Sister Ursula Mary Higgins
1921 – 2011
Born: 25th March 1921
Entered Religious Life: 2nd October 1939
Died: 30th November 2011
Appreciation of Sr Ursula Higgins
Reflection given at Sr Ursula’s funeral by Sr Úna O’Neill RSC
The first Reading at this Mass for Sr. Ursula is from the Book of Job (19:1,23-27): “I know that my Redeemer lives”. The Reading is short but it is rich in wisdom and consolation. Job suffered much in his life. He lost his children, his wealth, his friends, his peace. He was angry with God. He shook his fist at God. He shouted his misery for all to hear. He wailed and wept. And yet – through it all – he held his faith in the God who loved him. In the Reading we are told that he would like his statement of faith to be cut into a rock forever: “I know that God lives; that when I awake I shall look on God. These eyes will gaze on him and find him not a stranger but a friend”.
This is such a faithful description of the woman whose life we are celebrating this morning – a gifted and generous woman who knew much suffering in her life and yet remained constant and committed to Jesus and to the charism of Mary Aikenhead. All of us who knew her can testify to her faithfulness: faithfulness to her commitment to serve God and the Congregation for the whole of her life; faithful to the people whom she served; faithful to our fourth vow of service of the poor. Her quiet and constant service of those in need marked her life at every twist and turn.
The second reading (1 John: 3:1-2) speaks of the Love that God has lavished on us. It is a love that knows no boundaries and that accepts us as we are; that encourages our efforts to be loving of others; that smiles on the way in which we complicate our Catholicism. When Urusla made her vows 69 years ago she gave her life to the God of love and that gift brought her to many different places. She was one of the founding Sisters of the Californian Region where she lived from 1953-56 and both before and after that she lived and worked in Gardiner St.(1942-49, 1957-63 & 1974-83), Crumlin (1949-53 & 1963-73), Kilkenny (1956-57), Harold’s Cross (1973-74, Baldoyle (1983-86) and elsewhere. She herself would not have chosen to spend her life in education – but she was a dedicated, consistent and selfless teacher who knew how to draw the best out of her pupils.
Urusla would not have wanted us to canonise her. She was a formidable woman in many ways, with high standards and expectations and she could be as stubborn and determined as any of us! She spoke the truth as she saw it with a directness that could be disconcerting but she had a caring core and a great capacity to understand the suffering and pain and anxieties of others.
Like all of us she suffered when those whom she loved were suffering, especially family members. She loved her family deeply and showed that love in her own quiet and reserved way. She suffered in the many calls to pull up her roots and move. In the latter years that call took her to Benada (1988-89), to Clarinbridge (1989-2006) and eventually to Lakelands in 2006. In spite of the wonderful care she received there she found it hard to live with her growing debility and weakness. Yet she never gave up hope and even in all of the hard, difficult, depressing and doubting moments, she always trusted the God who knows our hearts, who understands our weaknesses and who loves us as we are. And she was grateful.
In the Gospel (John 14:27-29) Jesus invites us not to be afraid and promises us His peace. “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. In Ursula’s life she believed that promise and did not let fear cripple her creativity. She was very artistic and found life and freedom in various creative ways. And part of that giftedness was a rich and incisive sense of humour.
Advent is a time of waiting, of expecting, of hoping. Sr. Ursula no longer has to wait and hope because we believe that she is now enjoying the fullness of God’s life and love. In the words of Job in the first reading: her eyes are gazing on God and finding Him not a stranger but a friend.
The Readings assure us that when everything seems to be falling apart – the love of God remains constant. May the constancy of that love reassure and encourage us as it did for Ursula. May we know, as she now does, that God’s love holds us close and calms our anxious hearts and, at the same time, that same loves calls us to share our lives and our love with all with whom we live and work.
And so, as we say our goodbyes to a woman of constancy, fidelity and generosity we pray an ancient Celtic blessing for her:
God of love, absorb you
God of light, enfold you,
The Holy three, encircling thee into eternity.