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christopher oreganSister Mary Christopher O'Regan

1920 - 2014

Born: 27th January 1920

Entered Religious Life: 6th October 1941

Died: 10th July 2014

 

 

Sr Mary Christopher O'Regan was born in Dublin to Patrick O'Regan and Julia Barrett on 27th January 1920.  She arrived as one of twins and was given the name Shelia which she loved and her only sister was named Kitty.  Their arrival caused very deep sadness for her father as her mother Julia died in childbirth RIP.  Sr Christopher story with the Religious Sisters of Charity began in 1920. As a result of their mothers death the twins spent the early days of their lives in Temple St Hospital, where Sr Mary Finbarr took them to her heart.  When Sr Mary Finbarr was missioned to Cappagh Hospital the twins went with her and stayed there, the centre of attention for a couple of months.  Sr Mary Christopher was christened Julia after her mother and was known as Shelia O'Regan until she entered the Religious Sisters of Charity in 1941.

Following her time in Cappagh she spent the next seven years of her life in Carrignavar, Co Cork being raised by two grand-aunts.  When she was ten years of age she returned to Dublin to live with her father and once again came in contact with the Religious Sisters of Charity during her school days in Mountjoy Street.

Sr Mary Christopher spent all of her religious life ministering in Ireland in various roles.  In St Vincent's Cork and Gardiner on two occasions, Donnybrook, Mountjoy St, Basin Lane, Seville Place, Stanhope St, Richmond Road, St Monica's and St Patrick's Kilkenny.  Her ministry began in St Vincent's Cork and Donnybrook.  Her time in Mountjoy St was spent as a student and in 1947 her teaching career began as a primary teacher in St Vincent's, Cork where she spent fourteen years.  In 1961 she returned to Dublin and spent two years teaching in Seville Place followed by twenty two years in Gardiner St.  When she retired from teaching she was missioned to Stanhope St as Outreach worker for the school for a period of ten years.  On the opening of Richmond Road Convent the need for a Parish Sister was identified and Sr Christopher was chosen for it where she spent eleven happy years. She then entered into semi-retirement in Gardiner St and from there moved to St Monica's.  The contentment of golden years wasn't to last as her keen mind was slowly taken from her.  Finally needing specialist care, Sr Mary Christopher spent the last two years in Kilkenny under the dedicated care of the sisters and staff of the Mary Aikenhead Wing.

You cannot give your life more days, but you can give your days more life and this is what happened when Sr Christopher celebrated the 50th year of religious profession with a trip around Italy in 1993 at the age of 73! This was just the beginning of her holiday adventures.  Each year that followed she discovered somewhere new to explore and learn from.  In her seventy seventh year she spent a holiday in Greece travelling with her family from place to place in a caravan.

She spent just over two years in the Mary Aikenhead Wing and as her memory slipped away so also her physical condition. She died very peacefully on 10th July 2014 surrounded by the Community and staff. May she rest in peace.

Her removal took place to St Joseph's Church, Foulkstown for Mass and burial.  The celebrant was Fr Liam Taylor, one of the team of St Patrick's Parish Chaplains to the Convent.  In his homily he expressed his experience of her as a joyful person and her appreciation of the Blessed Sacrament.  The funeral Mass was attended by many members of the Congregation and colleagues from her various ministries. May she rest in 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 yearsshe 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 inWalthamstow 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 1978she 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 herfriends – 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, sheyielded 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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