Sister Josephine McDonald
1939 – 2021
Born: 30th July 1939
Entered Religious Life: 6th October 1958
Died: 18th February 2021
Josephine McDonald was born in Dublin on the 30th July 1939 to Thomas McDonald and Kathleen O’Mara.
Josephine entered the Religious Sisters of Charity on the 6th October 1958 and was received into the Noviciate on the 30th April 1959, receiving the name Sr. Mary Cephas.
She was professed on the 2nd May 1961, after which she spent a few months in Clonmel and a year in Clarinbridge. Josephine’s 62 years in religious life was divided between England and Ireland. She taught in Basingstoke and then qualified from Maria Assumpta Teacher Training College in 1965. She taught in Basildon and Sowerby Bridge and returned to University College Dublin as a student 1967. During that time she taught in Marymount Primary School, Harold’s Cross, Dublin and returned to teach in Birmingham (1972-1975)
Josephine spent one year in the Liturgy Centre in Portarlington and following that year she was appointed Mistress of Novices in Milltown 1976-1985. Some of her novices said that she was a ‘great mentor’ who formed them with ‘gentleness, wisdom and care’, and was faithful to them over the years, remembering their ‘families, siblings and special events’.
Josephine returned to England again, where she did a Pastoral Theology Course in Heythrop College and was a member of the Diocesan Schools Catechetical Team. She was appointed Provincial Leader of the English/Scottish Province from 1987 to 1993. She did a Sabbatical Course in South Carolina and then a Renewal Course in St. Beuno’s. For one year she lived in a shared community with young adults in Sarabeth, Bath 1994-1995.
She returned to Dublin when she was elected Vicar General of the Congregation in 1995 and served in that capacity until 2007. Following this term of office and a short break in St. Monica’s she was appointed Local Leader in Naomh Brid. In 2012 she was missioned to Shalom, Merrion Road, Dublin and worked in the Office of the Cause as Vice Postulator until she retired from this role in 2019. Josephine was passionate about the Cause for Mary Aikenhead. She had a great love for our Foundress and constantly looked for opportunities to promote Mary’s charism and her spirit. It was mainly due to her dedication, commitment and collaboration with others as Vice Postulator over this period of seven years, that Mary Aikenhead was declared Venerable on the 18th March 2015, to Josephine’s absolute joy.
Josephine touched the lives of numerous people through her many ministries in the Congregation (some of which is outlined above) but also through retreats, spiritual direction, talks, facilitating and forming groups of the Friends of Mary Aikenhead, visitation of the sick in hospitals, corresponding with prisoners, and delivering meals on wheels, to mention just a few. Her influence was endless.
The testimonies on the rip.ie website and the many sympathy cards received mentioned her many qualities. To many she was a woman of integrity, deep faith, humble, unassuming, gentle, very forgiving, caring and generous with her many gifts. She loved people and made friends easily, supported them and kept in touch. She never spared herself in doing good and was greatly loved.
She greatly loved her family and supported them and they in turn loved and supported her.
Josephine’s final illness was thankfully short, 12 days in fact. In the second week of her stay in hospital, she was moved to a single room where community and family were allowed to spend time with her two days before she died in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, in the care of a very special team in St. Charles/St. Helen’s ward.
Due to Covid restrictions only 10 people were allowed to attend her funeral Mass in the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook. Her brother Fr. Tom McDonald CSSp celebrated the Mass. Sr. Úna O’Neill, Provincial Leader, paid tribute to Josephine at the beginning of the Mass. She said:
‘It is strange to be here this morning. The tiny group of us gathered in this beautiful Church emphasizes the strange world in which we are living. It is good to know that so many people are ‘with us’ through the webcam and I welcome in particular Josephine’s family members, her many colleagues and friends, our Sisters from Zambia, Nigeria, Malawi, California, England and Scotland and Ireland and the Friends of Mary Aikenhead who were so very special to her.
It is also strange to be here this morning because we are celebrating the life and death of Josephine and we did not expect to be doing this. Her going from us was sudden and unexpected. I know that for her it was the way she would have wanted it. But it is hard for all who knew and loved and appreciated her – especially her beloved family and the Congregation.
We could talk about Josephine from now until sunset. All of us have our own memories of her – as teacher and friend, sister and aunt; Novice Director and Provincial leader; as General Counsellor, valued advisor and spiritual director and more.
Josephine was single-minded and single hearted in her commitment to God and to the Congregation. She never compromised on our way of life as Sisters of Charity – and sometimes this was at great personal cost. She lived that commitment in all her journeying and ministry – a life journey that took her to many of our houses in Ireland and England – too numerous to mention. She finally moved to Shalom in Merrion in 2012 where she was the Vice Postulator for the cause of Mary Aikenhead until 2019.
There is a phrase in one of the psalms that speaks of ‘drooping spirits’. Many of our spirits are indeed drooping at the moment as we face an extended lockdown and continued restrictions on our freedom and choices. I think Josephine would have little time for our self-pity. So in remembering and praying for her this morning may we move with a quiet hope into a future without her presence but knowing from the example of her life that the Lord is surely with us – and that the certainty of His love will lift our drooping spirits knowing, in the words of Mary Aikenhead, that “all our Courage and strength can only come from God Himself”. May she rest in peace.’
Mon. Ciaran O’Carroll, concelebrant at the funeral Mass, had worked with Josephine on the Cause for Mary Aikenhead, and said the Prayers of Commendation at the Mass. He spoke personally when he said that she was “a wonderful person, whose knowledge of Mary Aikenhead was invaluable to me over the years we worked together. She was a good friend to me and I enjoyed her company no end.”
In spite of rain, wind and cold quite a number of sisters, family members, and Friends of Mary Aikenhead waited in the cemetery to pay their last respects.
May she rest in peace with the Lord she loved and with her Friend and Foundress, Venerable Mary Aikenhead.