Cemetery Day 15, 2019. MAGHERAMORE.

Sr. Redempta Twomey.

After days of rain the sun shone, and we shone too, all anxiety about the weather dissolved under a lovely June sky. Preparations for our 9th Cemetery Day were complete. The house was shining, the flowers spilling over, the grounds we were a joyful ‘Aah!’. Old treasures, books and cards were displayed along the corridors. Hymns and readings were chosen, choir practices fully attended.  Our diligent chef and her assistants, sleeves rolled up, were cheerfully busy, ready to feed the 300 plus that were expected.  And now, best of all, the sun was smiling.

       And, to cater for the large number expected, a marquee was erected outside the back door, with tables and chairs ready for all. It was a sight to be seen, to be enjoyed.

       By 2.30 or so people started coming; our staff were there to help us greet folk, to answer queries, to point the way to the Mass. Badges with the name of ‘their’ sister were pinned so we knew at a glance that this was sister X’s niece, this sister Y’s nephew. People met and mingled sharing stories, laughing, remembering. And gradually they wended their way to the marquee where Mass was about to be celebrated.  

       After a kind welcome by Rose, Fr Damien McNeice, nephew of Sr. M Anthony Finnegan led us in the celebration. Maura Lyden gave a comprehensive talk and the choir, as ever, sang their hearts out. Everyone had a leaflet and were able to join in. We prayed not only for those buried in Magheramore but for our sisters who died overseas. May they be joyful in the kingdom that awaits all of us.

       We then moved to the cemetery where Mary Mortell called out the names of those buried there and the celebrant moved to bless each grave. The visitors, some of them babes in arms, some of them in advanced years, stood by the graves, attentive to the prayers.

      Nearing the end, the sun slipped away and a light rain fell. All moved quickly towards the house where a scrumptious meal awaited to drive the cold away. They dined in the marquee as we moved among them, greeting old friends, meeting new ones. (Afterwards the community had their meal in the dining room.)


      As the evening drew to a close the sun smiled on us again. Gradually people made their way out, lingering for a last word a memory recalled, before they drove up the avenue and made their way home.  So ended another blessed day in our motherhouse.


Homily by Sr. Maura Lyden.

I would like to welcome you all to Magheramore as we gather to remember all our sisters who have died.   You have made the journey from all over the country and from far away to what is holy ground.  May this be a day of joy and blessing for you all.  We are united with our Sisters all over the world in prayer and celebration.

Some years ago I was working in Birmingham, England.  The Church and the Sikh community had met to discuss some matters of education.  When we gathered for a farewell cup of tea, a young Sikh man asked me if he could ask a question.  Yes, I said.  Can you tell me how long after a person dies may one pray for him, hours or days or weeks?   I explained that we can pray always for the people who have died, we can pray to them and they can pray for us, the living.  We can ask for forgiveness and we can forgive.  We are a community of the living and the dead.  Then he said I admire Mary Magdalene.I asked him if he would like to tell me why.  He said, because she was looking for the Body of Jesus.

This is the same Risen Jesus who inspired the first Columban sisters to answer the call to go to China.   These are the Sisters we are remembering today.  It is not possible to speak individually about each one, but today I will share a little of their wonderful story.  There was an urgency in the country to reach out to others.  This was an explosion of grace that stirred the hearts of many. The stories of China and its needs motivated and awakened young people to action. Numerous requests from young  women and not so young  to join the congregation came  to Cahiracon.  The reply was “No Vacancy at this time – delay for a year.” So in February 1922 the first sisters arrived in Cahiracon, Co. Clare.  The following is the founding spirit of the Congregation that all of the Columban Sisters carry in their hearts.“Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in response to His grace and love, the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban was founded to participate in the Church’s missionary task of proclaiming the Gospel to the nations…existing in the church to be sent in her name to spread the good News of the Kingdom of God, especially among those who have not received it.”


On the 13th Sept. 1926 after their preparation for mission,  Fr.  John Blowick accompanied  Mother General and the first five Sisters from Cobh to Colombo.   The Sisters continued their journey to Shanghai in China. At this time China was a troubled land, powerful forces were vying with one another for control of the country, war lords, nationalists and communists .   The sisters loved the people and saw their long suffering endurance, their faith, their trust, and their resilience. The Sisters did all that was possible to relieve their suffering during their years in Hanyang.

In 1937, an unexpected invitation was received from the Jesuit Bishop of Shanghai asking them to provide education for the children of the White Russian exiles resident in that city.   In keeping with this work the Sisters embraced   the Slav- Byzantine Liturgy which was followed by the Russian Catholics, thus giving their pupils the opportunity of participating in their own beautiful liturgy. The work at Santa Sophia School continued happily for eleven years. During these years the Congregation was gifted with young Chinese girls who left their homes to join the congregation in Ireland.  By 1949 the end was in sight Mao Tse – Tung and his Red army had by now overrun most of Central China.  All missionaries were ordered to leave the country.  Our Chinese sisters could not return to their homeland for many years.  They are resting with us here now in Magheramore.

The Sisters found that the Philippines was waiting to say come and they went directly from China via Hong Kong to help with the education of the youth. It was war again in the Pacific and another great challenge for the Sisters.  Many schools and colleges were staffed by the Sisters as well as numerous outreaches in the areas of Catechetics, Social Work, Tribal Communities and Special  Education. The missionary spirit continued in the many women who joined the sisters.  They brought with them an exuberance for life with a special devotion and love of Our Lady, a devotion that permeates the whole country.

In 1948 the Sisters began another mission in Hong Kong.  The Anti Tuberculosis  Association asked them  to staff a sanatorium.   A staff of sister doctors, nurses, radiographers, arrived to open the Ruttonjee Sanatorium.  It was a blessing for the people all the years the sisters were there.   A new general hospital was built and now the needs of the Island continue to be served. In the field of education schools were built and staffed by the sisters. Palliative care, Home- care services,   caring for Aids   sufferers, etc. were established. The Apostolate of the Legion of Mary was a valuable movement as regards evangelizing in China and Hong Kong and continues so today.

Two years after World War 11 the way was clear for the Columban sisters to begin their mission in Burma.  The Columban Fathers had been working in Burma for eleven years and had experienced all the anxieties and ravages of war.  They were delighted at the arrival of the Sisters.  They were coming to staff a school in Myitkyina.  In less than two months after the Sisters arrived the first roll call came to 125 children.  That number included Chinese Indians who were from outside the country and Burmans, Shans, Karens and Kachins, Tamils and some Kachins who were Christians.  The parents had the children ready to walk in the door as soon as the school opened.  As the mission in Burma developed the people grew in confidence and were  very ready and capable  to step in  when the Sisters  one day in March 1966 were told they  had to leave.    In 1954 tragedy hit the community by the loss of the youngest member of the community who died of cerebral malaria.  She rests in Burma. After 38 years in March 2003 five Sisters returned to Burma.

The Korean War 1950 – 1955:  Armistice agreed, war has never ended.  The country was in ruins, the people in deep mourning for the division of the families north and south.   To this day the desire of the people is to be united.  Unique in the history of the church they brought Christianity to themselves.  The Sisters came at the end of the war and gave what comfort they could to the people in Mokpo and Chunchon through the hospitals and clinics set up by the Sisters. Later the sisters went to Cheju Island and set up a textile and weaving industry giving employment to many women.   The courage and strength of the people as they started again to build their lives was a wonder to behold. We are blessed in our Sisters in Korea who are missionaries to themselves and others of different nations.  Today our Congregational leader is from Korea.DeoGracias! Cardinal Kim summed up the affection and gratitude of the Korean people when he said, “For what reason did these sisters come from a far distant country to a poor country with a different language and an unfamiliar way of living?  Looking at the work of the sisters over the years and up to the present days, it was an example of love which one rarely sees.”

At a conference on the 25th of March 1960 Pope St. John XX111 said, “Tomorrow may be too late!  Could help be given to Latin America?”   The Columban Sisters  responded to the Pope’s  invitation and  chose  Peru as our place of mission.  In 1963 our first sisters  arrived in Peru and  after  attending  courses  in culture, history and language  and  above  all walking amongst the people , listening and learning from them they  saw the pastoral needs of the people,  and  together  developed services  in    health care, family  catechetics,  special needs, education , prison ministry, women’s organizations  and leadership  formation  of the laity.  These apostolates were carried out   in the shanty towns of Lima, in the desert area of Ica and in the high mountainous  regions of Ayacucho, Cusco and Recuay,  (home of our  Peruvian Sister Eufrasia)

In the early days of the Congregation Fr. John Blowick had reminded the young sisters  that as missionaries theirs had to be a total giving of themselves . In 1983, December 14th a Columban Sister working in Peru was asked to make that sacrifice.  Taken hostage in her prison ministry in their bid to escape Sr. Joan and seven prisoners lay dead.  She had given her all and the poor with whom she worked knew it and said,  “You will live in our hearts forever.”

In June 1973 a letter came from Bishop Fernando Ariztia Ruiz in Santiago, Chile with the request that resonated with the spirit prevailing in the Congregation at that time.  He spoke of his hope, “that a small community of 3 or 4 Sisters might be established in Santiago, a community that would be involved, not in educational or in social  work  but in direct work  in the fundamental work  of the Church  -Evangelization and education in   the faith.”  His proposal was being considered but on September 11,1973  the media carried news of a coup  d’etat  in Chile.  In November  1974 three  Sisters went to Chile. Already versed in the language  they set out visiting  and getting  know the people and their anxieties, and attending to their needs they soon inserted themselves  in the local communities.   Together they began to work in family catechetics, health care, prison ministry, drug addiction, women’s rights and preparation of lay missionaries for outreach to remote areas . Over the years 34 Sisters stayed with the people of Chile in their struggle for justice and freedom.

Our time in Latin America has come to an end but the sisters find that the people gathered at the Mexican border might benefit from a helping hand.  Their knowledge of language, culture and history has drawn them there at this time.  Three sisters will return to update us at the end of the month.

An invitation came from the Bishop of Lahore, Bishop Armando to come to Pakistan. With a coastline on the Arabian Sea it has boundaries with Iran, Afghanistan, China  and India.  Its main water source is the Indus River and its source is Tibet.  Who could say we cannot go?   In 1990 five Sisters arrived in Hyderabad one of the largest cities in the Sindh area in South Pakistan.   The Sindhis were feudal landlords who owned enormous tracks of land and employed the poor as “bonded labourers” Hindus and Christians are among these very poor.  In the cities they find work as street sweepers being classed as “municipality workers.”  They are looked down upon.   This class distinction is seen in that cups used by Christians are then broken!    

The Sisters studied Urdu, the national language and imbibed the culture and customs.  The Sisters also wore the native dress.  From the beginning community based rehabilitation was a project in which the Sisters were involved. Since they counted an occupational Therapist and nurses among their number, they were a real asset to diocesan efforts to set up a health team and outreach to children of special needs.   Three of its staff members have graduated, one as a physiotherapist, another in speech  therapy and the third as prosthetist and orthoptist. The sisters also were training teachers to work with poor Hindus and Christians. What a disappointment was had when the Sisters had prepared a group of Christian families to come to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin to meet Pope Francis and Ireland denied them Visas.! The Sisters taking the words of Jesus, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, ” very much to heart,  a broken one!

From the start the Columban Fathers and Sisters collaborating together followed the missionary call where it led to the United States and the United Kingdom. We   worked in the areas of Mission Promotion, Education, and health care.

In 1930 the Sisters came to the Columban Seminary in Silver Creek, New York

In 1948 Transferred Novitiate to Boston.  In 1947 Columban sisters staffed Columban Parish School for 32 years and a Diocesan School, Our Lady of Guadalupe, East Los Angeles for 38 years. St. Columban’s Nursing Home on the Lake staffed by the Sisters over the years has provided a much needed service and is a haven for the Aged. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the American people for their hospitality, generosity and the continued support of all our missions. 

From the very beginning the Columban Sisters received and welcomed many American women who  answered the call  to mission.  A great blessing for our Congregation.

Wherever the Sisters are laid to rest their names are written in our cemetery in Magheramore. We rejoice in the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the sisters we are remembering today.  They are your family, your loved ones and all the people they loved on their journey through life.In St. John’s Gospel the weeping Mary Magdalene hears one simple word, Mary.  We are also called by name and the blessed  and holy women who cared for the Body of Jesus in so many  places of war and pain, beauty and joy are waiting for you.   Rejoice with them. Alleluia is our song.

He is Risen!