Homily for the Funeral Mass of
Sr. Mary Radcliffe,
Columban Sisters’ Chapel,
May 21, 2018
We are gathered here today to bid farewell to Mary Radcliffe, Columban missionary sister and friend. We offer our condolences to Edward her twin who is represented here today by his daughter Caroline and her husband Tim, and to her brothers Charles and Anthony, and their families. We are grateful that they have been able to be with us for Mary’s funeral and to accompany her to her final resting place. Although Mary had been unwell for some time news of her sudden death at dawn on Thursday last came as a surprise to us. It must have been an even greater surprise for her family to get this early morning news and book their flights at such short notice.
I didn’t expect Mary to die last week. I expected her to wait for Harry and Megan’s wedding. She loved royal weddings and celebrities, the pageantry and precision and these programs were very rare in the Philippines. Obviously, she had a better view from her heavenly home and we can be sure she watched it.
Mary had a relaxed and peaceful week leading up to her death. She was overjoyed listening to an evening of song by Daisy, a Chilean friend who is staying with us at present in Magheramore. The night she died she had been chatting with the nurses until they left her peacefully at 4.00 a.m. in the morning. A little later she slipped away peacefully in her sleep. As the poet Mary Oliver says: “maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light,
wrapping itself around us”.
Mary asked earlier in the week about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; she was obviously tuned in to yesterday’s feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is the Missionary feast of the Church. It celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early Christians, and on us, giving us the courage to bring the compassionate love of Jesus to those who need it. Our Columban commitment brings us to third world countries and to cultures other than our own. And in and through our different ministries we bring the compassion of Jesus to those who need it most. In the words of the poet David Whyte:
. . .when you heard that voice, you had to go.
You couldn’t sit by the fire, you couldn’t live
so close to the live flame of that compassion.
You had to go into the world and make it your own.
Mary responded to that call and made it her own. She entered the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban in 1962. After her formation and professional studies she was assigned to the Philippines, arriving there in 1969. After a year in the Montessori school in Quezon City she was assigned for three years to St. Columban’s College, Lingayen, a five-hour bus journey north of Manila. From Lingayen she spent a year in Language School, studying Tagalog. In the early 1980’s she joined the Rural Missionaries, a national movement of religious who chose to leave the city and live a simple life style in the neglected villages and work among the poor. Mary joined that movement and was assigned to Bataan, across the bay from Olongapo City where she could spend weekends with us and keep us up to date about their movement.
From Bataan she was assigned to Bicol where the need was greater. Bicol was a ten hour bus ride south of Manila. One early morning we received a phone call in Manila saying that Sr. Mary Radcliffe had been kidnapped. When the caller demanded a hefty ransom in dollars we knew it was a hoax. Because Mary’s reputation for working with the poor was so well known, they were sure they could demand a big ransom!
After a two year stay in London from 1981-1983 for rest and renewal Mary returned to Manila to a very demanding assignment with a religious organization that cared for political prisoners – Task Force Detainees. Martial Law had been imposed by Pres. Marcos in 1972. Curfew from dusk to dawn curtailed the peoples’ movements. There were checkpoints, soldiers and abusive paramilitaries everywhere. Politicians and influential business men were imprisoned. Torture, imprisonment and disappearances were common. The Religious orders of women and men had set up this task force to protect the vulnerable in prison, support their wives and children and the young who took to the hills to form a liberation army. Mary, as the Columban Sisters’ representative, was dedicated to this work from the beginning and it was this for this commitment that she is best remembered in Manila. She visited prisoners, supported their wives and families, while keeping records of the captured and disappeared, and managing their foreign funding etc. For security and safety their files and records were kept in religious houses. Our Columban house kept a copy of their financial records hidden in a discreet corner under a folding bed. The Gospel of Matthew which was read yesterday during her removal service is an apt summary of her commitment: When I was in prison you visited me.
As the Marcos regime became more oppressive, students and teachers took to the streets and anti- Marcos marches became a daily occurrence. Marcos made every effort to avoid negative publicity abroad so he warned the army not to kill foreign journalists. Mary, together with Columban missionaries in Manila marched in solidarity with the oppressed. She kept us informed about military abuse, kidnappings and summary killings that were otherwise blocked from daily papers and television.
When Mary had completed her work in the Philippines she was assigned to East London. There she worked with Amnesty International, the Burma Action Group, and she became the Columban Sisters’ primary school, volunteered in the Outpatients’ Department of the local hospital and helped the hospital lawyer with the filing of her records. She also volunteered in the local library and attended weekly Faith and Scripture classes.
Mary’s energy continued to fail and her health deteriorated which necessitated her moving from East London to the Magheramore Nursing Home. Although this was initially a challenge for Mary, nevertheless she accepted it and settled in graciously. Her worsened condition was not easy for her but she continued to appreciate the care she received from the nurses and carers.
Mary may you rest in peace, united today with your parents in everlasting joy and happiness. Now that you are wrapped in eternal light we offer you: A Song of Farewell
You have gone forth upon your final journey
You have gone forth from this world in peace
In the presence of God the Father, who created you.
In the love of Jesus our Lord who calls you his friend,
And in the warmth of the Holy Spirit,
Who has made a home in you.
In death your life is changed, not ended,
We have given you back to our faithful God
Who first gave you to us
On our common pilgrimage
We have accompanied you as far as we can go together
Our ways part for now
But, beyond our horizon,
You have been met by Jesus
Now in God’s kingdom of light, happiness and peace
The Spirit has healed and renewed and strengthened you
The end of your earthly pilgrimage
is but a new beginning in the bright dawn of eternal day.
The angels have led you into paradise
And the saints have taken you by the hand
And walked with you into the presence of God.