The Funeral Mass of Sr Teresa O’Donnell RIP

Saturday, 29 January, 2011

Homily given by Sr Mary Nolan,

Sr Teresa’s companion in mission in Peru

Last evening as we prayed in the Removal Service for Teresa, we heard the refrain “Come then my love my lovely one, come…” I can imagine that as Teresa enters fully into the presence of God, that refrain is being sung by the O’Donnell clan who are there to welcome their youngest sister. And we rejoice with all of them even as we mourn her loss.

As we remember Teresa I’d like to trace something of the story of her life. She was born in Kilcar, Co. Donegal in 1925, the youngest of a family of 11. Nine have gone before her, and we remember her brother Paddy who cannot be with us today. Thanks to Teresa’s nieces, nephews, extended family and her many friends who have come here to celebrate a beautiful life lived to the full.

Before Teresa joined the Columban Sisters, she enjoyed family life in her home among a close-knot community in Donegal. Times were hard and when ready Teresa spread her wings and went to work first of all in London and then in New York. Even in those early days a special aspect of Teresa’s personality was to the fore: her great capacity for making and keeping friends. She continued to be in contact with some of them right up to the end. Friendship was one of Teresa’s lovely traits.

In October 1957 Teresa responded to the call to be a Missionary Sisters of St. Columban and entered the Novitiate in Boston. Following her Profession she served in different ministries in the US. Then in 1973 she was assigned to mission in Peru where she was to spend about 10 years, living among very poor needy people in the district of Ermitano on the outskirts of Lima. There she lived fully the message of Paul that we heard earlier in the Reading. Teresa showed through her every expression that Love is patient, is kind, it is not harmful nor arrogant. She shared a deep and lasting love with the people around her whose lives were battered and broken…… She was not content to let things be, but worked incessantly with the people to raise their sense of dignity and worth. She developed friendships with young and old in Ermitano, and she never forgot them. Just 3 years ago when I was returning to Peru she gave me a package to be delivered to Gilda, a single mother whom she had known. She sent cards and messages to about 20 people, remembering each by name.

Teresa’s health in those years in Peru was not very robust and eventually she was advised to leave the dusty infectious ‘barriadas’ and find mission elsewhere. It cost her a lot to have to say ‘good bye’, to leave her many companions and friends. And we missed her as she travelled north.

Back in the US and having recuperated and spent some time in development work, Teresa was once more mission-bound, this time to the Spanish-speaking people in East Los Angeles. She adapted easily to the new situation and once more reached out with the Good News, sharing her deep love for God and people with them.

What was noticeable was that while sharing friendship, Teresa found a deep resonance with what was good and true in people. They were kindred spirits, the type of people referred to by Jesus in the Gospel: those who in the midst of labor and heavy burdens are pure of heart and can see God. Teresa had that simplicity in herself and it was a mutual recognition of really being children of God and being called to ‘Come’ and find rest within. Teresa’s motto sums up the sense of her undivided heart: Jesus my life, my love, my all.

As the years moved on they again took their toll, and Teresa felt the need to live at a slower pace. The time was coming to move into a phase of active retirement – and she placed the emphasis on the word ‘active’. She was assigned to Ireland where after some time she found her niche in ministry in Ashford.

She was to spend 9 years there accompanying the people and helping in the area of catechesis. The presence of many people here today from Ashford attests to the appreciation they had for her gentle presence among them.

As a Congregation we are grateful for having known Teresa, grateful that she walked among us as a woman of integrity, peace and love. We lay her to rest knowing that her gentle spirit will continue to waft its way among us. And as would be said at funeral time in Peru: Hna. Teresa, Presente! Que en paz descanse! May she rest in peace!

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