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magdalen bluettSister Magdalen Bluett

1915 - 2018

Born: 4th June 1915

Entered Religious Life: 29th January 1934

Died: 2nd October 2018

 

Alice Christina Bluett, daughter of John Bluett and Helen Carroll was born in Effin, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick on the 4th June 1915. She was the third youngest daughter of eleven children. Two of her siblings had entered the Religious Sisters of Charity before her and two other had joined the Mercy Order. She entered the Religious Sisters of Charity on the 29th January 1934 and was received into the Novititate on the 16th August 1934, receiving the name Sr. Magdalen Regis. She was professed on the 19th August 1936.

Sr. Magdalen lived a long and active life. From the time of her profession until she reached the mandatory age of retirement at 65, her ministry was that of education. She studied at first in Mountjoy Street and then attended Carysfort College where she qualified as a primary school teacher. She taught in Stanhope Street, St. Vincent’s, Cork, Ballaghaderreen, Clarenbridge, Harold’s Cross and back to St. Vincent’s, Cork. In 1960 she took a special course to qualify her to teach children who were hearing impaired. Following this she taught children who were deaf in St. Vincent’s for twelve years before spending the last seven years before her retirement as a teacher in Walkinstown. Sr. Magdalen had a great love for children, especially those who were needy in any way. She was a dedicated teacher who wanted the best for her students.

Although she was ‘officially’ retired, she lived a very active life for the next thirty eight years. The next phase of her life took her to Merrion where she spent fourteen years caring for adults who were visually impaired. This must have been a great change for her after all her years in education but she applied herself to this work and was devoted to those with visual impairment. In 1994 she moved to St. Patrick’s Cork and between then and 2003 she involved herself in parish visitation. At the age of 88, she gave up her parish ministry and became the Sacristan in St. Patrick’s, a ministry which she loved and carried out with great care and dedication.

Finally, at the age of 93, she retired to Lakelands where she looked after the sacristy and had a keen interest in gardening and grew both flowers and vegetables which were used in the community. She was interested in the whole Congregation and loved to meet Sisters visiting from other areas. Although she spent her entire life in Ireland, with the exception of a few short summer visits to Germany to work with the children of the American troops, she had a special love for Africa. The mission in Malawi was foremost in her thoughts and prayers and she loved to see photographs of the various activities there. She was a very good correspondent and kept up with many sisters throughout the congregation.

She was a great champion of Care of the Earth. She loved and studied Laudato Si and other books which helped her understand and appreciate God’s gifts. This knowledge was shared with those around her.

Magdalen’s years in Lakelands were full and varied. She brought communion to sisters who were unable to attend Mass. She kept an eye on everything that was happening, especially in the Chapel. She celebrated her 100th birthday on 4th June 2015 and received her cheque and medal from the President. This gave her great pleasure which continued each year when she received a letter and medal from the President on the occasion of her birthday. All of these were acknowledged personally in her own very legible handwriting.

She was up and about until she had a fall in August. She was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and from there she moved to a step-down facility in Mount Carmel. A few days before her death she became unwell. She was moved to St. James’s Hospital where she died very peacefully on the 2nd October 2018.

Her remains were returned to Lakelands on Thursday 4th October and were received by her nephew. Here she lay in repose following a special Evening Prayer. She was removed to Star of the Sea Church, Sandymount on Friday 5th for her Requiem Mass concelebrated by three of her nephews together with our chaplain and the priests of the parish. She is buried in the community cemetery in Donnybrook.

May she rest in peace after her long life.

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.

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