Sister Mary Conleth Sheerin
1930 – 2012
Born: 25th July 1930
Entered Religious Life: 3rd October 1950
Died: 3rd April 2012
An appreciation of Sr Mary Conleth Sheerin
Homily given at Sr Conleth’s funeral by Sr Úna O’Neill RSC
The readings today reflect the fact that we are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus: We are told to think of the love that God has lavished on us. We are told not to be afraid. We are told that our good deeds go with us. And because of the Resurrection of Jesus we know that he is present to us this morning as we gather in His name to celebrate the life and death of Sr. Mary Conleth.
The first reading tells us that those who die in the Lord can rest for ever after their work and that their good deeds go with them. When we reflect on the life of Conleth (or Ellen as she was known to her family) we know that her good deeds were countless. Whether she was caring for the sick in Milltown or catering in St. Vincent’s hospital or in the Provincialate in Herbert Ave., her presence was always kindly and compassionate and generous. It was the same when she served for 8 years as assistant to the local leader in St. Monica’s before moving once more to the Provincialate in Harold’s Cross. Her hospitality marked her out and her kindness to all was unswerving.
I was reading some of Mary Aikenhead’s letters last week and came across some advice she gave to a young Superior in Clonmel in 1854. The superior was anticipating a rare visit from her mother and Mary Aikenhead writes: “I wish you may be able to have a car, or whatever the Clonmel vehicles are called to meet her … and be sure to have such a little bit of dinner ready at the Convent as the day will admit and you can procure. I hope you have such a thing as wine, but be sure to have a cup of good coffee after the bit of dinner.” .. And reflecting on that letter later on I though how deeply and truly Conleth had imbibed the spirit of Mary Aikenhead.
Her compassion and caring for others knew no limits. Her thoughts were always about others, rarely about herself. She looked for no recognition. She asked for no accolades. She was a very private person who lived simply and with great integrity.
No doubt she first learnt such hospitality in her home in Foxford. She loved her family deeply though she was not a demonstrative person. We thank God today for them and for the many people who have loved her into life, encouraged her in her choices, sustained her in her struggles and challenged her in her growing, above all her parents, her family and her friends.
In the 2nd reading where we are told of the lavishness of God’s love for us – a love that is selfless, compassionate and forgiving – a love that challenges us to believe in the light when we are surrounded by darkness, to know peace when we are suffering, to find consolation even as we mourn.
There is a lot of joy in the Readings too – though indeed the Gospel speaks of a violent earthquake and we are told that the poor guards were so frightened that they were like dead men. Conleth I think would shake her head at those dramatics but her core faith in Jesus was unshakeable. The Gospel then says not to be afraid and we hear that the women, filled with awe and with great joy, hurried to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection. That central belief in the Resurrection of Jesus requires our constant and faith and trust in the word of Jesus. Conleth did that. I believe she held on to her trust in the Lord through all the hard times and all the happy times.
She moved to Lakelands in October 2004 and was very content in that community who cared for her as she had cared for so many in her lifetime. She suffered in her growing debility and weakness these last years and all of us – family, community, friends – were saddened as she became less able and less independent. And the question we ask ourselves as we watch someone, so kind, so caring, so committed suffer is Why? And while there is no answer, maybe in Conleth herself we find the meaning, because in all her pain she never complained, never burdened others with her suffering, never gave up. Mary Aikenhead wrote: “May we be true and faithful followers of our Crucified Lord.” Conleth was surely true and faithful. May we too be true and faithful in these dark days and troubled times.
The future for Conleth is safe in the fullness of God’s love. The future for us at this time in our history as a nation and a church is uncertain and insecure. But we are assured of one thing: that Jesus, through his resurrection is with us every moment of every day and that Conleth too remains with us in a way we do not understand – loving us, caring for us, willing what is best for us. The psalm says: “I thank my God each time I think of you and when I pray for you I pray with joy.” Today we thank our God for Conleth and remember her with joy. May she rest in peace.