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marie-clareSister Marie Clare

1934 - 2015

Born: 12th November 1934

Entered Religious Life: 19th November 1953

Died: 15th November 2015

 

Address given by Sr Rita Dawson, Provincial Leader, at the funeral of Sr Marie Clare in Hackney

Marie was born to parents Mary Teresa and Thomas Clare on 12 September 1934, the seventh child and fifth girl of eight children.
Marie’s two brothers, Thomas and Stephen, died before she was born. 
She has also lost four sisters, Patsy, Phil, Nancy and Margaret.  
Marie is survived by her sister, Sister Marie Therese, who is here with us today.
Sister Marie was educated at St. Gabriel's National School and King's Inn Street Secondary.   She had a very happy childhood and did well at school despite being a bit of a rebel!   When she was at King's Inn school, she absconded from school twice.
After school, Sister Marie took up a job in an office but Sister Mary de Lellis soon had her back at the desk to study for her leaving certificate. 
Sister Mary de Lellis was a great influence on Sister Marie and her vocation, as was Sister Martha Magdalen.  
It was while she was walking Sister Mary de Lellis home to Mountjoy Street one day, that Marie knew she wanted to be a Sister of Charity.   They passed the tenements on the way and saw the mothers and children sitting on the steps.  That was it. She decided there and then to change her life.  Marie entered on 19th November 1953. 
By her own admission, she found the Noviceship very hard, which was made more difficult by the unsuspected death of her mother in February 1954.  This was a terrible time for Marie and Marie Therese, which of course at that particular time was very different from now.
Sister Marie said yes on 14 occasions during her life.  She lived in the following communities – Basingstoke (which was her most challenging), Hammersmith, Basildon, Birmingham, Merrion, Rock Ferry, Walthamstow, Okpara-Inland (Nigeria), Chester, Roma (Zambia), Bath, Shepherd's Bush and finally Hackney. 
In fact, she has been around the world.  For her sabbatical in 1996-1997 Marie did a trip around the world and unfortunately she said Marie Therese could not come with her because she would not be able to keep up with the speed in which Marie intended to take everything in.  However, it was not easy for Marie Therese to get away at the same time.
Sister Marie always said she was happy in all her communities even with the many ups and downs – and there were many of them but she said she was always happy.
She especially enjoyed working with the young people as they always lifted her spirits, made her happy and filled her with new life.  She loved being around young people and took them on several adventures.  There was one in particular when she took them ice skating. When she got back to the Convent she was locked out and had to get in through a window!  
Marie had a great capacity for living life.  She fought a long and hard battle recently and was very determined to continue to get as much joy as she could while in this world.  Her trips to the hospital for her chemotherapy, she said, were the most challenging, especially waiting around for long periods.  Although she was not going to have a second lot of chemotherapy, in the end she decided she would try it.  This made her more fragile and again she was not for giving up and held on for as long as she could.
I had many conversations with her and on my last visit, we listened to some hymns and the first hymn she told me which was her favourite, we started with today - Day is Done.  She also loved Lead Kindly Light.  All of these I played with her and although she was very weak, she was still trying to sing along.
Marie asked me a long time ago, when she was quite well, she said “Rita, could we ever have a glass of wine with our meal or a sherry in the evening?”  And I said “Of course, is there a problem?”  She roared laughing and said “we don’t have it”.  I said “leave that with me”.  The following evening, she sent me a text which said “woohoo I had a glass of wine this evening and it was wonderful”.
You see, it is the very simple things at times which help people’s quality of life and we must always be aware and tuned into this.
Marie loved her mobile phone but latterly she was unable to speak.  However, for as long as she was able, she continued to send texts and she loved to receive texts.  Marie said “it kept her going”. I have a great belief that technology helps people keep in touch with their families and friends – I see this every day.  Unfortunately, Marie only had an iPad recently but she just loved it.  Here I would like to say a special thanks to Mary Cunniffe who set it up with her and taught her how to use it.  Again Mary, many thanks.
There were many people in Marie’s life that she was very close to and loved very much.  There are too many to name today but they are here from Ireland, and Carmel her niece from Weybridge, also Kathleen and Kevin’s family from Preston.
In closing, I am sure we all know how happy Marie was and such great company with a great sense of humour.  She would wish us all to continue to enjoy our lives and have the same capacity to live it to the fullest as she did. 
She gave me two requests which I said I would look at and see what could be done. Marie also loved her little flat in Rockferry which my predecessor Jacinta made possible for her. When she moved in at first and I met her at one of our meetings, I remember her excitement she said “oh Rita it’s wonderful just to go in and kick off your shoes and close the door.” This she spoke fondly about to the end.
I suppose if we were to sum up Marie’s life, this is the passage that closely resembles her:
I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.  Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near.  There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.  Finally, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.  Keep doing all the things that you learned from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you.   Philippians 4:4-9
Henri Nouwen said:
“We are born as fragile beings, we die as fragile beings.  We all need each other to live well and to die well.”
Marie died the way she would have wished – in her own bed in the Convent with her sister, her Community and family.
We are very grateful to all the staff who took care of her.
The family wished to place on record their thanks to all of the Hackney Community for the wonderful care not only of Marie but of themselves. The fact they were able to stay in the Convent and all were so welcoming made Marie’s passing more bearable.
May Marie 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 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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