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margaret hilliardSister Margaret Hilliard

1946 - 2017

Born: 8th April 1946

Entered Religious Life: 10th February 1969

Died: 4th October 2017


The following is the reflection given by Camellia D'Cruz at the memorial Mass of Sr Margaret held on 14th November 2017 at the chapel in St Michael's Hospital, Dún Laoghaire.

"It is with mixed feelings of sadness that we miss Sr Margaret and of gratitude for her life that I stand here to reflect on the life of Sr Margaret. I recall the first day I met her was in the chapel at the third pew where she usually sat. She recognised it was my first time to visit the chapel and made me feel at home.
Sr. Margaret was a lady of strong values. A woman who did not compromise the love of Jesus to anyone. Her role as a chaplain was far beyond supporting patients spiritually. Sr. Margaret would do her rounds every single morning and many, many patients and staff were assured of her love, her guidance, her support and her prayers. The spiritual needs of a patient was fully supported and upheld by Sr. Margaret. Her work was always recognised when patients verbalised that it was great to have a chat with Sr. Margaret. The holistic nature of healthcare demands spiritual well-being and this was constantly provided by Sr. Margaret. 

Her presence and her encouragement is very, very sadly missed around the hospital. Staff who need a word of upliftment today have to only hold on to the memories of the goodness we received from Sr. Margaret.

Our gratitude to God will always stand. That the Lord blessed us with a lady personified with love and values which went beyond culture, creed, race and faith. She was there for anybody in need. Now Jesus we give Sr. Margaret back to you. Every time we miss her, we will remember and be reminded that she is now with you. May your favour and love uphold her. Amen."

The following is the ‘Welcome’ given at Sr Margaret’s Funeral Mass on Saturday, 7th October, by Sr Mary Christian, Superior General and a member of the community where Margaret lived in Sandymount.

“On behalf of the Caritas Community and the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity I welcome all of you here today.
I welcome Fr. Dan O’Connor who is our main celebrant, Fr. Tom McDonald, CSSp who ministered very closely with Margaret at St. Michael’s Hospital and Fr. John McDonagh, our Parish Priest.

A special welcome to her family – her sisters Mary and Pauline, brothers Tommy and Paddy, sisters-in-law Bernie and Clare, brothers-in-law Mick and Oliver, her nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews and the extended family, Religious from other Congregations, her former colleagues at St. Michael’s Hospital, Members of the Choir, Margaret’s many friends and Sr. Una O’Neill our Provincial Leader and the many members of the Religious Sisters of Charity present.
Margaret was a woman of great faith, determination and hope. For twenty years she battled lymphoma and up to two weeks ago she would say over and over again ‘I just have to weather this bout’. God had other plans for Margaret and called her to himself.

As a Religious Sister of Charity. Margaret was just two years short of her Golden Jubilee. During these forty-eight years she ministered in many different aspects of healthcare in many different places. She began in Marycrest Manor in Los Angeles. Then it was back to Ireland to St. Joseph’s Kilkenny, over to Scotland to Airdrie, then back to Ireland for the remainder of her life where she ministered in Baldoyle, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, St. Patrick’s Kilkenny, Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross, St. Patrick’s Cork and finally as Chaplain at St. Michael’s, Dun Laoghaire.

I have only lived with Margaret for the last seven years. I am absolutely certain that she loved her ministry and her one hope was to go back to St. Michael’s for two mornings a week. In her head she had it all worked out. She loved singing in the choir here in Sandymount and before that in Bray. She was also part of Project Messiah and this time last year when she was undergoing chemo nothing could stop her from attending practices and being part of the choirs. She was a very generous woman who thought only of others and was a real friend to many people. She had a wonderful devotion to the Rosary and I am sure she would be very happy to have her funeral Mass on this the feast of the Holy Rosary.
She will be missed greatly by her family, her community, her former colleagues, choir members and many, many more people.
Margaret, 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.