Sister Gabriel Dolores Cummins
1924 – 2016
Born: 20th September 1924
Entered Religious Life: 13th October 1947
Died: 11th May 2016
Homily given by Fr Roderick Whearty at Sr Gabriel Dolores’ Funeral Mass
Sometime in the early hours of last Wednesday morning, after a life time of service and commitment, after a lifetime of faithfulness, and without any fuss as she would have wanted, Sr Gabriel slipped quietly and gently away from us. While all was still and quiet and the world was at sleep Sr Gabriel was taken gently to her eternal home for which she had prepared all her life.
There was of course shock and a deep sense of sadness and loss for her Sisters in her Community, her family, her Order and all who knew and loved Sr Gabriel. We ask God to comfort all of you today and to give you strength at this difficult time. You have shared her life, her ministry, and her friendship. You have been an important part of her story.
I know that her community here Kilkenny, with whom she lived, and all of us are consoled today in knowing that Sr Gabriel died as she would have wanted to. Just to slip away into the loving, caring, compassionate arms of Jesus with whom she had a deep personal relationship and whom she had served all of her life. I’m certain that Sr Gabriel would have heard those most welcomed of words which she had chosen as a motto for her profession and which are engraved on her ring “lt is I, do not be afraid”. She was not alone as she left this world. Jesus was with her.
As you know she was a Tipperary woman and professed as a Sister of Charity in May 1950. It was a different world then and she would have seen and been part of the great changes in the world, in the Church and indeed in her Community over those years. But constant throughout all that time of upheaval and change was her faith and trust in God, which never wavered. With resilience, dedication and commitment she remained faithful to the One who had called her. She spent her vocation in Religious life as a dedicated sister ‘serving Jesus by serving others’. She did this, as you know, primarily in education and in special education for 37 years. She worked in many different places throughout England, Zambia and Ireland always with the same spirit of enthusiasm and commitment and always with a willingness to serve wherever she was called to, giving of herself and never counting the cost.
I first got to know Sr Gabriel about thirty-six years ago when I came to work in St Patricks. At that time she worked in the school. I remember her then as very dedicated and hardworking Sister who always, always put the children’s needs first. Long after she had gone from the school and retired she maintained a keen interest in the children there and would always be able to recall the children by name. Only last Monday she visited the school to see the children who had celebrated their First Communion last weekend. Faithful to the end.
Those of you who knew her well will know that she loved to write and while she never really embraced the new technologies she was a great believer in the ‘apostolate of the pen’ and I’m told that she kept up with hundreds of people over the years. With a wonderful capacity for friendship she made people feel they were important and worthwhile simply by taking an interest in them and giving them her time.
The sisters in her Community here will tell you she had a great attention to detail, order and precision with nothing left to chance. I’m told that sometimes they were lucky to avoid being put in a box and labelled. We will miss that precision and order especially in the sacristy where she ministered for the last number of years.
Testament to that detail and order is the liturgy for today’s Mass which Sr Gabriel had prepared in detail. At the heart of our liturgy today Sr Gabriel would want us to focus on Resurrection and New Life. Because at the heart of her vocation, at the heart of her life, at the heart of her faith and all of the many years of service which she gave was a deep belief in Jesus and especially in the Resurrection. She believed in the promise that all who believe in him and commit their lives to him will one day share in that Resurrection. Sr Gabriel believed that and her life was lived out in response to that belief.
Everything she was, everything she did was for God’s greater glory and that ‘deep belief’ that each person no matter who, no matter how broken, no matter what background, each person was a gift created in the image of God and so shared a sacred dignity which could never be violated.
That beautiful reading from the prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s unfailing love and in this Mass Sr Gabriel I think wanted us to know that God has loved her in this life, loves her now and will love her eternally. She would have wanted us to know today that it was God’s great love for her which gave her the courage and strength to live her vocation fully and faithfully.
The Gospel passage, again chosen by Sr Gabriel, reminds us that those who serve God, those who commit their lives completely and wholeheartedly to God become one with Him and so true witnesses in the world. Sr Gabriel was a true disciple of Jesus, a faithful witness to the message of the Gospel, a caring companion on the journey and above all a great human being and a good friend to so many many people.
Though there is sadness today, which is the natural human reaction to loss; there is also hope; light and even joy in knowing that Sr Gabriel will now be rewarded for all of the good she did throughout her long life. In faith we know that today is less about ending and more about new beginnings; less about dying and more about new life; less about letting go and more about embracing. We know that as we are saying goodbye to her today there are others saying to her ‘welcome home’.
We give thanks to God for her life and for all of the many blessings he gave to her throughout her life. And we thank Sr Gabriel herself, for her presence, for the difference she has made, for her witnessing. And though we will of course miss her, may we continue to be inspired by her and encouraged to continue our journey of faith until that day when we will meet her again.
We entrust her now into the loving, caring, compassionate and merciful arms of Jesus. No doubt she will hear those most welcomed of all words ‘well done good and faithful servant, come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you’. May Sr Gabriel’s gentle soul rest in peace forever.
The following Communion Reflection based on John O’Donohue’s ‘Reflection On The Death of The Beloved’ was read by Sr Helen Butler:
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.
Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us