Sister Marie Bernadette O'Leary
1931 - 2018
Born: 14th December 1931
Entered Religious Life: 11th October 1954
Died: 15th February 2018
Winifred Margaret O’Leary, daughter of Maurice O’Leary and Catherine Canty was born in Douglas, Co. Cork on the 14th December 1931. She was educated in St. Angela’s College on Patrick’s Hill. She entered the Religious Sisters of Charity on the 11th October 1954 and was received as a Novice on 2nd May 1955 when she was given the name Sr. Marie Bernadette. She made her First Profession on the 11th May, 1957.
Sr. Marie Bernadette trained as a teacher before she entered. After her profession she spent a few months teaching in Clonmel before moving to Foxford. In September 1959 she was missioned to Mountjoy Street where she taught for two years. In August 1961 Sr. Marie Bernadette was missioned to Zambia where she taught in Chivuna for seven years before moving to Roma in January 1968 where she lived and ministered until her return to Milltown in July 1980. A former student in Roma recalls her as someone who was quiet or soft spoken. She was a very dedicated and committed teacher who worked hard and quietly to pass on that spirit to the girls. Her efforts in the development of the girl child were appreciated and she did a lot in a quiet way, whether in the class room or as House Mistress.
Between September 1980 and May 1982 Sr. Marie Bernadette studied Spanish, first of all in Milltown and then moved to California to continue with her studies before being missioned to Venezuela in 1982. The mission in Venezuela began in 1980 and she spent nine years in a Catechetical/Pastoral role. Sr. Marie Bernadette liked singing and had trained choirs for many years in Zambia. She was asked to teach hymns to the children in Venezuela. The Venezuelan children and, indeed, the adults all like to sing but the harmony which Marie Bernadette was used to in Zambia was sadly missing and she found it very difficult not to be able to do more towards creating beautiful music. She was very attached to the people of Venezuela. During her time in Venezuela, she had many health issues and returned to Ireland for good in July 1991.
Between October 1991 and March 2017 Marie Bernadette was devoted to the Cause of Mary Aikenhead and the Archives. Sr. Marie Bernadette together with Sr. Martha Magdalen Power worked on the Positio, the document which had to be presented to Rome regarding the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of Mary Aikenhead. This was a huge volume of work and entailed hundreds of hours of research. It was completed in 1994 and presented in Rome. This was the document which eventually went to the Theologians and Cardinals before Mary Aikenhead was declared Venerable. After all this work it must have been a source of great joy when Mary Aikenhead was declared Venerable. Hopefully they will work together in Heaven to bring about the miracles needed for Beatification and Canonization.
When Milltown Convent closed in 1995, she moved to Lakelands and set up the new Archives in the Generalate at Caritas, Sandymount. When Park Avenue opened in August 2008 she moved there and remained living in Park Avenue until 2016 when her health began to fail. She returned to Lakelands and remained living there until March 2017 when she needed more care and moved to St. Monica’s Nursing Home, in Belvedere Place. Sr. Marie Bernadette had a wonderful memory and probably knew more about Mary Aikenhead than anybody in the Congregation.
Apart from the Archives Sr Marie Bernadette had two other ministries that were dear to her heart. For many years she was a member of the Church Archivists Association of Ireland and served as honorary secretary for most of her time on the committee. She was very dedicated to this Association and put many hours of work into organising outings, talks and the AGM.
Each Friday afternoon she visited the patients in the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook. This was a ministry of the Novices and Marie Bernadette took it over when the novitiate in Milltown closed and she continued her visits until about a year before her death. Apart from the Friday visits she organised a gift for each patient at Christmas and in later years involved the 6th class children from the Scoil Mhuire to help with singing carols and distributing gifts.
Sr. Marie Bernadette was very happy in St. Monica’s Nursing Home and endeared herself to all the staff there. They spoke very affectionately of her prayerfulness and how she helped them through her prayer and acceptance of her failing health. Her family were very supportive at this time and her cousins who were like sisters to her visited her on a weekly basis.
She died very peacefully in St. Monica’s Nursing Home on the 15th February 2018. Her remains were returned to Lakelands for Evening Prayer and she was removed to Star of the Sea Church, Sandymount on Saturday 17th February for her Requiem Mass. She is buried in the community cemetery in Donnybrook.
May she rest in peace.