On 26th October we, in Stanhope Street community, celebrated with joy and thanksgiving the 100th birthday of Sr. Teresa Xavier Byrne. We were joined by many of her family and friends coming to be with her from Malta, Switzerland and other parts of Ireland, especially her native Borris, Co Carlow, and by Sisters of Charity whom she had known and worked with in Zambia and in Ireland.
The celebration, both the Mass and the birthday meal, was in the Ashling Hotel quite near us in Stanhope St. and convenient for her family, many of whom stayed there overnight. The Mass was at 12 noon. Sr. Anne Kennedy welcomed all present and commented on the symbols brought to the altar representing Sr. Xavier’s life. A paper chain with the names of the members of Sr. Xavier’s family spoke of her great family bonds and of the faith rooted and nourished there. Her ring, received at her first profession, was the symbol of her commitment to her vocation as a Sister of Charity, and this birthday also marked the 76th anniversary of her entrance day. The flags of Zambia, Ireland and England told of the many places where with great dedication she ministered in health care – in Choma hospital as a midwife, in outreach clinics in Maamba, in providing natural family planning as health care co-ordinator in Ndola and, in later years, in caring for young offenders in Shanganagh open prison near Bray.
The chief celebrant of the Mass was Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, former Archbishop of Dublin and now a regular visitor to Stanhope Street convent for Thursday Mass. He was joined by Fr. Lorcan O’Brien, formerly of Bray and Fr. Pat Kelly SMA, a friend of Sr. Xavier’s family.
In his homily, Archbishop Martin spoke much about the “human face” of health care. “Charity”, he said, “has become identified in doing things for others – often presented as condescending. Mary Aikenhead’s vision was very different and was inspired by a true understanding of what charity means. It is about lovingly embracing the ability of a person to flourish as the person God created them to be. Sr. Xavier was inspired by that vision …We must thank God for all the technical progress of modern medicine. We also know that something else is needed … health care is about love and respect. It is about human warmth”. In a reading chosen for the Mass we read, “Let the message of Christ in all its richness, find a home in you, never saying or doing anything except in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
We give thanks to God for Sr. Xavier’s 100 years, but also for the fact that she is still able to live life fully, able to read and enjoy the books she received as presents, and keep us regaled with stories of her many years and of the great ‘characters’ who, like her, kept the flame of Mary Aikenhead’s vision alive and well. Deo Gratias.