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margaret berginSister Margaret Bergin

1929 - 2021

Born:  1st January 1929

Entered Religious Life:  9th November 1953

Died: 5th June 2021

 

Reflection given by Sr Ann Marie McGeever at Sr Margaret's Funeral Mass

Good morning, today we have gathered to celebrate and give thanks for the life of Sr Margaret Philomena Bergin or Joan, Auntie Joan the name she would have been known by her family and close friends. On behalf of the Sisters of Charity Irish Province and Stanhope Street Community, I welcome especially Madeleine her sister, her nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. To Fr Brian Grogan SJ our celebrant and cousin of Sr Margret we are happy to have you with us. To the sisters here present and all, who despite the restrictions, can join us via the webcam, we are delighted to have you with us also.

Joan Bergin was born on the 1st January 1929, she was a twin something she was very proud of and her relationship with her brother Donal was very special to her, as was that of her other siblings, Dick, Sheelagh and Madeleine.

She was educated by the Loreto Sisters in Bray and after leaving school she studied and graduated with a Diploma from the Grafton Academy in 1949. She was a very gifted woman, and any type of handcraft was no challenge for her. She had a good eye for colour and style and could turn the plainest of garments into a stylish piece with just a little embroidery or ribbon trim.

She entered Mount Saint Anne's Milltown in 1953 and on being received into the novitiate some months later received the name Sr Margaret Philomena. Following her Profession in 1956 she was missioned to various houses in both Ireland and England, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Walthamstow and Bray to name but a few. She was involved in childcare, teaching domestic science and in the area of hospitality. In the late 1960's she attended Sion Hill College and studied Home Economics, following this and up until her retirement, she was involved in the Secondary Schools in both Walkinstown and Stanhope Street.

It was said many times that she was an excellent teacher, always interested in the pupils and could control any class with little or in fact no words, a look from Margaret could say it all. I don't think it would be wrong of me to say that at some point almost all of us here experienced or at least witnessed ‘the look'. She was kind to the pupils and helped many a student with books and uniforms over her years in both schools. I met two past pupils who called to see her some years ago and they said they could never forget her kindness and that only for her they would never have achieved all that they had in life. Such a lovely tribute to her, and I am certain there are many more who today are saying the same. To the girls newly arrived in the country and from different ethnic backgrounds she was particularly mindful, and helped them in whatever way she could to fit in.

She was a woman who loved to travel and enjoyed many holidays visiting many countries with family and friends. Her family were very important to her, and she loved the times she spent with her niece Joan, who was named after her and with whom she was very close, and indeed any occasion for all the family to gather.

She was very much a woman of routine and order, everything had its own place and even her daily walk, when she was able, took a particular route which always included a visit to the Capuchin Friary in Church Street to pray at the shrine of Padre Pio to whom she had great devotion and attributed her recovery from ill health many years ago, stating that it was he and the hands of a particular surgeon In St Vincent's Hospital who healed her. She also had great devotion to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart.

The school for many years was her life and so she found retirement both hard and lonely, she loved company and enjoyed trips out in the car no matter where you were going. She possessed a quick wit and could render someone lost for words in a minute. I remember on one occasion she was asked by a health professional what the big thing happening in the country at that particular moment was (it was the time of the Presidential election) her response as quick as lightning was 'I came out so early this morning I hadn't time to read the paper'. What could one say after that?

For the last four years Sr Margaret was a resident in Evergreen Unit in Belmont Nursing Home. She was very happy there and the staff were very good to her. Sometimes when we visited she would cut the visit short saying she had to go as she was very busy, and the staff remarked that often when a new resident arrived she would assume the role of companion to that person, in a sense she was continuing to reach out and help others as she did all her life.

We extend our thanks today to Mons Ciaran O’Carroll and the team here in Donnybrook for facilitating us this morning and to Bourke’s undertakers for assisting us along the way. Profound and deepest thanks are due to the Staff of Evergreen Unit in Belmont, words will never express our thanks for the care and love you showed to Sr Margaret.

To Margaret we say, Rest now in Peace with the Lord.

 

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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