– given by Sr Redempta Twomey in Magheramore 3 October 2011
No matter how long we may be aware of death lurking in the corridors of someone’s life, it always comes, finally, as a shock. And so it was with our sister, Clare. Over the past months we saw her lamp slowly quenching, her bright intelligent eyes misting over, her strong heart gradually losing power. So when, as the Mass ended on Saturday morning, Sister Ita McElwain told us that Sister Clare had gone home, we felt the sharp pain of this final severance but also a gratitude that her suffering is ended. She is now where she always longed to be, in the radiant presence of the Lord. “You will see me,” Jesus said in the Gospel we just heard, “because I live and you will live.”
The scripture offers hope to all of us in our loss, not least to you her family who accompanied her through the years and especially in the last months of her journey. How glad she would be that you that you are here this morning to give thanks for her life even as you mourn. As one of a family of 10, she knew well the give and take of siblings, the pain and joys of family life. Her journey from that lovely home in Donegal to the remote corners of the earth is surely a thing of awe and wonder, surely something to celebrate.
After making her first vows in Cahiracon and training as a nurse in the Mater Hospital, Clare was sent to Myitkyina in Burma, now Myanmar in 1947. She had scarcely found her feet there when she was sent to Hong Kong, where the sisters were beginning their work with TB patients. The work was difficult but engrossing, with many opportunities to tell the Gospel story. Clare gave herself fully to the mission only to be told after about 5 years to go to the USA to be infirmarian in the Columban Father’s seminary in NY. What a change! It is a measure of her deep faith and commitment to Christ that she took all the many assignments that befell her as coming from him and, with not the slightest hesitation or complaint, met each challenge with courage. As the old Irish poem says, “I set my face to the road before me….”
Of course, strong woman that she was, she undertook each assignment in practical ways. When, for example she found the young seminarians in Silver Creek to be fine healthy specimens of humanity, with little need of her ministrations, she decided that her time would be well spent fundraising. Her overseas mission experience had alerted her to the poverty of people and the often meager funds of the communities to help them. As well as travelling to make Church appeals, she undertook to launch a Lawn Fete in the lovely grounds of the seminary. We can hardly imagine the logistics this involved, getting permissions, getting tents, stalls, food, games and so on. The final blow came on the auspicious day – it rained cats and dogs and all the structures, and the people, had to be moved into the seminary classrooms. Was she daunted? Not in the least: ‘Blessed be God’, and on she goes. That was the first of what became an annual, very successful and enjoyable fund raising event, in Silver Creek to this day.
In 1959 came her appointment to Korea. Uprooted again, she faced the unknown in this war-weary country. Here she met a people who, despite their sufferings, had, like herself, huge ‘get up and go’ qualities. And get up and go she did with great will and energy. In a few years she was blasting a hill, a small mountain really, to make way for the hospital the sisters decided to build in the area. At the same time her plans for a nursing school were well afoot. By the fruitful team effort of the Sisters, Archbishop Henry, the Columban Fathers, the locals and of course the benefactors, the hospital was built and became a centre of healing for many, especially the poor who were Clare’s primary concern. With her well honed organizational abilities and enormous energy she saw many a project to completion. Whether it was building, setting up family planning clinics, visiting the sick, caring for the poor, there were no half measures for Clare; in all that she did she gave of her best and strove for perfection. And, make no mistake, she expected the same from you! Forceful and straight talking, she abhorred waffle and woe betide you if you tried to pull the wool over her eyes. “What do you mean by ‘etc’?” she asked one contractor who, in presenting his bill for work done, tried to do just this by concealing huge sums in this little word. “I never in my life paid for an ‘etc’ and I won’t begin now!”
Her years in Scotland in the nineties, where she was a founder member of the house in Stevenston, gave her a new missionary thrust. That same passion with which she embraced each of her many mission assignments, blazed out again as she walked the often grim pavements and sought out the poor and the lost. Relentless in her pursuit of fallen away Catholics, she sought to bring them back to the Church, to be at home with the Lord. Her motto: ‘Jesus loved me and delivered himself for me’ was graven in her heart and, like St Therese, that wonderful patron of the missions, on whose feastday she died, she wanted everyone to know God’s love. For this no door was to be left unknocked, no slacker unchallenged.
Nearing eighty, she came to Magheramore for the final decade of her life’s journey. Her stimulating presence could disturb and challenge but no one doubted her genuine love. She was led by that Spirit of truth we heard of in the Gospel, the Spirit who was to the very end the constant guide and companion in her life. The onslaught of a brain haemorrhage may have slowed down this dynamic woman but in this cauldron of suffering we saw the gentling of her spirit as she underwent that gradual and final stripping of the old self which is a prelude to the vision of God which she now enjoys.
“The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’ Let everyone who listens answer ‘Come!’