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john-emmanuel-murphySister John Emmanuel Murphy

1923 - 2016

Born: 18th November 1923

Entered Religious Life: 5th October 1964

Died: 26th February 2016


Address given by Sr Rita Dawson, Provincial Leader, at the funeral of Sr John Emmanuel in Hackney

Sr John Emmanuel was born in Terenure, Dublin and Christened Elizabeth Murphy. She was the second eldest of six children born to Elizabeth and Robert Patrick Murphy.

Her eldest sister, Rita, has died but the rest of the family are growing older (dis)gracefully.  Her brother Daniel, and sisters Veronica and Stella live in Dublin and Imelda in USA.  Her brother Daniel would have liked to be here today but is unable for the travel.  However, his wife Chrissy and daughter Margaret are here.

Sr John was educated by the Sisters of Charity at Milltown Primary School and then at Mountjoy Street. She joined the Children of Mary Sodality at an early age and began to help Sr Teresa Emmanuel in the evenings and at week-ends helping to prepare clothing or meals for the local poor people.

When she began to discuss entering with the Sisters, her mother said ‘you may as well, it will save shoe leather as you spend so much time with them already’.
It was in 1964 that Sr John eventually entered Mount St Anne’s, Milltown at the age of 41.

When I was thinking of entering myself, my younger brother said “why don’t you wait until you are at least 40 then no-one would mind you going”!!

It is easy to understand her joyful surprise when Sr Theresa Anthony gave her Emmanuel as her second name. After a short time in Ireland Sr John was transferred to the English/Scottish Province where she has ministered for the rest of her life.
Sr John Emmanuel was missioned in Clydebank, Airdrie, Rock Ferry, Hammersmith, Bristol, Basildon and finally retired in Hackney.

Her main work was with the Catholic Children’s Society, a ministry she found most fulfilling and worthwhile. Her first retirement brought her to Parish life where she was mostly engaged as a Catechist, another work close to her heart.

Sr John Emmanuel loved getting out for a drive and was looking forward to some spring and summer drives with Sr Jackie.
She loved doing embroidery and enjoyed reading.

She was in many ways a recluse, a very quiet and dignified lady.  I often thought she should have been a Carmelite Sister.

When I was reviewing Sr John Emmanuel’s Advance Care Plan, the first thing she had written under Special Requests was “will you please make sure I am dead!”  “And I do not wish to be viewed in the coffin”.  This was her personal wish and we must always respect this. 

She had chosen her own hymns and readings, which you have heard today. 

It was Sr John Emmanuel’s greatest wish to remain in the Convent – she refused to go to hospital - and it was wonderful she had her wish and died peacefully in her own room with the support of the Palliative Care team from the Hospice.  Our thanks to them, also Sr Helena and all the staff on the Care floor.  We are extremely grateful to them for taking such wonderful care of our Sisters.

We all know our faith encourages us to have the confidence and belief that we are all on a journey and when the Lord calls we believe he will say to us:

"Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things; I will trust you with greater; come and join in your Father’s happiness."  Matthew 25:21

This is where we are assured Sr John Emmanuel is today.
May she now 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.