Homily given at the Golden Jubilee Mass of Sisters Ellen Keating and Margaret O’Brien – on September 11, 2010 in Magheramore, Wicklow – by Sister Patricia Quigley
Good morning. Our first reading highlights God’s call to each one of us with the words “before the world was made, we were chosen in Christ to be holy and spotless and to live through love in God’s presence.” This is God’s invitation to each of us.
Today as we unite with Margaret and Ellen in celebrating the Golden Jubilee of their profession, we focus on their being chosen by God and we realize that this day must be full of memories for them. Throughout their lives they have experienced this choosing by God. The Keatings of Newtownshandrum in Co. Cork was the family chosen to welcome Ellen where she was cherished and deeply loved while the O’Brien family of Glencairn were chosen to welcome Margaret and she too was cherished and deeply loved. Families that gave them life, love, security, opportunity for growth and education, and a place where Ellen and Margaret were always welcomed and felt at home. And today it is our privilege to welcome you – the families of Ellen and Margaret to Magheramore.
Having completed secondary school both Ellen and Margaret, when it seemed that they were being called on to make choices, both of them felt the need to take time to think about their future and spent a year searching. Both had the desire to serve but how and where was the question. However like Mary in the Gospel, they were soon to find an Elizabeth or in fact many Elizabeths who would help them and confirm them in their calling.
After her year, Ellen, having wanted to do nursing, decided to go ahead and do her training. Being offered a place both in the Mater Hospital and in St. Vincent’s, Ellen decided to accept the place in St. Vincent’s. Little did Ellen know that that choice was all part of God’s plan for her future. Among the many student nurses training with Ellen were a number of Religious Sisters from various Orders including the Columban Sisters. After much soul searching, Ellen realized that God was calling her to be a Columban Sister and you can imagine the joy that gave our Sisters who were training with her, Srs. Cecily, Dorothea and two of whom are with us today – Srs. Valery and Mary Nugent.
On the other hand, Margaret, during her soul searching year, was given a nudge by one of her former Sister teachers telling her that she believed that Margaret had a vocation. Margaret found this hard to take and yet could not get it out of her mind. Earlier while still in school, Columban Sisters had visited on a couple of occasions – Srs. Mary Pauline, Margaret Mary and someone who is present here today, Sr. Mary Bernardine. During their visits Margaret had said to herself if she ever was going to be a Sister, she would be a Columban Sister. And so, when she felt she needed to respond to the realization that she might have a vocation, true to her word, she chose the Columban Sisters.
And that was how Margaret and Ellen met as they entered here in Magheramore in March 1958. Revealing again the mystery of God’s choosing us before we were born.
As we continue our reflection on the Readings, the prayers and psalm we have prayed and the songs we have sung, two very beautiful phrases emerge – two wonderful phrases that are very precious to Ellen and Margaret, phrases that have been an inspiration to them throughout their lives “Love is repaid by love alone” which is inscribed on Ellen’s ring and “Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” which is inscribed on the ring of Margaret. These ‘Mottos’ chosen by Ellen and Margaret enabled them to face the challenges and experience the fulfilment of religious missionary life as Columban Sisters.
Another very wonderful phrase from our opening song, “Your faithfulness as certain as the dawn” recalls the Lord’s goodness to all of us. However, these words also sum Margaret’s and Ellen’s dedication lived out by Ellen in Korea, Margaret in Hong Kong and now by both of them in Britain. That dedication that enabled them to read the signs of the times and respond as is seen by the many ways they have lived out their missionary life.
Post war Korea provided Ellen with many opportunities to use her nursing skills and later as Korea developed, to respond to the needs of migrant workers thus enabling her to minister and care in a new way. Later her caring skills were made available to the community here in Magheramore and with her gentle presence she journeyed with many of our elderly Sisters. And now she continues to journey with the people of Stevenston, in Scotland, as in her pastoral work she listens, responds to needs and is a presence to many people, as she witnesses to God’s faithfulness. I should say that as Ellen began her first term in Korea she had the joy of knowing that her sister Susan was also to become a Columban Sisters and we are happy that Susan is with us today.
Margaret, too, began in a hospital setting, in Hong Kong using her skills as a radiographer to the full. However, seeing the pastoral needs in the parish, Margaret felt the call to respond. Later with training her pastoral work took on the added dimension of chaplaincy work in hospital – a setting she was familiar with. But ever anxious to care for those with the greatest need, Margaret soon sought out those suffering with mental illnesses and had the opportunity to witness in a unique way to God’s faithfulness to all people. This work so dear to the heart of Margaret she continues now in Birmingham, England. Margaret, too, was available to the Congregation helping with vocation and promotion work and also served the Congregation as a member of the CLT for six years.
At this time I would like to remember Ellen and Margaret’s companion Sr. Breda Noonan who entered from England and who is with Margaret and Ellen in Britain. Earlier Breda celebrated with her family there. We thank God for the gift of a missionary vocation to Breda, and for the blessing she has been to our Congregation.
Another of their companions was Sister Inez Lee from Hong Kong who died in 2008. We would like to remember her, too, in a special way as we thank God for blessing us with her presence. Sister Inez was Chinese and, as you may know, our Congregation was founded originally for China. Today is the 84th anniversary of our first Sisters going to China (and it was a Saturday that year, too).
As we united with Margaret and Ellen in giving thanks for this gift of a missionary vocation, we thank God in a special way for each one of you as family and through you we thank Ellen and Margaret’s parents and siblings who are now enjoying the fullness of joy in God’s presence, thank you for the gift of Ellen and Margaret to our Congregation. We are truly blessed in them.
We pray that they and all of us will treasure another beautiful line from the opening song “Our lives are in God’s hands and our future in his heart”. Once we realize this and make it our own we can truly join with Mary in her beautiful song which we have just heard in the Gospel – My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God my Saviour…..for the Almighty has done great things for me, and Holy is God’s name.”
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