Sister Clare Byrne
1939 – 2015
Born: 24th February 1939
Entered Religious Life: 3rd February 1958
Died: 14th December 2015
Address given by Sr Marie Carroll, at the funeral of Sr Clare in Merrion
Sr. Clare Byrne or Mary Jo as she was known to her family was born on 24/2/1939, the fifth child of Mai and Eugene Byrne of Coolbeg Co. Wicklow. Mary Jo entered the Religious Sisters of Charity on 3rd February 1958 and was finally professed in August 1963.
Her first contact with St. Mary’s Merrion was in January 1961 when she was missioned to the “Old School” for pupils with a visual impairment. It was with there that Clare discovered her talent for working with children with a Visual Impairment. To prepare for her future ministry she was missioned to train as a teacher in the Freobal College of Education, Sion Hill, from 1961-1964. It was at this time I came to know Clare as I was her College Companion for the three years and we have remained friends for the past 54 years.
Having completed her training, Clare was then missioned to St. Mary’s Merrion where she joined the staff of the new purpose-built school. It was here that Clare was able to give free reign to her giftedness for teaching children with a visual impairment and three years later she completed her Post Graduate Diploma for the blind and Partially Sighted in Birmingham University after which she returned to teach in St. Mary’s School.
In 1977 she was seconded to the Department of Education to set up the first Visiting Teacher Service for Visually Impaired Children in Ireland. This involved working closely with the Department in surveying the need, within the 26 counties, for the setting up of a Visiting Teacher Service, a service which continues to operate to this day. Clare’s people skills enabled her to liaise with Parents, Pupils and Teachers of Mainstream and Special Schools.
As any daughter of Mary Aikenhead will tell you, missioning for ministry can take you anywhere and Clare found herself ministering in Mountjoy Street, Baldoyle and Lakelands.
After which she was re-missioned to St. Mary’s Merrion where she was appointed Principal of her beloved school for visually impaired for the next 16 years. Due to the Department’s policy of mainstream integration and the success of the Visiting Teacher Service, facilities for pupils with a visual impairment in the Rosminian Centre in Drumcondra became co-ed and the school in St. Mary’s Merrion was closed in 2005.
While teaching in Merrion Clare was missioned to the community in Bray. Not only did she find herself back in her native Co. Wicklow but was able to give rein to her love of nature though tending the Community Garden and her deep desire to grow in creation spirituality. She lived the words of Pope Francis from “Laudate Si” in realising her responsibility within creation and her duty towards nature and her Creator.
Clare also served as Local Leader in Lakelands and Stanhope Street Communities.
Last September Clare shared with me the wonderful celebration she had been part of when two past pupils, Christine and Sr. Eileen, organised a reunion to celebrate what they owed to Merrion regarding the success of their lives and careers. One of them summed up the experience of the day in her Thank Note when she wrote, “ I found it a moving and nostalgic occasion”
On her retirement from teaching, Clare was missioned to Cabra West in Dublin 7. I quote the following from the December RSC eNews..
“Congratulations to Cabra West Parish on achieving an Eco-Congregational Ireland Award. One of the aims of the Congregation in coming to Cabra West was to promote ecology and Care of the Earth. Sr. Clare Byrne RSC, who is a great believer in all to do with Creation, was the inspiration and motivator of all that happened subsequently in relation to environmental care. The Parish has celebrated Creation Time from 1st to 4th September each year since 2008, the aim being to create an awareness locally of the importance of caring for the Earth and how this may be done…..”
In March 2013, due her severe illness, Clare was missioned to her dear Merrion under Assisted Living in Apartment 4 where she continued her treatment and leading life to the full until her final illness in November 2015. She often spoke of the support given to her by her family, the Sisters, Staff and her friends during this time.
On Tuesday 8th December Clare’s number came up on my phone. I rang her back and she told me she had had a bad turn that morning. I asked her whether she would like me to call in and she said “I’d love that, …I don’t feel well, it’s Time!” When I was with her she checked had I done some things which she has requested and gave me cards to post. That was the evening she asked for prayers from the Sisters in the Province and spoke to me of how good the Sisters are when they are asked to pray for Sisters who are seriously ill.
When Clare was planning what she wanted for today, it was her dearest wish that it would be a Celebration of her life, and to be true to her wishes, I now invite each one of you, family, sisters, staff, colleagues and friends to join us in that Celebration.
Marie Carroll RSC 17/12/2015