Funeral Mass Homily for Sister Winefride Sorensen RIP
– given by Sister Redempta Twomey
in the Convent Chapel, St Columban’s, Magheramore, Wicklow,
Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Funeral Mass of Sister Winefride Sorensen  16.1.2013  Magheramore
2 Cor 5:1,6-9;  Matt 13:44-46

Today we celebrate the funeral Mass of our much loved sister, aunt and friend, Winefride, who died on Sunday, the great feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Just as his baptism was the beginning of his public life we can look on Winefride’s death as her baptism into eternal life.  She too heard the words, “This is my beloved.”  Though I cannot help thinking she must have reproached him, “Lord, why did you keep me here so long? I’ve been waiting to come to you for a long, long time.”

Because indeed she was. She dearly loved her family, to whom we extend our deep sympathy; your presence here today is a testimony of who she was and of your great love for her. But her eyes and heart were always fixed on what is beyond our understanding, the Face of God. We are all witnesses to this as in our presence, in this house, we saw, as St Paul says, “her outer self wasting away, her inner self being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16).  This lovely woman, who throughout her 94 years in this earth always, and with great courage, walked by faith, not by sight, is now at home in that house not made by hands but is eternal in heaven, as we have just heard in the first reading (2 Cor 5:1).

Her life began in Cork where in a loving family with her sister and two brothers her talents developed and were encouraged. With a keen intelligence and an enquiring mind she succeeded in all her studies and went on to take an honours degree in science in the University College, Cork. This was followed by an equally brilliant MA. She went across the water and taught in Wales for a year or so. While there she heard of St Winefride’s Well and so began her devotion to this saint whose name she took in religious life. On her return to UCC she, now a staff member, was a valued demonstrator in Botany and Zoology.

But don’t be deceived into thinking she was a regular ‘geek’ to use the current terminology. She had a delightful humour and could see the funny side of a situation and share the joke with others. Along with this was her love of and talent for music. Not only the classics but jazz, which she sometimes played with her friends in Cork. Alas, I think she eschewed this when she decided to join the Columbans. Which is a pity – we might have been up there in the charts with Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and others!

Winefride had more serious things on her mind; her search for truth, for the Will of God in her life, led her to give up what would have been a glittering career to join the sisters in Cahiracon. She would use her talents to spread the gospel, to work among the poor, inspire them and help them on their journey. After her profession of vows she was sent to the US where she learnt aspects of school management and curriculums before going to the Philippines.

There, in Lingayen, and later in Ozamis, she was an excellent and popular teacher. The boys especially loved to work in her laboratory and learn the intricacies of the dissection of small mammals. Her students responded to her gentle manner and learned from her far more than the rudiments of science. The enjoyed too performing in the operas she presented, and learning the piano from her. Winefride had a well- developed sense of fun, often hidden under her reserved manner. She could lighten things in community, entertaining them after supper, for example, by pushing aside the dishes and performing whole concertos with her fingers on the table while humming along. All the time with a twinkle in her brown eyes.

In this busy, committed life there grew in her a longing for more silence and solitude.  After much prayer, pondering and inner struggle she asked to go to a contemplative Order of nuns in Ireland. This, she felt, was God’s will for her and she once again left what was familiar and dear to go to the Poor Clares. By then she had been nearly 20 years in the Philippines, among a people she delighted in and in a community who cherished her. It was a hard going, the wrench being felt on both sides. But, for Winefride seeking God was all that mattered, whatever the cost. So she went to Cork and lived the life of a Poor Clare with zeal and devotion. But after 6 years, when it came to making her final vows she knew she had to leave. We can only imagine her turmoil at that time: Why had God led her there only for her to leave again? For a sensitive and deeply spiritual woman this was surely the dark night of the soul.  Winefride, with great faith and no little courage, readjusted to Columban life, a life which had changed much over the years as the community strove to implement the directives of Vatican 2. The sisters of course, were happy to have her back and helped to ease her way in. But it was a hard and lonely struggle.

Back again in the Philippines, she gave of herself unstintingly, her trust in God strengthened as she faced the challenges of each day. Who can tell how many were the lives this prayerful, zealous woman touched as she led others to the Lord who was the centre of her being?  When after nearly 10 years she returned to Magheramore she once again set out to bring his love to others.  Now in her seventies, she was a familiar sight cycling in to Wicklow to the boys at the de la Salle school where she taught them music  – and theology, though the boisterous boys may not have always cottoned on to this latter. She also gave piano lessons to some folk who came here.

Her years in the Nursing Home were a period of greater solitude as she felt free to spend more time in prayer and meditation. Family visits meant a great deal to her and she was always graciously welcomed anyone who called in on her. We will not forget her smile which seemed to radiate peace. About two months or so ago I asked her what was the marrow or the core of her prayer.  She paused a moment and then with a smile that lit up her whole being she said, “God is everything; I am nothing.” The rest is silence. 

Let me end with a prayer which she had and which, in some measure, I think,  epitomises her life; and is her gift to each of us here today.

May He give us all the courage that we need to go the way that He shepherds us. That when He calls, we may go unfrightened. If He bids us come to Him across the waters, that unfrightened we may go. And if He bids us climb the hill may we not notice that it is a hill, mindful only of the happiness of His company. He made us for himself that we should travel with Him and see Him at last in His unveiled Beauty in the Abiding City where He is Light and Happiness and Endless Home.  (Fr Bede Jarrett O.P.)

Redempta Twomey

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