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catherine mclaughlinSister Catherine McLaughlin

1941 - 2019

Born: 5th July 1941

Entered Religious Life: 6th July 1964

Died: 18th January 2019

 

 The following reflection was given at Sr Catherine's funeral by Sr Rita Dawson RSC, Provincial Leader of the English/Scottish Province.

On Behalf of the Congregation I would like to welcome all of you here today especially Catherine’s brother Charles; unfortunately her other brother John and his daughter, Catherine’s niece Louise Anne, were unable to be with us for health reasons. We also welcome nieces Norrina, Catherine, Louise and Anna, her nephews Thomas, Paul and Andrew, together with her cousins and friends. I would also like to welcome Sr Mary Christian, who is Sr Catherine’s co and Congregational Leader. As some of you may not know, to be a co means you entered at the same time. And to all of the Sisters who travelled from Ireland, England and from Airdrie to be here today.

Catherine was born in Glasgow in 1941 to parents Daniel and Alice. She attended St Mary’s Girls Primary School run by the Franciscan Sisters and thereafter St Mary’s Secondary School. After school she worked for Donald’s the Chemist mostly at his shop on the Gallowgate but sometimes in his branches in the Gorbals.

She was always active both at and after school. She played tennis at Glasgow Green. On occasions she would play football with the boys “down the back”- “down the back” meaning the backyard of the tenement buildings. Her main interest was cycling. She joined a cycling club which on weekends or evenings would cycle out to faraway and exotic places like Strathblane and Balmaha. She was also a leader, Tawny Owl, with the Brownie pack in St Mary’s.

On the day she made her First Communion, Catherine told her parents she was going to be a nun – and she never changed her mind about it.

Her contact with the Sisters of Charity began when she was a volunteer helper in St Margaret’s Hospice in Clydebank which at the time was in converted residential building on Mill Road across the road.

After a holiday to Bray, at a Convent which was one of our own Convents, Catherine met Sister John Marie and she brought a group of girls to Milltown to visit. Some of you may not know that Milltown was the Mother House and so this was all very exciting for a young Catherine. From that day Catherine desired to enter much to the delight of her mother.

On 6 July 1964, she entered and right up until the day she died, she thanked God for the grace of staying. Just so you are all aware, this journey of being a nun is not an easy one.

She was based in St Joseph's Hackney until July 1967, and then went to St Patrick's Cork for 7 years. It was here that Catherine went on to do her training and passed her exams. She also did further training with the Brothers of Charity in Clarinbridge which was for people with special needs. She was also in the nursing unit in Kilkenny.

Catherine spent a year in Nigeria before returning to Cork. She remembered helping the girls there to get their pensions which made a great difference to their lifestyle. Catherine’s sabbatical was in USA in 1996 and on her return, she went to Kilkenny as Assistant Director. She also spent 13 years at the Food Centres in Gardiner Street and Stanhope Street. In early 2017, Catherine formally requested to be missioned back to the English/Scottish Province. Being a Sister is a bit like being in the Army, you have to ask to be able to come home.

She enjoyed cooking, gardening, embroidery, and also watching sport on television. Catherine’s sister Margaret died here and she was a patient in the Mary Aikenhead Centre for some time. Her brother Thomas also died here in St Joseph’s ward. So many of our doctors and nurses have known Catherine for many years.

This was Catherine’s second home as she spent all of her summer holidays and Christmas breaks here. She always enjoyed the rest and relaxation, and the support she received from the doctors and nurses when she needed it. Catherine loved coming to Scotland where she could see all of her family and friends.

Thank you to all of you who have come here today to share in this Mass and in thanksgiving for the life of Catherine, and her commitment and dedication over many years as a Sister of Charity.

Thank you to all of our maintenance staff, the chefs, and everyone who has helped today. We truly come into our own when we know others need our love, support and attention.

I would also like to sincerely thank Sr Geraldine and all of the Hackney Community, also Sr Angela and Sr Helena. Sr Helena accompanied Sr Catherine on her final journey away from the hospital and I know this was a difficult journey so Helena, I sincerely thank you for this.

Thank you to Father Joe for saying this Mass today.

We appreciate your presence with us and especially Catherine’s brother Charles, and all the family members who are present here and also those who were unable to attend.

Catherine’s contact with the Sisters of Charity began here at this Hospice and so it is very fitting that today we say goodbye to Catherine from where her journey as a Sister of Charity began. Catherine will be very happy to be home today.

John 15:4
Live in me as I live in you. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

Today Catherine is joined in Heaven with the Lord she faithfully served.

May Catherine now Rest in Peace.

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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