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josie-clarkeSister Josephine Clarke

1931 - 2015

Born: 3rd August 1931

Entered Religious Life: 8th October 1956

Died: 30th April 2015

 

 

Eulogy given at Sr Josie's funeral
by Sr Rita Dawson, Provincial Leader, England/Scotland


Sr Josie was born in Liverpool in 1931 and was evacuated to Angelsey with her sister Marjorie in 1939.  Josie was 7, and Marjorie 6.  They were very lucky to be together, looking after each other becoming very independent.  They stayed with a couple who owned a local shop which for two young children must have been very exciting.  

Josie was always involved in the Church and became the Cub Leader and ran the Cubs for a long time.   

She entered the Religious Sisters of Charity in October 1956 in Dublin at Mount St Anne’s and then started her Teacher Training in London.   

After her Training, Josie was sent to Birmingham in 1963.  In 1965, she was asked to go to Chikuni in Zambia to train young men and women to be primary teachers.  

In 1982, Josie took a sabbatical year but returned to Lusaka in Zambia in 1983 to continue the Education Programme for Teachers which she had been involved in for 11 years.  

Josie was in Zambia for 25 years and met the President several times.  She came home on leave from Zambia every 3 years, usually looking very thin and then family would always try to send her back 3 stone heavier.

In December 1990, Josie became ill and returned to Dublin for a triple bypass surgery. Remaining in Ireland for 4 years teaching at the Young Offenders Open Prison.

In 1994, Josie returned to the English/Scottish Province to Bristol, working with the local community. She worked with children preparing for the sacraments.  Josie also instructed some adults for Reception into the Church including one family of eight!!  Which she was very proud of.
She retired to Birkenhead in October 2007 where she remained until July 2014, when her health failed and she moved to Clydebank to receive care.

Josie died peacefully at 2.30am on 30 April 2015 – May she Rest in Peace.

Now I am not going to suggest that Josie be canonised - well not just yet anyway – she gave us a right run for our money and she nearly killed all of us at various times during her stay!!!  I suggest that Professor Welsh and Dr Guy be put up for canonisation first!!!  She would just click her fingers and wanted Guy – no matter where he was or what he was doing.  It wasn’t enough to see her once a day, she wanted to be seen several times.  I don’t know where else you’d have someone at the click of your fingers.

But after spending 25 years in Zambia, she deserved that and she got it.  According to Marjorie, Josie was very bossy always telling her what to do.  However, Josie and Marjorie remained very close and it was a joy when Marjorie would come to visit although Josie kept her very busy and gave her plenty of jobs to do.  I would be telling Marjorie to go and have a lie down and Josie would be giving her things to do!

Josie was really interested in everything and had a great capacity for enjoying life.  She loved going out and loved having things planned for her which the staff were very good at doing.  She was really interested in opera, ballet, art and dancing.  She also enjoyed meeting people and chatting to them, whether on the bus or in a café while having a cup of tea.  She loved talking to people and loved being the centre of attention.  She was able to take part in the Hospice Midnight Walk in September 2014 and was delighted when she crossed the finishing line to receive her medal.  I said it should have been the two girls pushing her who should have received the medal!

Josie loved life – she really had a great capacity and we could all learn so much from her.  I think although she was challenging for us – and she definitely was – I am sure she will be in Heaven now.  The girls who were looking after her did everything to make her stay here exciting and she went out regularly.  Maureen took her to Carfin which she loved.  She was in Carfin with Marjorie the last time Marjorie was here about two weeks ago.  After all that, she was entitled to have what she had in the end.  She had the best medical care and the best nursing care in the world.  Therefore, after spending 25 years at a very young age in Africa, she deserved all of this.  

Saint Ambrose said:
We have loved them in life let us not forget them in death

Of all the Gospel accounts, the story of the Last Judgement is the one which challenges and frightens most of us.  It is interesting that Matthew locates this story immediately before his account of the Passion and death of Jesus as one of the very last Testaments of Jesus.  At the Last Judgement on what basis will God separate the sheep from the goats?  The saved from the lost?  

It is not how often we went to Church, not how much I did for Charity, not even on whether I served the Church in an official capacity - as Cardinal, Archbishop, Bishop, Priest, Superior General or even as Provincial - it is something much more demanding and challenging for all of us.  

I was a stranger and you made me welcome, I was naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, imprisoned and you came to see me.  For as often as you did this to one of the least of these, my sisters and brothers, you did it for me.

This is a very frightening thing for all of us because we all know how often we fail to see Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters.  How often the last thing I want to do is to see Jesus in those who need us most.  It is too demanding.  Serving others is both challenging and demanding and yet this is what Jesus did and what he has instructed all of us to do.  Just as he gave himself, shared himself and broke himself for others out of real love, so also must we give ourselves, share ourselves and sometimes break ourselves for others – and for love.   

How good we are at doing this will be the basis on which we will be judged worthy of a place in the Everlasting Kingdom of Justice, Peace and Love.   

One thing I ask of the Lord, for this, I long to dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life.

This is where Josie is now dwelling with her Lord surrounded by all those who have gone before her – her parents, her sisters, her brother and all those she loved.

We have loved her in life let us not forget her in Death.  May she now 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 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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