Sister Eithne Breen
1924 – 2019
Born: 25th April 1924
Entered Religious Life: 4th February 1946
Died: 20th February 2019
The following is the Welcome given at Sr Eithne’s funeral Mass by Sr Rita Dawson, Provincial Leader in the English/Scottish Province
On Behalf of the Congregation I would like to welcome all of you here today especially Eithne’s brother Paddy and her sister Maura. Also, to her nephew Arthur and nieces Stephanie, Deirdre and Anne. I would also like to welcome Sr Patricia Lenihan, who is here on behalf of the General Leadership Team. And to all who have travelled from Birkenhead, Scotland and Ireland to be here today.
Sr Eithne Breen was born in Rathmines to Mary and John Breen. She was one of 7 children; 5 boys and 2 girls. She has 17 nieces and nephews, many grand nieces and nephews and even great grand nieces and nephews!
Eithne was educated at St Louis School in Dublin, School Mhuire and also the Gregg College of Commerce. Before entering Eithne did a Shorthand and typing course, and then worked in a solicitor’s office.
Eithne’s sister Maura was 5 years younger, and did not want Eithne to enter. She was beginning to enjoy going dancing and the summer before she entered they had a dance in every house in the street. They went out dancing and enjoyed a great time together. However, on the final night there was a cross- road dance and Eithne danced all night at this.
Maura was full sure Eithne would have changed her mind after that, but Eithne had her mind on other things and set off for Milltown a week later. Maura was devastated.
Eithne entered when she was just 21 years old. Can you just imagine the changes Eithne has seen in the world over all those years? It is a very different one to the one she left in 1946 when she entered in terms of communicating with each other. They did not have mobile phones and iPads which makes it so much easier to keep in touch with our families. However, Eithne managed without all of the things we have today to keep a very strong bond with her own.
Before entering Eithne, when asked, said she would be happy to do any other work, but not teaching. This was well known – the very thing you did not wish to do was very often the one thing you were asked to do!!! It was a sort of blind obedience. At the time it was difficult to see and understand the reason behind it. Again nowadays much more time would be spent on discerning and helping with decision making.
Eithne started her Pastoral Ministry in Kilkenny in 1948 and after her profession she spent 10 years happily in convent life mostly doing house work until one day a Superior spotted her and said ‘Your mother was one of the best teachers in Dublin and we must send you off to train now.” So Eithne was sent to England to start her training as a teacher. According to those who knew her in those days they said she was a born teacher and she loved it.
She spent over 30 years in teaching at various houses including Sowerby Bridge, Hackney, Hammersmith, Basildon, Ollerton and Macclesfield.
In 1986, she moved to Witney as Local Leader where she stayed for 4 years working in Parish Ministry before moving on to Birkenhead and then ultimately to Hackney in February 1995 as a Community helper. In 2007, Eithne attended a reunion of St Joseph’s School (Boughton). Eithne was the only nun still living who taught at the school.
She was great friends with the late Sr John Fisher. They travelled regularly together. Eithne loved going home to Ireland and would spend a week with her brother Paddy in Donegal and then travel down to Kerry with her sister Maura and her nieces and nephews.
Eithne was a very private person but she had always loved going out for a meal. A few weeks ago, in fact it was the Sunday before she became ill for the last time, Eithne was invited to join the three members of staff who were on duty, in the staff room for a cup of tea. Eithne enjoyed the ‘Tea party’ saying it was her first time in the staff room, and she really enjoyed herself, eating and drinking more tea and cake than she had done in a long time. Her conversation was mostly about St Bernadette and her hard life. She had special devotion to this Saint.
Eithne has not been well for some time though I think she had quite a few scares during the last few years and when I and others visited her, the visits needed to be quite short due her breathlessness.
We know it is said in the Psalms (Psalm 90:10) that 70 is the sum of our years and 80 for those who are strong. However, I think this should be moved now to 90 for those who are strong as people are living much longer and with a better quality of life.
As Father said last night, getting old is not easy with all its frailties and frustrations. At times aging can be very challenging and difficult to accept. How many times do any one of us reflect on our own mortality? And how do we feel about it? We should reflect on how vulnerable we are and how quickly things can change for us and always try to be grateful for everything we have because we are truly Blessed.
Sr Eithne did find old age very difficult and she certainly gave the staff on the care floor a run for their money at times. But they were so very kind and patient, as they are with all of those in their care. And of course, it is well known that Religious, both Priests and Sisters, can be demanding and their expectations sometimes can be unreasonable. We are very fortunate as sisters because the Congregation looks after all of us so well especially in our illness.
And on this note, I would like to give a special thanks to Sr Helena and all the staff on the care floor who looked after Eithne so beautifully over a long period and also to Tony the CEO and the Palliative Care team (Hospice) who assisted Eithne in her recent illness.
Thanks to Sr Geraldine and Sr Patricia for accompanying Eithne in her final hours. What a privilege it is for us to be able to safely see one of our own Sisters through their final journey.
Thanks also to Fr Neil Hannigan for being with us here today.
We give thanks to Eithne for her dedication and commitment as a Sister of Charity over all those years.
Eithne’s life could be summed up in the following:
“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things; I will trust you with greater; come and join in your Father’s happiness.” Matthew 25-21
We can be assured this is where Sr Eithne is today.
May Eithne now Rest in Peace.