregation, and in particular to the people of my own country, Zambia, where she served for over 50 years.
Sr Madeleine’s sense of mission was outstanding.  I think she is the first person to have lived in almost all of our Communities in Zambia.   This clearly indicates her ability to adapt.  She lived in Kabwata, Kabwe, Chikuni, Charles Lwanga, Nakambala, Namwala, Mulanga and Roma.  Sr Madeleine did all she could for everyone especially the less privileged.  Her two favourite sayings of Mary Aikenhead, I think sum up her life very well.       
‘No good work can be done for God except by a person of prayer.’
‘Serve God with a great heart and a willing mind’
Sr Madeleine died peacefully at Fairview Hospital, Lusaka on the 9th November 2015.  She was laid to rest in the Community Cemetery in Chikuni, Zambia.   
Sr Madeleine you loved Zambia so much that you were determined to leave your bones there.  Today, we stand tall because of the contribution that you and others have made in our lives.  On behalf of the Zambian people and on my own behalf I salute and applaud you for your loving and an unfailing service to us.  May you 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.