By Sister Ita Hannaway
HOMILY FOR KATHLEEN – MAY 26, 2010
The Lord gives.
The Lord takes away.
These two short statements summarise the reason for our being together today. God who gave us our darling, beautiful Kathleen has chosen in his wisdom to bring her earthly life to a close. In so doing he has invited us to yield her back to him with faith in his caring fidelity to us all.
Kathleen, like each of us, was a special creation of God. She was entrusted to the O’Riordan family where she was nurtured on love, living faith, and neighbourly kindness, with a good dash of fun included in all. It was within her family that she gained wholesome self-confidence and the courage to follow the path along which she believed herself called to journey.
This path led to us, the Columban Sisters, first here in Magheramore and later in Chile, South America. She came to Magheramore with bright eyes and nimble feet. (One of her relatives believed she had danced her way to the convent!) Her bright eyes seemed to promise a bit of mischief but they also suggested a spirit ready to give her all to the missionary enterprise on which she was embarking if, as she said, she were kept. And kept she was.
I think that Kathleen did not know the meaning of ‘half.’ From the outset, she invested every bit of herself in her undertakings, whether in house duties, recreation or studies. She was always more likely to ‘go the extra mile’ than to take short-cuts through undertakings But most of all she applied herself to learning the meaning and means of mission through prayer and ardent study of the life of her model missionary, Jesus.
Central to her understanding of mission and of her religious commitment were the Gospel examples of ‘being sent’ and ‘sending’. Jesus was sent by his heavenly Father; he in turn sent his disciples into the whole world. The motto she chose as inspiration for her missionary life was ‘He who sent me is with me.’ the words which Jesus used to ground and justify his missionary activity.
Kathleen was ‘sent’ many times into many different situations of mission, not all of which were attractive or free from difficulty or frustration. She was sent to Chile where, as a nurse in a pastoral setting she not only attended to illnesses but found herself responding to the spiritual needs of many who sought her help. In this role she proved to be a very wise, insightful and encouraging guide.
Back in Ireland, she found herself managing the Congregation’s Nursing Home here in Magheramore; roles in leadership and formation ministry engaged her energies for many years and she is remembered for leading with great wisdom compassion and courage. She also took on the challenge of providing the Congregation with the possibility of almost instant communication between members together with a means of making known the needs and realities of our contemporary mission world. In doing so she drew on her gifts of creativity in design and writing and she really enjoyed her work on the Web.
Not only was Kathleen a great believer in being sent; she also believed in sending. She believed in encouraging others to call on their own gifts once they knew how to use them. In Chile she not only attended the sick herself; she also trained a group of women, her equipo de salud, and sent them to their neighbourhoods to care for the sick who needed attention. She was very smart, too, at sending those of us who sought her assistance in improving our computer literacy. First she listened carefully to our problems, taught us how to solve them and then sent us off to work for ourselves. Not for her to pamper by doing the work for us. But she watched from a distance to make sure that her teaching had been helpful.
I believe that Kathleen’s greatest challenge in being sent lay in accepting her final earthly missionary call. She was too good a nurse not to know the ominous implications and possible outcome of the symptoms of illness which she felt almost a year ago. Typical of her nature, she kept her suspicions to herself and allowed God, through eminent medical care, to trace the path along which the final steps of her journey would take. She was aware that, having been sent by God she could have faith in his presence with her in the journey. ‘He who sent me is with me in this’ she said to her contemporary, Rebecca Conlon, who was leaving for Pakistan. Her addition of ‘in this’ to her motto was an assurance to Rebecca that she believed all would be well no matter how difficult the journey.
We all know that Kathleen remained calm as she travelled the final steps along the road of her earthly life. Her positive ‘I’m a biteen better today’ response to questions regarding how she felt was offered, I believe, not from conviction regarding recovery but rather as a straw of hope for all of us who prayed that she might be well again.
The holy harvest of our lives is not measured in terms of the number of our years but rather of the quality of our days and the steps we have taken to fulfil the hopes which God places in us. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the importance of spending our talents responsibly and profitably. We know well that this is what Kathleen has done with all that was entrusted to her; all spent so that the world might believe in a loving caring, healing, welcoming God. Believing this, we can be sure that she has already heard the commendation: ‘Well done, faithful Kathleen! Enter into my joy forever.’
I began this reflection with the words: The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. We are grateful for the gift of Kathleen’s life amongst us and naturally sad at her going, yet, as we surrender her back to God, remembering the fullness of her life, perhaps we can find in our hearts the peace and trust to say: ‘Thanks be to God.’