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Sister Teresa Vincent Shea

1922 - 2014

Born: 2nd January 1922

Entered Religious Life: 27th January 1941

Died: 26th July 2014



An appreciation of Sr Teresa Vincent Shea
The reflection given by Sr Úna O’Neill RSC at the Eucharistic Celebration
to celebrate Sr Teresa Vincent's life and death
Sandymount Church Dublin
30th July 2014

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 this morning.

For Sr. Teresa Vincent - or Nora as she was baptised – today is the completion of a life history that began on 2nd April 1922 in Caherciveen in Co. Kerry.  She was very proud of her Kerry roots and had many of the characteristics associated with those who come from the ‘Kingdom’ -  not least of which was pride in her origins there and love and loyalty for her family and friends.

She joined the Sisters of Charity in January 1941 and for more than 70 years she remained steadfastly faithful to the constant core of who she was as a Sister of Charity – committed to Christ and to the service of those who were in need of any kind.  The Reading from Ephesians points to the source and focus of her life:  “...planted in love and built on love you will have strength to grasp the breadth and the length and the height and the depth of the love of Christ”.

She lived that love of Christ in all her journeying and ministry – a life journey that took her from Milltown to Mountjoy Street to St. Vincent’s Cork; from Walthamstow to St. Patrick’s Kilkenny and then to Milltown, Lakelands and Crumlin. And back again to Lakelands in 2010.  Her longest period of time was her 37 years in Milltown – teaching in the secondary school and training the novices in the mysteries of housekeeping - and the 22 years she spent in Crumlin where she did home visitation and adult education.  She worked quietly and steadily at whatever was asked of her and her life was peopled by many who benefited from her patient teaching, her generous hospitality and her wry sense of humour.

She was known to many of us as T.V – long before televisions came into our community rooms! T.V. was not versed in the art of political correctness and had little time for small talk.  Indeed she was a formidable woman in many ways and had very high standards that proved a little beyond the capabilities of a number of those whom she tried to train in the art of housekeeping a la Sisters of Charity!  Many of us Sisters will remember the way she smiled her lovely smile while batting her eyelids and telling us: “Everyone loves you, well for you” or Well to be you and hard to be like you” or “the Congregation was lucky to get such a good catch in you” -  And you were never quite sure if she had complemented or insulted you!

Like all of us Sr. Teresa Vincent knew suffering and sadness.  Even in her latter years she did not seem to appreciate all the good that she had done and was doing in the service of the poor.  But even in the hardest times she was unwavering in her love for God and her trust in his love for her. That steadfast trust in God’s love is expressed in the first reading from Isaiah:  “God does not grow tired or grow weary.  His understanding is unfathomable. Those who hope in him renew their strength  ... they run and do not grow weary, walk and never die”.

In these latter years she has known the weakness and lack of energy that is part of aging.  Nevertheless she retained her broad interest in world and national affairs.  She remained a constant letter writer and was generous in her contributions to those in need overseas.  She valued the support of the community in Lakelands and the care she received there – a care that respected her dignity and her privacy.  She also valued the many people to whom she had been a loyal and trustworthy friend.  They will miss her.  

Like many people, she was not inclined to talk about death and was fearful of being incapacitated.  So while the suddenness of her departure from this life last Saturday was hard for her family and community – it was a great blessing that the Lord took her so gently and quietly. I can only imagine the welcome she will receive from many who have gone before her – not least her family and parents – but also Srs. Mary Veronica and Aquin and Martha Magdalen, Teresa Emmanuel, Teresa Angela... and the list goes on...

Sr. Teresa Vincent trusted in God’s love for her.  She did her best in whatever was asked of her as a Sister of Charity.  She asked for little and lived simply.  She gave her life in love and service of others.  Now she is with God in the fullness of His life and love.  And so when times are difficult, may we, like her,  remember deep in our hearts the promise of Jesus in the second reading: his power in us can do more than we can ask or imagine. . . no matter our fears or our restlessness, our doubts or anxieties, He is with us and will never fail us.  This is aptly summed up in the words of our Foundress Mary Aikenhead listed for today:  In the Sacred Heart of our Lord you may truly seek and find relief.  Amen.

May she 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.