– given by Fr James Ronayne, P.P., Clifden, Co Galway

in the Convent Chapel, St Columban’s, Magheramore, Wicklow,

Saturday, 10 November 2012


In 1975 my first assignment was to Inishere one of the three Aran Islands. My first trip to the neighouring island of Inis Meain was by currach to attend the traditional “stations” or house Mass (a revered custom on the island) in the home of Mairin Ni Dhomhnail. At the breakfast table in her cosy sitting room Maureen pointed to the mantelpiece which had an array of magnificently coloured dolls which would do justice to any Christmas shop.

She proceeded to relate to myself and my fellow priest at the table the extraordinary story of her own near death experience at the very complicated birth of one of her children which necessitated the sending for and subsequent arrival of the emergency flying squad from Galway Regional Hospital. Thankfully, the outcome of the emergency was a happy one. Maureen told us in her own words about this “Bean rialta, an t-Suir David” who saved her life and that of her baby. Sr Mary David was home on a two-year leave from Korea to do a course in Obstetrics. This was 1968. At that time Providence allowed that she was on duty that night and attended the emergency needs of Mairin Ni Dhomhnail and her child. The remarkable thing was that every years since then Sr Mary David would send a Korean toy to that new-born child. Now years later at a Station Mass in 1975, here they were on display on Mairin’s mantelpiece.

I could only bask happily in Maureen’s telling the story about “Bean rialta, an t-Suir David” and when she had finished telling her story I smiled and said that I too could fill a mantelpiece with all the birthday cards I received from Sr Mary David who was both my godmother and my cousin. It was one of life’s rare confluences of grace to be able to hear and tell about Sr Mary David on that night in Inis Meain. What struck me then and now was that Sr Mary David’s care wasn’t just in the moment, but enduring:

“As long as you did it to one of these the least of my brothers or sisters you did it to me”

I have never been to Korea, but I feel sure that there are many Inismean-experiences and many Maureen Ni Dhomhnails with a similar story. After long hours of working as a doctor in her clinic whether in Mokpo, Samchok or on the Island of Cheju Do, Sister David would make her way through villages carrying medicines for the poor. She was a brilliant doctor. She always put the patient first. She was sharp in her diagnosis, thorough in her treatment and always humble in her manner. She would often be heard be heard to say: “The Lord is at work here.”

“As long as you did it to one of these the least of my brothers or sisters you did it to me”

For us, her family and her cousins, Sr Mary David is our last link with all our parents. We have memories and stories to cherish of those earlier times when they would meet, in Patrick Kavanagh’s words “going to second Mass on a summer Sunday”, or ”on a fair day by accident after the bargains are all made.” The place of meeting was her home, Mannion’s Pub, or in its kitchen where they would meet, greet and share their lives. Those lives had an extraordinary work ethic, a loyalty and decency. It was here that that Sr Mary David was born Bridget Mary, and known affectionately to all in Milltown as well as to all her family as “Babs.”  She grew up a very bright, attractive young woman and when she had just qualified as a doctor she decided to be a missionary in the spirit of St Columban. She became a wonderful missionary giving herself totally to the work of the Lord and totally to the Lord of the work. Today’s reading from Isaiah (41:28-31) describes so well the struggle of serving the Lord when it says: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.”

Coming here to Magheramore for this final farewell to Sr Mary David, it was comforting to hear all the Sisters describe the peace she had in her final moments and indeed in her last weeks. It was a most extraordinary blessing because Sr David so desired such a grace and I believe her whole life was a very conscious preparation for this moment of blessed departure from this life. Such a happy death is so eloquently described by poet, priest and mystic, the late John Donohue:

“I pray that you will have the blessing
Of being consoled and sure about your death.
May you know in your soul
There is no need to be afraid.
When your time comes, may you have
Every blessing and strength you need.
May there be a beautiful welcome for you
In the home you are going to.
You are not going somewhere strange.
Merely back to the home you have never left.
May you live with compassion
And transfigure everything
Negative within and about you.
When you come to die
May it be after a long life.
May you be tranquil
Among those who care for you.
May your going be sheltered
And your welcome assured.
May your soul smile
In the embrace
Of your Anam Cara.”

To the Sisters and Staff, whose lives were touched by Sr Mary David, I offer you condolences and I pay tribute to your wonderful care returned to her who had herself given so much.

“As long as you did it to one of these the least of my brothers or sisters you did it to me.”

So, farewell, Sr David, as you go home. We are also thinking today of Sr Mary Assunta Mannion and Sr Mary Stephen Mannion and all the other great foot soldiers who have fought the good fight and have finished the race.”

We pray for all of them and for Sr Mary David:

“Blessed are those who sleep in the Lord, now you can rest in peace for your good deeds go before you.”

An dheis De go raibh a hAnam usual*

*May her good soul rest in God’s right hand

Categories Obituaries