candleSaturday, December 14th 2013 was a wet and windy day.  Not a great day for a trip from Wicklow to Antrim.   Yet that is what four of us Columban Sisters did because it was on that day thirty years ago that our Sister Joan Sawyer gave her life together with seven prisoners for the cause of love, peace and justice.

Joan’s niece and namesake, Joan Chan, in cooperation with the parish priest, Fr  Emerson and sacristan Brendan Smith, organised a Memorial Mass in St. Comgall’s Church – the church where Sister Joan was baptized, made her First Holy Communion and Confirmation many years ago.  The journey of a brave Columban Sister began there and ended at Lurigancho prison in Lima in 1983.

We joined Joan’s family and friends at the Memorial Mass celebrated by Fr. Kevin Mullen. At the beginning of the Celebration he told the congregation who it was who was being remembered and he gave a brief account of Joan’s missionary journey especially the last and final steps.


Sister Rose with Brendan Smith the sacristan whose research on religious from the parish brought the story of Sister Joan into the light for the parish

Sisters Eileen and Rose with Eva, Rosa and Conal Boyd, grandnieces and grandnephew of Sister Joan Sawyer. The children recently prepared presents their mother, Hilary, to bring to children in Lima.

For me the whole experience brought back the terrible reality we had lived through in Lima 30 years ago.  Connecting with so many members of Joan’s family and friends was special.  Someone remarked that they seldom get together but were thankful to Joan for uniting them at this time.

It is very inspiring to see how fondly Joan is remembered by her family after all those years especially the younger members.  The heading on the little Mass booklet read:


That is another way of looking at the Good News of our Christian faith –  Life, Death and Resurrection.

Only in this context could we rejoice and share together the tragic death of our Sister Joan.

Mrs Joan Chan, niece of the late Sister Joan Sawyer, with Sisters Maureen Grant, Rose Gallagher, Eileen Rabbitte before the Mass
St Comgall’s Church, Antrim Town, where Sr Joan Sawyer was baptized, confirmed and received her First Communion
Joan Chan’s father, Ronnie and Sister Maureen before the Mass


Columban Sisters Anne Carbon, Maureen, Rose and Eileen with Joan Chan and Brendan and Pauline Smith at the celebration



To the right the Cruz “No Matarás” – Do Not Kill – still stands on the spot where the massacre took place of Joan along with seven prisoners from Lurigancho Prison whom she and other social workers had gone to offer help and counsel.

Justice is not easily come by for the poor and the marginalised of society. For this the Son of God was born, lived alnd died.

  cross_on_massacre sight 


By Sister Eileen Rabbitte recently returned from Peru after many years of missionary work there among the poor.

 See also Reflections: A Beatitude Woman, Sister Joan Sawyer, 30 Years On