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francis-dolores-martinSister Francis Dolores Martin

1916 - 2013

Born: 29th August 1916

Entered Religious Life: 7th October 1935

Died: 27th June 2013

 

 

Sr. Francis Dolores (Teresa Mary Ita), daughter of John Martin and Maria Brooks was born in the Rotunda Hospital on the 29th August 1916.  She was one of a family of four children and they had their home in Kildare.  Sister entered the novitiate in Milltown, Dublin on the 7th October 1935 and made her religious profession on the 28th May 1938.

On the 9th August 1938, after her profession, Sister was missioned to Hammersmith, London and ministered there as 'Companion on the Mission' to an experienced 'Missioner'.  She was there until August 1941, and then returned to Ireland and was missioned to Blarney community, Cork, where she worked on the mission until June 1942.  Between June 1942 and October 1952 Sister ministered in St. Patrick's Cork, Cappagh Hospital, St. Patrick's Kilkenny as Housekeeper/Helper.

In October 1952 Sr. Francis Dolores was missioned to Bath, England and ministered as Parish Sister until May 1961.  From 8th August 1961 to 5th September 1964 she lived and ministered as Parish Sister in Macclesfield.  On the 6th September 1964, Sister returned again to Bath community and continued her ministry as Parish Sister for nine years.  From September 1973 to July 1979 she lived and served in Airdrie and Rockferry as Parish Sister.

In November 1979, Sr. Francis Dolores returned to Ireland and was missioned to Mountjoy Street community and began her ministry as Parish Sister in Berkeley Road. Here she enjoyed many happy and fruitful years.  Sister was a great woman of prayer, had a deep faith, and a great devotion to our Foundress Mary Aikenhead.  She was tireless in her work, always aware of people who were struggling and in need, and responded in practical ways.  Sister visited the sick, the housebound, the elderly in their homes, in hospital and in nursing homes.  She had great organisational skills, she gathered a team around her and every year organised pilgrimages to Lourdes and Knock.  One of her parishioners wrote, "As Parish Sister Sr. Francis Dolores won the hearts of many people, she was a real gift to young and old, especially to people with special needs.  All her ministries were carried out with great love and dedication.  She organised the 'Meals on wheels', arranged rota for the 'Ministers of the Word' and was a very committed member of S.V.P.  To us here in Berkeley Road Parish, she was a true 'Sister of Charity’ and we feel privileged to have known and worked with her". Members of the Garda Siochana assisted Sister in many ways and were always at hand when needed, especially for the pilgrimages and events in the parish.  Two of them were present at her bedside a short while before she died.

Sr. Francis Dolores built up lifelong friendships, with people from the various places where she had lived and this was very evident by the big number who came to visit her during the last few weeks of her life and then attended her funeral, including friends from Bath, England.  In a letter which arrived a few days after her funeral a gentleman wrote “I have just heard that Sister Dolores has died.  Those of us old enough remember well what a remarkable impact she had on St Mary’s Bath in her years as Parish sister.  May she now rest in peace.”

Sister maintained a strong bond with family members, her nieces, nephews, and cousins who lived in U.S.A.  One of her yearly highlights was when they came on holidays and together they went visiting other relatives and friends.

In July 1988, when Mountjoy Street convent closed Sister moved to Temple Street and continued with her ministry in Berkeley Road Parish.
On the 8th December 2009, when she needed more care, she moved to Mary Aikenhead Ward, Our Lady's Hospice.  After a busy life it was not easy for her to settle, but once she did she expressed her appreciation for the care she was receiving.  Sr. Francis Dolores had some very loyal friends from her days in Bath and Berkley Road, who visited her frequently and took her out when she was able on outings to theatre, cinema etc. which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Gradually her health deteriorated and Sr. Francis Dolores was called home by her Master (as she called Him) on the evening of Thursday 27th June 2013.  Her funeral took place in Berkeley Road Parish and ten priests concelebrated her Requiem Mass.  A large circle of her good friends, sisters and people from the parish were present.  Sr. Francis Dolores, who was always organised, had arranged her own funeral liturgy.  May she now rest in eternal peace.

Sr. Joseph Helen Cunningham.

 

We are standing this morning on holy ground: the place where Mary Aikenhead spent the last years of her life as an invalid – a woman whose vision, courage and practical common-sense gave birth to our Congregation and to our long and graced history of service of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. Today we are celebrating the life of Sr. Joseph Helen, a woman who cherished that charism, serving those in need with fidelity and generosity, and who also spent the last years of her life here in the Hospice. 

 

The readings this morning are both comforting and challenging. In the Gospel Jesus speaks of himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. He invites us to put our hope and our trust in Him and in His promise to be with us, steadily and constantly as we try each day to walk his way, to speak his truth, to live his life. It is an apt description of the life and commitment of the woman whom we are remembering here.

 

In her 103 years of life, Sr. Joseph Helen lived through historical and global changes that are impossible for us to imagine. She experienced seismic shifts in Church and state. She witnessed wars and famines on a world scale. Through all of those years she remained steadfastly faithful to the constant core of who she was as an RSC. She was born Dorothy Cunningham in Ballacolla in Portlaoise on 1st July 1908. She was an only girl, with one brother, and was much loved by all. Her childhood and youth reflected the calm ordinariness of children’s lives at that time. Following her degree studies she spent some months caring for her mother who was ill and then secured a job teaching in Mountjoy St. School in Dublin. Her father was not impressed! His comment on hearing of that place was: “It doesn’t sound like much of a job but you like working for the poor and you’ve always been good at it”. She remained there until she entered the Sisters of Charity on 5th October 1931. 

 

In the first reading we are told that God gives strength to the wearied; that those who hope in Yahweh will soar like eagles, run and no grow weary, walk and never tire. That was so true of J. Helen throughout her active life. She was missioned back to Mountjoy St. after her religious profession and taught there for 12 years. Following a year’s further study in Scotland, she went to teach in a Secondary Modern school in Walthamstow in England for a year. And then came the call to be one of our three founding Sisters of the Zambian Region, or Northern Rhodesia as it then was.

 

In 1948 they set sail, travelling for four weeks by boat – The Athlone Castle - rail, bus and lorry before arriving in Chisekesi Siding on a dark morning on 28th October 1948. Sr. Helen kept a diary of the journey which was printed for the 50th anniversary and which gives a fascinating insight into their journey and how they coped with, what was for them, such a strange and almost ‘alien’ environment. 

 

One can only imagine the anticipation and anxiety, the challenge and the loneliness, the wonder and the doubts that marked that journey and her first months in Zambia. It was a place and people that she came to love and cherish. She committed herself to the education of girls and brought the gift of knowledge and freedom to countless women who still remember her with gratitude and appreciation. There are many past pupils with sad hearts in Zambia at the moment – their sadness at her passing tempered only by their gratitude that she is free from the debilities of her age. And that mourning is echoed this morning among our sisters there in the Region and here in this Chapel in the sisters who lived with her and shared her life for those 30 years.

 

Her first 15 years in Zambia were spent in the Teacher training college run by the Jesuits and began her work in promoting the education of girls – beginning with the setting up of a girls secondary boarding school in Roma in Lusaka. Nine years later she was appointed Regional Leader and on Independence day 1978 she was conferred with the Order of Distinguished Service for 30 years of outstanding service to the people of Zambia in the fields of Education and Social work.

 

While she was a formidable woman in many ways, with high standards and expectations, her devotion to her religious life and her commitment to education was recognized and appreciated by all who knew her. She was a strict disciplinarian, spoke the truth without apology and demanded very high standards. At the same time her heart was compassionate and her generosity and hospitality were known and appreciated by all. 

 

Like all of us, Helen has known suffering and joy, tears and laughter, pain and happiness, loneliness and friendship. And she had strong relationships with her friends – too numerous to mention – but exemplified in the love and devotion of Sr. Mary Bernadette Collins and Catherine Fallon. Up to the end she valued and enjoyed her relationships with her nieces, nephews and other family members and followed their lives with interest, with love and with prayer. 

 

In 1978 she was missioned to Ireland and worked on our Constitutions. Subsequently she was appointed as local leader to our community in Crumlin before her appointment to our Provincial Leadership team and consequent arrival here in Our Lady’s Mount in 1981.

 

Sr. J. Helen’s commitment to Mary Aikenhead's charism was single-minded and she never compromised on that. The second reading confirms her attitude to life: nothing outweighs the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus.  It is only through Him, with Him and in Him that we can find life and happiness and fulfilment. Rooted in that conviction, she endorsed and embraced anything that served the people for whom she cared in a better, more dignified or respectful way.  

 

She suffered in her growing debility and weakness these last years and all of us – family, community, friends and colleagues - were saddened as we watched her suffering and her struggle to cope. In spite of the wonderful, caring staff who surrounded her and the sisters and friends who were her constant support, she had difficult and dispiriting days. Yet she never gave up . Her faith in Providence was the touchstone of her life. In the midst of all her pain and letting-go she was confident that he was with her, holding her, comforting her and in the end, calling her to himself. And when that call came, she yielded her spirit to the Lord, peace-filled, calm and trusting - blest with a death that had no struggle, no pain, no fear. And perhaps I can end with some words of hers, written in the diary of which I spoke, on her arrival in Chikuni: “Now that we have reached our Promised Land we must thank God and Our Lady for our very pleasant and on the whole easy journey which we have had . . . . “ Those words echo, not only the journey to Chikuni, but her life journey, now at its end as she moves, we believe, into the fullness of the Promised land of God’s life and love. 

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