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brigid-sinnottSister Joseph Brigid Sinnott

1922 - 2016

Born: 2nd July 1922

Entered Religious Life: 9th October 1944

Died: 30th November 2016

 

 The eulogy given at Sr Joseph Brigid's funeral Mass
by Sr Rita Dawson, Provincial of the English/Scottish Province

I would like to acknowledge those in attendance here today from Sr Brigid’s family – Sr Austin and Sadie, James and Peter Byrne, James Sinnott and his sister Sarah, Shen and his wife Mary and Breda Sinnott.

On behalf of the Congregation, the family and the Hackney Community here, I should like to say a special thank you to Father David Evans, not only for his presence here today but for all the support he gives to this Community.

Our very sincere thanks to all of the staff on the Care Floor for their tremendous care and love shown to Sr Brigid, especially during her final weeks.  A special thanks to Sr Geraldine and Sr Helena for the beautiful care and support to Sr Brigid over many years.  Also to the Community for their visits and prayerful friendship.
I should like to say a special thanks to Sr Mary Christian, Congregational Leader, for being here with us today and to all the Sisters who have travelled to be with us in thanksgiving for Sr Brigid’s life and her dedication as a Sister of Charity.

Sister Joseph Brigid Sinnott, who was baptised Mary, was the eldest born of eight children, 5 girls and 3 boys, to her loving parents Brigid Gahan and James Sinnott.  
They lived happily if not luxuriously on a farm on Coolroe, near Tullow in Co Carlow, Ireland.   Sadly Sr Brigid’s mother died in childbirth aged thirty-nine years.
 
Brigid’s only surviving sister, Nancy, emigrated to America.  Her other three sisters Brigid (Bridie), Kathleen, and Sarah have all died.  Her sister Sarah was known within the Sisters of Charity as Sr Mary Laboure.  The brothers of the family are Mick, Dick and Seanie, all living nearby in Ireland.  

One of Sr Brigid’s early memories is of cycling four miles to school.

In later years when Srs Brigid and Mary Laboure could arrange their annual leave together, which was not always possible due to their missionary work abroad, they had a well-deserved holiday near their home in Ballyvaloo.  They were usually accompanied by another Sister of Charity, their cousin Sr Austin Gahan and their married sister Bridie would join them for the second week.

After completing her nurse training in Dublin, and Midwifery training in London, Sr Brigid had varied healthcare experiences which took her to England, Zambia, Venezuela and Scotland – she lived in 12 Communities throughout the world over the years.  

Sr Brigid worked in the following Houses - Harold's Cross, Cappagh (twice), Elm Park, Walthamstow (twice), Choma, Chikuni, Namwala, Marycrest (twice), Venezuela, Airdrie (twice), Rock Ferry and Hackney.

As well as her nursing experience, Sr Brigid was also Local Leader in Walthamstow for 11 years.   During her time in Walthamstow a letter was sent out from the Generalate asking for volunteers to open a new foundation in Venezuela. Sister Brigid volunteered, not thinking she would be asked.  It was an awful shock for her when she was accepted. However she received this news, and although anxious, she set off joyfully to South America.

Sr Brigid underwent hip replacement surgery after a fall in 2002 and 2003.  Unfortunately, the surgery was unsuccessful resulting in poor mobility and leaving her bed/chair bound.  Having looked after so many for so long, Sr Brigid retired to Hackney in 2007 when she was in need of care herself.  Sr Brigid was very quiet but was always extremely pleasant, cheerful and greatly appreciated the comfort she had and for all that was done for her.  She was a woman of prayer and sensitivity, and had a great love of Mary Aikenhead.

Sr Brigid’s favourite television programme was ‘Dad’s Army’.  Peals of laughter would ring out from her room as she watched the programme.  The nurses were always fascinated listening to her outside the door because her laughter made them laugh.

On a Sunday, she loved to go for a drive to their local seaside resort West Kirby, where she would walk around the lake and have some afternoon tea, and catch up with Sr Nuala going back on many happy memories.

Advent
As Brigid died at the beginning of Advent, in Ireland we were always told if you went to God during Advent or Lent, you went straight to Heaven.  Advent is a time when God asks us to shed one more coat of awareness, one more dream state and come alive to the vision of God’s plan for each of us and the world-at-large. 

As children we had a sense of wonder. Our eyes were wide open in anticipation of the fascinating gifts we held.  We had a thirst to learn and we could not get enough of the wonders of the world.  The older we get, the harder this is to do.

Somehow, we have grown too old to dream. We have become tired of the fascination of the world, or at least we are growing weary of keeping up with the times and changes in life.

The natural gift of wonder God gave us as children was meant to be kept alive throughout our lives.  Instead we have let it go to sleep and joined the typical dream state of most humans.

Why else does Jesus tell us today, ‘Stay awake!’…Advent says, ‘Wake up and realize the gifts of love you have received.’

Advent is concerned with the very connection between memory and hope.  Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope.  It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.

Brigid will now have experienced the awakening and fulfilment of the dreams and desires already lived.  During Advent, let us all awaken our memories of Brigid and remember her great contribution to the Congregation.

May Brigid 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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