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mary murphySister Mary Murphy

1923 - 2017

Born: 7th December 1923

Entered Religious Life: 8th October 1945

Died: 8th May 2017


Sr Mary’s funeral took place in the chapel of Our Lady’s Mount, Harold’s Cross.  Sr Anne Marie Costelloe welcomed everyone and Sr Josephine McDonald gave the reflection after the Gospel.

Sr Anne Marie:
“On behalf of the Sisters in Our Lady’s Mount I welcome you all here today. We welcome Sr Mary Christian, our Congregational Leader, Sr Phyllis Behan, our Provincial and we are delighted to welcome Sr Clare Nolan, Congregational Leader of our Australian Sisters of Charity.  We give a warm welcome to Sr Mary’s family, especially to her brother Owen, sister-in-law, Mary, her nieces and nephews and extended family, her friends and our own Sisters who have joined us from other communities today.

We gather to pray for and say farewell to Sr Mary and to celebrate her life and service as a very gifted Sister of Charity of whom we are all so proud.  We give thanks for a long and fruitful life lived so generously for God, for our Congregation and for the many children and families whose lives Sr Mary touched during her teaching career in England.  Sr Mary has inspired us by her life but most of all we have been inspired by her prayerful acceptance of suffering in her latter years.  Her loss of sight and hearing were difficult crosses to bear but she bore them with courage and good humour.
I would like to thank the staff and volunteers of Mary Aikenhead Ward for their kindness and goodness to Mary at all times.

In our Offertory today we present two symbols of Sr Mary’s life:
•    The Bible which nourished her deep faith and relationship with Jesus.
•    The Constitutions of the Sisters of Charity which she helped to rewrite in the 1970s.

The hymns and readings for today have been chosen by Sr Mary herself.
Our Mass will be celebrated by Fr Brendan McKeever, our Hospice Chaplain.”

Sr Josephine McDonald:
“In the first reading the Prophet Zephaniah says:  ‘Shout for joy, daughter of Zion … rejoice with all your heart daughter of Jerusalem … Yahweh is in your midst,  Yahweh is with you … have no more fear.’

Sr Mary choose these readings herself and there is no doubt but that she is now singing for joy and rejoicing in peace in the presence of God.  Zephaniah tells us, or perhaps is telling Mary:  ‘God will renew you by His love … and will dance with shouts of joy for you.’

The prophet has painted the beautiful scent of Sr Mary entering into the arms of Jesus, into the heart of God and of the joy and celebrations in Heaven.
She has now heard those beautiful words: ‘Welcome home, Mary.’  Cead Mile Failte.

It is not surprising then and very appropriate that Mary choose for her second reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians: ‘Our homeland is in Heaven and from Heaven comes the Saviour we are waiting for – the Lord Jesus Christ. And He will transform these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body.’

That’s what Mary looked forward to, deep in her heart. I’m sure that’s why she choose this reading. This is what her deep faith told her. This for sure is what she hoped for, even in her moments of doubt and questioning, which is only natural.  Now she is at home and her faith and hope are now a reality. She is enfolded in God’s tender love in peace.

Sr Mary was born to Owen and Philomena Murphy just 93 years ago – the eldest in a family of five.  She entered the Sisters of Charity in 1945 ~ 72 years ago.  A long and wonderful life.

Mary’s family meant an awful lot her and she was always very interested in them and what was going on for them.  She worried for them and rejoiced with them and spoke about them in a very respectful and  interesting way. Before she entered the Sisters of Charity Mary received an Hons BA HDip in Irish from U.C.D. and then after her Novitiate she did further teacher training in Scotland and taught there for a short time.   Most of her years in education was in St Winifred’s, in Birkenhead, where she was principal for 18 years. She was also very involved in Catechetics.  

Mary was known to be strict but very caring and just.  She knew every student in the school by name; she also knew their circumstances and their needs and helped them in whatever way she could. There were vocations from that school and because of Mary’s example and influence three became Sisters of Charity, one of her teachers and two of her pupils. Then after some years in Birmingham she was appointed to our General Leadership Team in 1983 and returned to Dublin where she been ever since.

Mary was deeply committed and loyal to the Congregation and a true, dedicated Sister of Charity. She was talented, generous, competent and always willing to help. She had a great way with words whether in conversation or with the pen.  So it is not surprising that she was one of three Sisters appointed to re-write our Constitutions in the 1970’s.  This was a massive undertaking.
Then in the late 1990’s she was again chosen this time to write our Complimentary Document with two other sisters.  She put her whole self into these tasks; indeed Mary gave her all to every ministry and assignment she was ever asked to do.

As local leader in Bray she respected and appreciated each sister in the community and each one was important to her. Sadly Mary’s hearing was always a bit problematic but she coped well with it until her later years when her eyesight also began to deteriorate.  It was a difficult time for her but she really never complained. She became incapacitated. She would say thoughtfully: ‘It is God’s will.’

Mary moved from Stanhope Street to Loyola Nursing Home for full time care in 2008, nine years ago now.  Then 3 years ago she moved here to the Anna Gaynor Unit. Like all of us, Mary knew and struggled with her weak points ~ her irritation and intolerance; her anxiety and fears were an affliction and a burden.  But Mary was such a good woman; trusting in God always, apologising and never holding anything against anyone. She was woman who loved ~ she loved God, she loved people and she loved the Congregation and anything and everything she was ever asked to do.  In a very quiet and confidential way she helped with her advice and skills any sister who asked for her help.
She always searched for the deeper meaning of her life which ultimately culminates in the heart of Jesus where Sr Mary has found and now knows the depths of His love.

The gospel reading in today’s Mass for Sr Mary was specially chosen by her.  The Transfiguration. We read there of the cloud which covered the three disciples whom Jesus brought with Him on to the Mount of the Transfiguration.  Peter wanted to build three tents - one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah who were talking together.Then a cloud came down and covered the three disciples with a shadow and they heard the words:  ‘This is my Son … listen to Him.’ The disciples fell on their faces. We are told Jesus came up and touched them and said; ‘Do not be afraid’ and when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus. It is a profound scene.  Sr Mary, like so many or indeed all of us here, experienced times when she was covered in a cloud, the way forward unsure and unclear, struggling with confusion and emptiness.  Jesus seems to have left us all alone. Mary would have known those times for sure.
But Jesus had a profound experience on the mountain and is aglow with the incredible discovery that God will save the world, not by power, violence or political oppression.  Jesus now knows with great certainty that God will save the world by His loving to the point of giving His life for others in love on the cross. The voice on the mountain of Transfiguration, with the command to listen to Jesus, means that Jesus will not just show the power of God in the miracles He performed. He will now show that the ultimate power of God in our world is that of unselfish love. Jesus comes down the mountain aglow and in the firm conviction that a life of unselfishness is all that matters.  In that love He faces and endures His suffering and death on the cross which culminates in His Resurrection and going home to His Father in Heaven.  

And He promised us all that He would come and take us home too.
Last Monday Sr Mary died.  She closed her eyes for the last time in this world. Then when she opened them in the next world and looked up, like the three of the disciples on this mountain ~ ‘She saw no one but only Jesus’ and she is now with Him forever in that gaze of Love.”


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.