Sister M Clement Sheehy RIP
Homily delivered at the Funeral Mass
on 16 July, 2010
by Sr Redempta Twomey
Last Monday evening as she was recovering in hospital from the procedures she just had, our sister Clement with unfailing constancy, took her beads and prayed the rosary. Then opening a book of poems, she read for a while before finally taking up her Office book and reciting the old familiar words of Compline, the great night prayer of the Church. “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” And for the last time she prayed the Nunc Dimittis, that heartfelt prayer the old man Simeon uttered as he held the newborn Child of Mary: “At last, all powerful Lord, you give leave to your servant to go in peace.” Then, closing her breviary, she settled down to sleep. As the first ribbons of light appeared in the early dawn, quietly, without fuss, she left us, after ‘a quiet night and a perfect end.’
When she awoke it was to see the face of God, whom she had loved and longed for all her life. “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all nations.”
We who are left mourn her loss, grieve at her sudden going, long for her lovely presence among us gathered here. Yet our pain is not without hope, a hope founded on the Resurrection, on the certainty that her life is changed, not ended, on the thought that one day we will all ‘meet merrily in heaven,’ as a saint assured us. It cannot be otherwise because God draws us to himself with a love that no death can overcome. Your sister Sheila, our lovely Clement, your aunt, your grandaunt, your good friend, who loved and enjoyed each one of you, lived by this faith throughout her long life and would want you, would want all of us, to be consoled now in this same belief. Her death, in its peace and simplicity, is her last gift to all of us.
What a journey she made, this little woman from Union Hall in beautiful West Cork! The first step was to leave her much loved family where she was happily housekeeping with her mother. The wrench was almost too great to be borne; were it not for her conviction that the Lord was calling her and the encouragement of her brother Fr Paddy, who was himself about to leave for China, she might not have made it to Cahiracon. But finally, at the age of 23 she arrived to join the community. Those who were with her remember her constant weeping in those early day: ‘I used to see her tears falling into her boiled egg at breakfast,’ one sister recalled. But, she held fast and from those first, pain filled days, committed herself fully to the Lord. ‘Behold, I come to do your will, O God,’ was her motto, her rule of life long before she had it inscribed on her ring at her final vows.
Blessed with a keen intelligence and a thirst for knowledge, Clement sailed through her University studies in Dublin and in the US. In 1957 she was sent to the Philippines where the sisters were involved in education. What great challenges faced her there! What demands she met – building up schools, drawing up curriculums, finding funds to keep going but above all, and most gladly, meeting and teaching the students. It is true to say that Clement fell in love with the Filipinos and they quickly took her to their hearts. Few could resist her open, direct manner, the freedom with which she approached others, her sense of fun and the encouragement so readily and generously given.
People experienced her joyous dedication which spoke of her love of Christ and, without overt preaching, drew others to him. There are many people in the Philippines remembering Clement today, recalling the blessing she was to them. One of them, her dear friend Lourdes de Guzman, in a tribute to her, wrote “I first knew her as my fascinating teacher in English literature…I often wondered how much preparation it took to be able to teach like that…I discovered that beyond mastery of the subject matter, it took heart and passion and joy in the job. And whatever else is written in books about those intangible inputs, I saw them first and learned them from Sr Clement.”
Of course, English Literature was not her only passion. She was, let us whisper it, no mean card player. Many here can vouch for that but there is a lovely story of her teaching gin rummy to groups of children who gathered around her when she visited a Muslim barrio. Before she left she wrote out the moves of the game, how many cards to deal and so on. This precious piece of paper was called The Recipe and was held by Kathleen Geaney lest anyone forgot the play. Sure enough there would be a knock at the door and a little girl would ask, “Sister, my father wants to borrow The Recipe.” We can hope that Clement’s Recipe helped with Muslim-Christian dialogue in the area.
Another of her passions was gardening. Almost every afternoon here, her little person would be seen carrying her bag of implements, ready to weed, to plant, to see things grow. She loved nature, loved the changing seasons, the play of light and shadow on the hills, the shape of trees and the myriad colours of flowers. It delighted her to come across a passage in a book, or a poem that evoked the wonder and beauty of the earth. And not only the earth but the marvel of the cosmos, the new discoveries in space, – all spoke to her of the Creator. She kept abreast of the current state of play – and kept us informed too. Practical to the end, from her hospital bed she reminded Ita Mc that, ‘the blackcurrants are almost ready for picking.’
In the seventies, Clement was on the General Council of the Congregation, as Secretary and as Vicar. Here too she showed the same single mindedness, the honesty and responsibility that so characterized all her undertakings. Her head matched her heart in a single integrity. It was a difficult time, following Vatican ll, a time of great change and challenge, a time when this soul-sized woman steered a firm course in very choppy waters. A woman of prayer, she knew Who was at the helm and never lost faith or hope as she helped the communities to respond with vigour and compassion in a changing world. As someone who was with her at the time said, ‘She was a joy to have around.’
Her last years in the Philippines were among her happiest there. This marvellous teacher, now retired from the schools, threw her lot in with disabled children. She and Ann Breen changed the lives of these neglected little ones and helped to build a viable Centre in Ozamis for their development. Clement, with endless patience, coaxed their laughter and taught them to value their own giftedness, so often missed by others. Is it any wonder it is called the Community of Hope? Today, in one of those wonderful coincidences, Ozamis is celebrating their Patron, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, with a huge fiesta. The Community will be celebrating. We can be sure Clement would want us too to share the joy of this feast.
Back in Ireland, at 80 plus, she found a niche in the Archives. With her encyclopaedic knowledge of the Congregation she truly enjoyed the work which often stirred up old memories, reawaking past events and evoking many musings. Her obituaries of our deceased sisters are little masterpieces of clarity which will not, I think, be surpassed.
Already we miss Clement greatly, miss her quick step out of the chapel to make the tea, miss her standing by the table chopping fruit or topping and tailing, miss her presence at card games, miss her little person sitting quietly reading in the community room or praying in the chapel, miss her interest and interventions at community meetings, miss her crossword skill, her analysis of books, her merry laugh. But in our loss we remain deeply grateful to and for her and thank God for the benediction her life has been on all of us.
This talk, I fear, is like a stone skimming over the water – there is so much that could be said, depths to be plumbed; one can only skim the surface. But I trust that in the days ahead you will share your own memories of this beloved woman and be blessed once again by her spirit. She is like that lamp we heard of today, a light shining out on all the people. Her light will not fail.
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