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brigid-mcguiganSister Brigid McGuigan

1924 - 2016

Born: 1st September 1924

Entered Religious Life: 13th October 1947

Died: 17th August 2016

 

In the hamlet of Carnamoney, Draperstown, in County Derry, some fifty miles west of Belfast, the third of Joseph and Annie Mc Guigan’s nine children, was a little girl born on September 1, 1924.   Baptized “Brigid,” early on she became the caregiver for her seriously ill sister Rose and her grandmother.  As a girl, Brigid loved to ride on the back of her brother’s motorcycle and attend Saturday night parish dances with her siblings.  She also delighted to hike along the rolling heather-clad foothills of the nearby Sperrin Mountains.   As those boggy uplands beckoned her, little could she have imagined then that one day she would hike to the summit of California’s 14,505 ft. Mt. Whitney. 

Although a young man proposed to Brigid, at twenty-three she chose the religious life joining the Religious Sisters of Charity in 1947 and making her final profession six years later.  After working with troubled adolescents in England for five years, in 1958 she was sent overseas to teach at St. Columban School in Garden Grove, California.  Subsequently she was assigned to St. Bridget of Sweden School in Van Nuys. 

While serving as Director of Religious Education for St. Edward’s parish in Dana Point from 1971 to 1974, Sr. Brigid recognized that the central mission of her ministry would be the fostering of spiritual growth.  Thus, she embarked on developing programs for the faith formation of parents for the religious development of parish youth.  She continued along this path at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in East Hollywood.  During summers, she completed her Masters Degree in Religious Education at Seattle University.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles recognized Sr. Brigid’s exceptional talents by appointing her as Co-Director of Campus Ministry.  In this capacity, from 1978 to 1987, she developed training programs for Campus Ministry and Catholic student leaders at all the major colleges and universities from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara.  Her success led her to be appointed as full-time Campus Ministry Director from 1987 to 1990.  From1990 through 1998, Sr. Brigid traveled throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, England and Ireland as an expert consultant to religious communities and parishes offering workshops in conflict resolution and in personal spiritual development.

In 1998, Sr. Brigid became Pastoral Associate of Our Lady of Malibu parish where she developed the Rite of Christian Initiation process to foster the spiritual growth of adults wishing to join the Catholic community.  The key to her ministry was the training of parishioners to serve as catechists.  She worked with couples preparing for marriage and with couples in troubled marriages.  OLM parishioners frequently sought her spiritual guidance.  While much of her ministry was with adults, she had a love and special aptitude for working with troubled children.  She always believed that her job was to empower others to do what she was doing.  Sr. Brigid will be remembered for her extraordinary ability to help people see themselves as God sees them and then to go out and reshape their world in light of the Gospel.

Fr. Bill Kerze reflected on the life of his friend and colleague, Sr. Brigid, in an article in The Malibu Times called ‘Gifts of the Spirit’.  Click HERE to read Fr Bill's reflection.

Another local Malibu newspaper published a tribute to Sr Brigid.  Click on the following link to read the article - Malibu community reflects on joyful, faithful life of Sister Brigid McGuigan.

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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