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emma-chakupalesaSister Emma Chakupalesa

1970 - 2016

Born: 23rd February 1970

Entered Religious Life: 23rd August 1988

Died: 16th June 2016


Sr. Emma Chakupalesa was born on the 23rd February 1970 in Livingstone.  She was the daughter of Arnold and Gertrude Chakupalesa and was the third born in a family of nine. She began her schooling in the Dominican Convent Kabwe (now Caritas Convent, Kabwe) in 1976 and completed in 1987.  She worked for a time as an Accounts Clerk at Central Province Co-operative Marketing Union in Kabwe before she answered God’s call to religious life.

Sr. Emma entered the Congregation of the Religious Sisters of Charity 1988 and made her first profession in 1991.  Following on from that her first mission was to Chikuni in the Southern Province, a place she liked to visit as often as she could.  She remained there for one year and then began her studies at Nkrumah Teacher Training College.  Sr. Emma had a passion for teaching and following her studies she taught at Roma Girls’ Secondary School from 1994.

Sr. Emma made Final Vows in her home parish in Kabwe in September 1997 and continued teaching in Kabwe from 1998.  Her passion and dedication to the teaching profession and her pupils never wavered.  Sr. Emma continued her studies at the University of Zambia and obtained a degree in education.

The year 2009 saw Emma take on a new ministry as Local Leader in Roma Community.  She was a home maker and cared for her community with the same zeal and passion she had for her ministry.  At the same time she was teaching in Roma Girls’ and was promoted to the position of Deputy Head and in 2013 Emma became the head teacher in Roma.

Her term as Local Leader to the community in Roma came to an end in March 2014 and she moved to Kabwata and was given the same ministry of leadership there.  Meanwhile she continued in her ministry in Roma Girls’ Secondary School.

In December 2014 Emma was appointed to the Regional Leadership Team here in Zambia, a position that she valued and saw as a privilege as she was involved very much in the lives of all the sisters in the Region.  She continued as Head Teacher in Roma until the 31st May 2016 when she began a period of leave in order to take up the position of Regional Bursar in the Zambia/Malawi Region.  She began her new ministry on the 1st of June and was involved in it. On the day that Emma left us she was doing the work that she had been asked to do.  She gave herself to it.  

Having attended a meeting in the afternoon Emma complained of feeling unwell.  She was brought to Victoria Hospital in Lusaka where treatment was started.  During the night of 15th June/early morning 16th June Emma slipped away from us, very peacefully – she went home.

Sr. Emma’s vigil and funeral mass took place in Good Shepherd Parish on 20th June 2016 and she was laid to rest in the Sisters of Charity plot in Chikuni Cemetery.

We will all as family, friends and congregation miss her immensely – her willingness to be involved in what was happening, her ability to make people feel at home, her friendship, her love and support.

When asked about her one sister, who worked closely with her in Roma, said that she lived the charism of the Religious Sisters of Charity especially when it came to giving opportunities to those who were disadvantaged and poor in the school.  Names of possible students, who would not have the necessary grades for entry into secondary school, would be given to her and her initial response could leave one wondering if places would be available for them but sure enough she would always come back and say – now where are those girls?  She had a heart for the poor.

The pupils in the school also had praise for her – she was strict but fair.  To many, in the school and beyond its gates, she was known as Sr. Chakupalesa but to them she was Sr. Emma – their mother.  They valued her counsel and respected her for who and what she was, a Religious Sister of Charity.  

Sr. Emma lived life to the full and believed that every day was a gift to her.  Her heart condition did not stop her from doing what she had to do.  At one of the masses celebrated in Zambia for her the celebrant asked each of us to consider and reflect on the legacy that Sr. Emma left to us.  For most of us that can be summed up in the words of a popular song “One day at a time sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking of you”.  She lived in the present (not to say that she did not plan for the future).  This year was to be a special year for her as she was to celebrate her Silver Jubilee of Religious Profession.  We were all looking forward to that day.  Instead she will be celebrating it with the Lord.

Sr. Emma may the God you served faithfully for the past twenty five years welcome you with open arms into His kingdom and grant you eternal rest.  AMEN.

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.