Sister Madeleine Kelly
1937 – 2015
Born: 22nd January 1937
Entered Religious Life: 17th October 1955
Died: 9th November 2015
Sr Marianne Doherty, the Regional Leader in Zambia/Malawi writes an account of Sr Madeleine’s Vigil Mass, Funeral and Burial:
“At 2.30p.m. on Wednesday, 11th November we brought Madeleine home to the Regional House. Fr. Michael Kelly S.J. joined us and celebrated Mass with us for her. During his homily he spoke of there being plenty of room in the Father’s house and of how Madeleine would be welcomed by Jesus. He would look at her and not only say that she was beautiful but that she was divine. We were reminded that each day in the Eucharist we hear the priest say – by the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity. Madeleine is now sharing in the divinity of Christ.
Later on Wednesday we had a Vigil Mass in the Regional House. There were over 300 people present, of all ages. It was testament to the esteem in which Madeleine was held. We were grateful and humbled also by the fact that we were joined by the Archbishop of Kasama and four of his brother bishops together with some priests for this Eucharistic celebration. In his homily Archbishop Chama recounted his personal experience of Madeleine when she lived in Mulanga and his words found an echo in all of our hearts. He spoke of her inclusiveness – how on a Christmas Day she had organised a Christmas meal for the elderly in Mulanga and how he himself had been inspired by that gesture to do the same. He tied this in with one of the readings for the mass – the letter of St. John – “think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children”. Madeleine’s gesture showed the elderly in the Mulanga community that they too were loved and included.
As is the tradition in Zambia from the time a person dies people come to the house to sing and pray and stay. Madeleine’s funeral was no different. From Monday we welcomed many visitors offering their condolences, coming to console and support us. Members of the small Christian community in Roma were constantly present and choirs from the other communities in Roma parish came during the night to pray with us and sing.
On Thursday we took our sister Madeleine to the parish church and once again we were humbled by the presence of so many people, religious and clergy. Twenty priests concelebrated the Eucharist for Madeleine. The new Irish Ambassador to Zambia was also in attendance. During his homily Fr. Clement Chibuta, parish priest, spoke of his personal encounters with Madeleine. He recalled that when he came to the parish and was not a week in the place Madeleine came to introduce herself and also to inform him that he had to visit Mary Aikenhead Village and the other houses in Roma, and not only visit them but bless them. He did and he acknowledged that she was the driving force for that and that it probably would not have happened if she had not intervened. He spoke of her love for Mary Aikenhead and the Congregation and how passionate she was when telling anyone about her. He also spoke of her contribution to the parish in the teaching of catechism and how she was available even to go to people’s homes if they were not in a position to come to the church. The Eucharist on Thursday was a celebration of Madeleine’s life and all present were able to think of a time she had touched their lives.
Our community burial place is in Chikuni in the Southern Province so we took Madeleine there on Thursday morning following her funeral mass. As an elder the people wanted to honour her in the traditional way. Having lived in the south for many years Madeleine would have been aware of the traditions. When we arrived in Chikuni we were met by a group of traditional dancers who sang, drummed and danced. The message of their singing was that they were taking Madeleine to the graveyard to let her rest. They led the way to the graveyard. It is difficult to put into words the situation and experience. Graves are filled in during the service in the graveyard and the women were involved in this ensuring that Madeleine’s final resting place was fitting for an elder. Again the number of people present was humbling. Clergy and Religious from many parts of the Diocese of Monze travelled to be with us and support us.
Amai, may you rest in God’s eternal peace and thank you for what you have been to each of us.”
On Saturday, 14th November, Sr Madeleine’s family and friends together with many Sisters of Charity gathered in the Chapel at St Mary’s, Merrion to give thanks for the life of Sr Madeleine. Below we reprint the ‘Welcome’ given at the Mass by Sr Winfridah Chileshe:
“This morning we gather here in Merrion for the Eucharistic celebration in thanksgiving for the life of Sr Mary Madeleine Kelly.
On behalf of the General Leadership Team and indeed on my own behalf, I am happy to welcome our main Celebrant Fr Donal Neary SJ, a good friend of the RSCs, Fr John Dooley and Fr Hector Mwale, from Zambia who has been in Ireland since September. Fr Mwale was born and reared in Nakambala, where Sr Madeleine worked for a number of years. Special welcome to Sr Madeleine’s brothers and sisters, Tom, Joe, Rita, Mary and Therese, her sister-in-law, Bridie, her brothers-in-law, Seamus and Keiron, her nephews, nieces, extended family and friends from within Ireland and beyond. I welcome all our friends in Religious life, the Sisters, Brothers and Priests. Lastly, but not the least, I extend my welcome to all the Sisters of my own Congregation, the RSCs. We are deeply grateful that you all are here with us to celebrate Sr Madeleine’s life.
Sr Madeleine Kelly named by her parents as Helena Elizabeth, was born to Bernard Kelly and Alice Rowen in Clontarf, Dublin on 22nd January 1937. She joined our Congregation here in Milltown in 1955. On 21st April 1958, she made her religious profession.
Her immediate assignment was in England. She did part time teaching and pastoral ministry in Walthamstow before she was sent to Hammersmith to do her Teacher Training. Having completed her studies, she taught in Walthamstow for three years.
In 1963, Sr. Madeleine began a new phase in her life when she was missioned to Zambia where she spent the rest of her life. For this reason Sr Madeleine’s unexpected death is a big landmark in the life of the Congregation, and in particular to the people of my own country, Zambia, where she served for over 50 years.
Sr Madeleine’s sense of mission was outstanding. I think she is the first person to have lived in almost all of our Communities in Zambia. This clearly indicates her ability to adapt. She lived in Kabwata, Kabwe, Chikuni, Charles Lwanga, Nakambala, Namwala, Mulanga and Roma. Sr Madeleine did all she could for everyone especially the less privileged. Her two favourite sayings of Mary Aikenhead, I think sum up her life very well.
‘No good work can be done for God except by a person of prayer.’
‘Serve God with a great heart and a willing mind’
Sr Madeleine died peacefully at Fairview Hospital, Lusaka on the 9th November 2015. She was laid to rest in the Community Cemetery in Chikuni, Zambia.
Sr Madeleine you loved Zambia so much that you were determined to leave your bones there. Today, we stand tall because of the contribution that you and others have made in our lives. On behalf of the Zambian people and on my own behalf I salute and applaud you for your loving and an unfailing service to us. May you rest in peace.”