Sister Imelda O’Brien
1938 – 2019
Born: 4th December 1938
Entered Religious Life: 4th February 1957
Died: 26th September 2019
The following is the introduction given at Sr Imelda’s funeral Mass by Sr Una O’Neill, the Provincial Leader in Ireland
On behalf of Sr. Helen and the community of Temple Street I welcome you all to this Mass in which we give thanks to God for the life of Imelda – Kitty as her family knew her – and pray for all who are sad that she is gone from us. We remember particularly her family, especially Mary and Dolores who have been with her constantly on this last journey, as indeed have the Temple Street community. We welcome those who may be with us at this Mass through the webcam – including those in Zambia, Nigeria, Malawi and our Sister Congregation in Australia. We welcome the members of Religious Congregation who are represented here today and all who join us in mourning a woman whose single-minded purpose was always, in everything she was and did and said, to serve God and those who were needy, sick, destitute and heart-sore.
Born to John O’Brien and Mary Kavanagh in Aughrim on 4th December 1938 she made her profession on May 14th 1959. Following a short time in the ministry of Childcare in Ireland she went for studies in London and from there to Zambia in 1962. Service of the Poor marked Imelda’s life. She gave of herself freely, she loved deeply, she served generously. This she did as a teacher in Chivuna, in her years of leadership, especially as Regional Leader in both Zambia and Nigeria, and as a General Councillor of the Congregation. But her passion and her love was most evident in her direct service of people in Zambia and Malawi – in social work, pastoral ministry, and in rural development. She had enviable expertise in many unexpected areas such as sinking bore holes and advising on crop rotation!
She loved her family – though she was not given to expressions of affection! And she
brought to community life, which she treasured deeply, a gracious presence, a rich and generous sharing, a lovely sense of fun and a deep spirit of prayer.
In these past months she has struggled with life. She has known pain and weakness and lack of energy . . she has known the loss of the ordinary things that we take so much for granted . . to sit down and enjoy a meal. . and yet her sense of hope and purpose enabled her to enjoy what was possible – for example just three weeks ago enjoying a lovely week in Connemara with two of our Sisters.
She was surrounded in her dying days by many of those whom she loved so quietly but so deeply and who ensured that these recent weeks were rich with presence, prayer and peace. Now this woman, who was a powerhouse of energy and dynamism, is gone from us but we are the better for having known and loved her. And so we say our goodbye’s to her, sad for her loss, weeping for ourselves, thankful that we have known her, challenged by her selflessness and her faith.
There is a poem by Richard Murphy that describes the death of a man who, like Imelda, lived for others. If I take poetic license by substituting her for him, the poem could be about Imelda and I quote:
There was no air too foul for her to breathe, no pit too dark to enter,
yet her very breathing made the foul air pure.
Her presence made the darkest day feel clear;
Because her kind of life taught me to live, her dying I forgive.
(Tony White by Richard Murphy)
And now I can hear her saying to me: Una get on with it will you. . . so in a spirit of thanksgiving we commit her to the Lord of life as we say: May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.