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margaret mary chilesheSister Margaret Mary Chileshe

1953 - 2020

Born: 8th April 1953

Entered Religious Life: 12th December 1969

Died: 13th June 2020

 

 

 Homily given by Fr. Gerald Mwiinga at Sr. Margaret Mary’s Funeral

Little did I know that today I would stand before you to give a homily and say bye to Sr. Margaret. The mentor is gone, a friend is gone, a teacher is gone, a mother is gone, a leader is gone, a woman of deep faith is gone, a woman of prayer is gone, a human being is gone to be with her God to whom she had served faithfully until death. The dark cloud of death hovered over the Chileshe family and the Religious Sisters of Charity on Saturday.

She left us while Mass for her was being celebrated. The month of June, as each year comes by will never be the same in their lives. The Sisters today are putting to rest one of their great women of faith. To some, she has been a pillar, shield etc. It is barely not more than two weeks that the Chileshe family and the Sisters of Charity put to rest the mother to Sr. Margaret Mary Chileshe. Sister was very close to her mother. Those who were present at her 40th anniversary saw how joyful she became when she received her mother’s blessing.

The pain and wound of losing a mother for the Chileshe family is still fresh and today they are saying bye to their beloved sister, Sr. Margaret Mary. It is not easy. God is always faithful. He will wipe away your tears – trust Him. He is a father of those who are broken.

June 13th of each year will always bring sad memories in my life and I am sure for others as well. I met Sr. Margaret Mary a day before she died. Sister had to carry many crosses in her life as a religious person. As she shared with me, she said, “The cross has helped me to come closer to Jesus and to follow the footsteps of Blessed Mary Aikenhead our Foundress.” It was her faith that was deep which kept her going and also trusting in God’s mercy and goodness. She spent a lot of time meditating on God’s word.

Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 14 Yahweh had set his heart on Israel. He had chosen her not because she was the most numerous but because he had loved her and meant to keep the oath which he swore to her ancestors.

From this we can see that Yahweh is the true God, the faithful God who was true to his covenant and his love was faithful to a thousand generation. The people of Israel were asked to keep and observe the commandments, laws and customs. They were to listen to these ordinances, be true to them and observe them. If you do this, I will love you and bless you.

What is the message is Sr. Margaret Mary saying to you and me today?

We must all believe that God has set us apart for a specific purpose. This is what sister believed in. Through this text, she is reminding us that God is always true to his covenant and his love is always faithful. To all of us, sister is reminding us to keep the Lord’s commandments, to be true to them and to observe them. This has to be done out of love and not as partial fulfillment. Through this text, we are reminded that if we do it, God will love us and bless us. This could be explicitly seen in her joy as she celebrated her Golden Jubilee in thanking God for his faithfulness. Do we keep God’s commandments and observe them?

1 John 4:7-10 In his letter, John describes a God who is quite different from a judge. John is reminding us to love one another, since love is from God. John says anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever fails to love does not know God because God is love. God showed his love to us by sending his son to die for us on the cross. His son became a victim for the expiation of our sin. God’s love for us is totally free. God loves us always and if we are his children, we should always be like him.

Through this text, this day should remind us that we should love one another genuinely. This is what Sr. Margaret Mary did. If she loved a person, all people knew that she loved that person. We are encouraged to love all people as God loves us. If we are God’s children, then we will imitate Him. Through the text, sister is saying to the Congregation, love one another, be there for each other, support each other, lean on each other. This is an explicit way of making this love concrete. She is reminding us to be already to suffer for others when it calls us to do so.

Are you ready to love those people that are difficult to love because of their attitude or will you only love those who love and care for you?

Mark 16:14-17, 19-20 Mark is telling us of the sending out of the apostles into the whole world to preach the Gospel to all creation. Why? So that all will be influenced, will benefit from it and be transformed. When the good news changes the human being’s heart, the person is redeemed. The person will no longer be used as an instrument of evil but only used for the purpose for which he was intended by God. Hence he/she will be a means of manifesting and achieving love and happiness. The mission that is entrusted to the Disciples of Christ is to work for the birth of a new humanity and a new creation. This is the vision and focus that sister had. What about you and me?

Mark makes it clear to us that Christ is present even today in the world through the Eucharist, His word and active charity given. Sr. Margaret Mary loved Mass and Holy hour and Benediction. In these she found Christ truly present in the Eucharist. She spent time meditating on the Scriptures before she would speak to you – What a faith! She fought for the vulnerable in society and especially the poor. Through this text, sister is asking us to find time to pray before Jesus in the Eucharist. She is asking us to pray using God’s word and meditate on it. She is asking us to be concerned for the poor and share what we have. When the evangelist uses the image of Jesus being taken up to heaven, he is telling us that Jesus who in people’s eyes appeared to be defeated, is proclaimed by God as a faithful servant.

Sr. Margaret indeed was a faithful servant of the Lord. She always challenged some of us to find time each day and sit before the Tabernacle and meditate His word. If sister was able to do this, even in her pain, it is possible for all of us to do it. The disciples in the mission that was entrusted to them did not feel lonely. They had a deep faith. They also believed that the master was working with them and will continue through them to manifest the signs of the presence of God’s kingdom in this world.

As a religious woman, the Lord’s mission was very important for her. This was so because of the kind of faith she had. She saw herself as an instrument in building God’s kingdom. She is asking you and me to take the mission that the Lord entrusted unto us very seriously. She is asking us to deepen our faith and trust in the Lord as we work to build His kingdom.

Whose kingdom are you building?
The reflection we have heard now, should lead us to see the 7 windows of her life expressing how she loved God faithfully, the church, the Congregation, her family, friends etc. in a concrete way.

  • Prayer: She was a woman of prayer. She loved Mass. Will you imitate her?
  • Deep faith: She had a deep faith. She died trusting in God.
  • Friend: She was a friend to many. How many genuine friends do you have?
  • Human: She was tough. Her facial expression could send messages to you that she was not happy. She accepted her limitations. Do you?
  • Leader: She never liked babysitting people. You had to act very responsibly if you wanted to deal with her. She provided leadership at a time when it was needed. What kind of a leader are you?
  • Teacher: She molded many and she never regretted having become a teacher. She loved her job. Do you love your job?
  • Mentor: She helped many people by providing guidance when all was at stake. What kind of a mentor are you?

Sr. Margaret Mary, I am so humbled that you asked me to say something at the end of your life. I am young, inexperienced and with unclean lips. You have left me broken but I will keep your words. Your legacy will stand the test of time in my life.

Go well, until we meet on the other side. Your last words, ” No need to worry. I am at peace.” will always be a source of consolation and encouragement when all will not be going well. Thank you. Go well. Rest in Eternal Peace.

“I am the resurrection and the Life says the Lord, Whoever believes in me will never die. I will raise him up on the Last day.”

Let all the Religious Sisters of Charity who have gone before you welcome you.

Let all your ancestors, parents, friends welcome you.

 

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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