Visit us on Facebook and Twitter

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter

marie hillary kane smithSister Marie Hilary Kane-Smith

1933 - 2017

Born: 2nd April 1933

Entered Religious Life: 14th July 1963

Died: 17th August 2017


The following is the reflection given at Sr Marie-Hilary’s funeral Mass by Sr Phyllis Behan, Provincial Leader in the Irish Province

Our Eucharist today is a celebration of thanksgiving and we remember Sr Marie Hillary Kane-Smith and give thanks for her life and we give thanks for her release from suffering. 
The First Reading tells us ‘the souls of the righteous are in the hands of the Lord and no torment will ever touch them’.    So Sr Marie, we believe, is now in the hands of the Lord and is at peace. And we are glad for her that this is so.

Sr Marie Hillary was born in 1933 and baptised Dympna Catherine (Dympie as she was called in the family and by those who knew her well) in Moyle Co Carlow, the eldest daughter of the family.    She had one brother, James who lives in England and is unwell at the moment, and three sisters; Alice who lives in Australia, Matilda who is here with us today and Sheelagh who died some years ago.  She had happy memories of her childhood at home and family was important to her.  She was studying as a Sister in London when her mother died and she returned home for two years to care for her father. She had entered the Religious Sisters of Charity in 1963 and lived mostly in Ireland in Cork, Clarinbridge, St Vincents Hospital, Milltown, Temple Street, Lakelands, Linden, Kilkenny and finally in Anna Gaynor for the last 13 years where she received loving care and attention.  

The psalm speaks of the uncertainties of life and how God works our purpose:  it states:  ‘no matter how uncertain things may be, sometimes through me, sometimes in spite of me, you (God) seem to find your purpose in my life’.    We may never know our purpose in life while we are on this earth but I am sure Sr Marie Hillary knows it now and will by now have met people whose lives she touched and people she helped, who have gone before her to their reward. 

Sr Marie Hillary is remembered by her colleagues from St Vincent’s as a wonderful musician who loved classical music.  We are told that no one could compare to Sr Marie Hillary in the gentle way she played the large organ in St Vincent’s Hospital chapel.  Sometimes she would go to the chapel at a quiet time and just play music while Sisters would quietly go into the chapel and sit and listen to her and enjoy the music.  She also played the Harp and donated her harp to  St Agnes’ Community Centre for Music and the Arts in Crumlin.  It is a fitting tribute to Marie Hillary that Sr Bernadette who founded the Music Centre has arranged to have Breda from St Agnes’ Parents Orchestra here to play the harp during mass.  Breda often comes to the Hospice to play the harp and knew Sr Marie Hillary well.  I am sure Marie will be smiling down from her ‘room in the father’s house’  and enjoying this music today. 

Her main ministry during her lifetime was in the secretarial line both in Milltown and St Vincent’s Hospital and it was she with Sr Mary Paula Gleeson who helped to open the first St Vincent’s Private Hospital and Marie was the first Secretary Manager there.

A bit like our foundress Venerable Mary Aikenhead, Marie spent the second half of her life in poor health.  It is hard to understand suffering whether it is physical, psychological, mental , spiritual, or emotional.  It is part of our human condition.  
But the Scripture readings today call us and call those who suffer to ‘trust in God still,’ (John 14:1-6)
They call us to accept that we are carried on eagles’ wings and cared for in all our years’ as the psalm we have just sung states.  (based on Ex: 19:4 and Psalm 105)
I think God doesn’t intervene directly in our lives to do this carrying of us but sends us people who do the carrying on God’s behalf and for us.  All through Sr Marie Hillary’s life when she was ill and unable to do things for herself, the staff, carers, doctors, nurses, family, Sisters, all carried her in many different ways.  For some it was in directly providing personal care, or medical treatment, others wrote letters for her, visited her, put her music on for her and so on. 
Marie came to great rest and peace in Anna Gaynor and although unable to communicate by speech in the latter years she could indicate with her eyes and sounds that she understood who was with her and what was being said to her.   She lived her life as a Religious Sister and ‘died in Jesus’ as the second reading states and so ‘God will bring them with him’.  We know she will ‘inherit the kingdom and that Jesus has ‘prepared a place’ for her so that where Jesus is, Marie is there too now.  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.