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gabriel-dolores-cumminsSister Gabriel Dolores Cummins

1924 - 2016

Born: 20th September 1924

Entered Religious Life: 13th October 1947

Died: 11th May 2016

 

Homily given by Fr Roderick Whearty at Sr Gabriel Dolores' Funeral Mass

Sometime in the early hours of last Wednesday morning, after a life time of service and commitment, after a lifetime of faithfulness, and without any fuss as she would have wanted, Sr Gabriel slipped quietly and gently away from us. While all was still and quiet and the world was at sleep Sr Gabriel was taken gently to her eternal home for which she had prepared all her life.


There was of course shock and a deep sense of sadness and loss for her Sisters in her Community, her family, her Order and all who knew and loved Sr Gabriel. We ask God to comfort all of you today and to give you strength at this difficult time. You have shared her life, her ministry, and her friendship. You have been an important part of her story.


I know that her community here Kilkenny, with whom she lived, and all of us are consoled today in knowing that Sr Gabriel died as she would have wanted to. Just to slip away into the loving, caring, compassionate arms of Jesus with whom she had a deep personal relationship and whom she had served all of her life. I'm certain that Sr Gabriel would have heard those most welcomed of words which she had chosen as a motto for her profession and which are engraved on her ring "lt is I, do not be afraid". She was not alone as she left this world. Jesus was with her.

As you know she was a Tipperary woman and professed as a Sister of Charity in May 1950. It was a different world then and she would have seen and been part of the great changes in the world, in the Church and indeed in her Community over those years. But constant throughout all that time of upheaval and change was her faith and trust in God, which never wavered. With resilience, dedication and commitment she remained faithful to the One who had called her. She spent her vocation in Religious life as a dedicated sister 'serving Jesus by serving others'. She did this, as you know, primarily in education and in special education for 37 years. She worked in many different places throughout England, Zambia and Ireland always with the same spirit of enthusiasm and commitment and always with a willingness to serve wherever she was called to, giving of herself and never counting the cost.

I first got to know Sr Gabriel about thirty-six years ago when I came to work in St Patricks. At that time she worked in the school. I remember her then as very dedicated and hardworking Sister who always, always put the children's needs first. Long after she had gone from the school and retired she maintained a keen interest in the children there and would always be able to recall the children by name. Only last Monday she visited the school to see the children who had celebrated their First Communion last weekend. Faithful to the end.

Those of you who knew her well will know that she loved to write and while she never really embraced the new technologies she was a great believer in the 'apostolate of the pen' and I'm told that she kept up with hundreds of people over the years. With a wonderful capacity for friendship she made people feel they were important and worthwhile simply by taking an interest in them and giving them her time.

The sisters in her Community here will tell you she had a great attention to detail, order and precision with nothing left to chance. I'm told that sometimes they were lucky to avoid being put in a box and labelled. We will miss that precision and order especially in the sacristy where she ministered for the last number of years.

Testament to that detail and order is the liturgy for today's Mass which Sr Gabriel had prepared in detail. At the heart of our liturgy today Sr Gabriel would want us to focus on Resurrection and New Life. Because at the heart of her vocation, at the heart of her life, at the heart of her faith and all of the many years of service which she gave was a deep belief in Jesus and especially in the Resurrection. She believed in the promise that all who believe in him and commit their lives to him will one day share in that Resurrection. Sr Gabriel believed that and her life was lived out in response to that belief.

Everything she was, everything she did was for God's greater glory and that 'deep belief' that each person no matter who, no matter how broken, no matter what background, each person was a gift created in the image of God and so shared a sacred dignity which could never be violated.

That beautiful reading from the prophet Isaiah speaks of God's unfailing love and in this Mass Sr Gabriel I think wanted us to know that God has loved her in this life, loves her now and will love her eternally. She would have wanted us to know today that it was God's great love for her which gave her the courage and strength to live her vocation fully and faithfully.

The Gospel passage, again chosen by Sr Gabriel, reminds us that those who serve God, those who commit their lives completely and wholeheartedly to God become one with Him and so true witnesses in the world. Sr Gabriel was a true disciple of Jesus, a faithful witness to the message of the Gospel, a caring companion on the journey and above all a great human being and a good friend to so many many people.

Though there is sadness today, which is the natural human reaction to loss; there is also hope; light and even joy in knowing that Sr Gabriel will now be rewarded for all of the good she did throughout her long life. In faith we know that today is less about ending and more about new beginnings; less about dying and more about new life; less about letting go and more about embracing. We know that as we are saying goodbye to her today there are others saying to her 'welcome home'.

We give thanks to God for her life and for all of the many blessings he gave to her throughout her life. And we thank Sr Gabriel herself, for her presence, for the difference she has made, for her witnessing. And though we will of course miss her, may we continue to be inspired by her and encouraged to continue our journey of faith until that day when we will meet her again.

We entrust her now into the loving, caring, compassionate and merciful arms of Jesus. No doubt she will hear those most welcomed of all words 'well done good and faithful servant, come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you'. May Sr Gabriel's gentle soul rest in peace forever.

The following Communion Reflection based on John O'Donohue's 'Reflection On The Death of The Beloved' was read by Sr Helen Butler:

Gabriel
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

Gabriel,
May you continue to inspire us

 

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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