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una connollySister Una Connolly

1933 - 2021

Born:  15th May 1933

Entered Religious Life:  9th November 1953

Died: 28th June 2021

 

Reflection given by Sr Mary Christian at Sr Una's Funeral Mass 

On behalf of the Congregation, I wish to welcome each of you who are accompanying us in the Church today. Due to Covid regulations we are only permitted an attendance of fifty people. Four of Sr. Una's nephews are present, welcome to Gerard, Donal, Noel and Joe. We are glad that despite all the present restrictions you are able to be here. I welcome also, members of the General Leadership Team, Sr. Úna O'Neill our Provincial Leader and her team and all the Sisters of Charity present.

A very special welcome to all who are joining us through the webcam transmission, especially Sr. Una's nephews John in Kerry, Kevin and Enda in England, Colm in the United States and her niece Paula also in the States. Welcome to the many Sisters of Charity throughout the Congregation who are joining us and I welcome in particular the Sisters from the California Region in which Sr. Una lived for fifty nine years. Welcome to Una's former colleagues, especially Gary and those from Valley Family Center, members of the Associates and her many friends. It is a blessing that technology can bring us all together for the funeral liturgy of a wonderful lady.

We are grateful to Mons Ciaran O'Carroll and the bereavement team in Donnybrook for facilitating us in the celebration of this Liturgy and to Mons. Paul Callan, Chaplain in Stanhope Street who agreed to celebrate this Eucharist.

Agnes Mary Connolly was born on the 15th May 1933, the youngest child of John and Mary Connolly of Kilcolgan, Co. Galway. At the age of twenty-one she entered the Sisters of Charity on the 9th November 1953 and made her First Profession on the 22nd May 1956. Throughout her Religious life she never lived in Ireland until she retired in 2018. Her first three years after profession were spent in England, teaching in Walthamstow and Basildon.

ln 1959 Sr. Una or, Sr. Mary Rita, as she was known in the early days on her religious life, was missioned to California. This was a young mission of the Congregation, barely six years old, and it must have been both exciting and challenging for her to leave Ireland for the United States. At that time home visits only happened every six years.

As was common at the time in California, sisters were moved frequently, and during her teaching ministry, which spanned about fourteen years, she moved between Sr. Cornelius, Long Beach, St. Columban's, Garden Grove and Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Los Angeles, serving more than once in some of the schools.

As an elementary school teacher, she was very aware of the needs of some of her students and their families. After much prayer, spiritual direction, and time spent in discernment, Sr. Una felt that God was calling her to become a Counsellor. This necessitated a return to College to qualify for her new ministry. As a counsellor she spent a short time in Immaculate Heart of Mary School before moving to Alemany High School. During this time she developed a great love for the Hispanic people. Her dream was that the Congregation would open a foundation in Mexico or somewhere in South America. After many years of research and discernment, of which she would have been one of the prime movers, a mission was opened in 1980 in Venezuela. She was never missioned there, but I was one of the founding members of that mission.

Sr. Una was a woman of great faith and dedication to Mary Aikenhead. While working as a counsellor in Alemany, she realized that there was a great need to provide low-cost counselling services to the community in San Fernando. This was her vision and inspiration. Beginning in a very modest way in a small house opposite Santa Rosa Church she, with the encouragement of Fr. Tom Rush OMI, began offering low-cost counselling to the community. Soon the needs outgrew the facility and she moved to another site which also soon became inadequate. However, with a good Board of Directors and much fundraising the present site in Brand Street was purchased. From its humble beginnings Sr. Una watched the Valley Family Center grow from strength to strength and watched it expand to offer counselling to individuals and couples, family therapy, co-ordinated services for victims, children and perpetrators of domestic abuse and parenting education. Sr. Carmel Somers, who is present here today, supported Una in all her endeavours and became responsible for the Learning Centre which provides tutoring and academic support for at risk children.

Sister Una was a woman of prayer, reflection and contemplation and, no doubt, it was from her spiritual resources that she received the strength she needed to carry out her dream despite all the problems and challenges she faced. Her love for Mary Aikenhead was obvious and all her counsellors were imbued with Mary Aikenhead's spirit. I have often heard them say that they wanted ‘to give to the poor what the rich could buy for money’. Another passion of hers was working with the Associates of Mary Aikenhead. She and Sr. Carmel worked ceaselessly to inspire them to follow the Charism of Mary Aikenhead and commit themselves to working for the poor.

Una loved her dog, Guinness, and made sure he had his daily walk. Returning to Ireland in poor health must have been difficult for Una. Her desire was to spend time with her family. Her health did not permit her to travel around. Nevertheless she sought comfort from her faith, her love of reading spiritual books and her rich prayer life. The last fifteen months must have felt endless for her. For most of that time visiting was very limited. Her family and the sisters also found this difficult and Una, herself, had been so accustomed to being surrounded by people.

A special thanks to the staff at both Loyola and Beechlawn Nursing homes who looked after Una with such care and compassion. Today we celebrate the life of a woman who lived her life with great faith, vision, inspiration and enthusiasm, dedicated to following the Charism of Mary Aikenhead.

May Una 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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