The Mass Homily (text below) was delivered by Sr Patricia Quigley, Congregational Vicar.
“At around 7.30 a.m. last Saturday morning – the Feast of St. Columban – and the day before Sister Mary Austin’s 83rd birthday, in faith we believe that the words of Jesus in the Gospel which we have just heard were fulfilled “I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am you may be too.”
Sister Mary Austin’s going from us was so peaceful and gentle as if she was echoing the first line of our Gospel and the words of Jesus “Do not let your hearts be troubled – trust in God and trust in me”. And as we remember and reflect on her life, we realize that this was the thread that ran through it. A gracious, generous and grateful lady, who loved people and life itself to the full. She was ever ready to listen, to console and if there was any way she could help, she did it no matter what it cost her and she did it with enthusiasm and joy. To use the phrase that she herself loved to quote “Life is a mystery to be lived not a problem to be solved.”
Mary Austin or Marie, as she was known by her family certainly witnessed to this trust in God when at 18 years of age she emigrated to Boston, United States – the only member of her family to do so. Loving life to the full, she worked hard but also participated in the social life of the Irish community there. However, there was that deep desire in her to be generous with God and to make that love she had for people, fruitful, she began to think about religious life. Lucky for us the family she was staying with in Cambridge, Mass was friendly with the Columban Fathers – Frs. Owen McGrath and Fintan Keegan – who on hearing of Marie’s researching of religious communities, suggested that she meet, as they put it, “our Sisters in Hyde Park” and the rest is history.
Sister Mary Austin always gave expression to the gratitude she felt towards the Columban Fathers showing it in practical ways by baking homemade bread, scones and on special occasions making a special cake and trifle.
Soon after 1st Profession, Mary Austin’s wonderful gift with people was given full scope as she became involved in the Mission Awareness and Fund Raising Ministry of the Congregation. She witnessed to her deep love for the Congregation and its mission where ever she went. Working first out of Boston, and later Chicago and California she covered most of the United States during her life and where ever she went visiting parishes, she would always express gratitude for having the privilege to witness to the Columban mission and gratitude that the priests and people, wanted to participate in our mission in whatever way they could. She also carried in her heart the many requests for prayers she received and whenever it was possible would follow up with people – often making friends that lasted a life time. She was also marvelous for reaching out to people who were grieving – travelling to wakes and funerals which was deeply appreciated by the families who were mourning.
Mary Austin also had the gift of teaching and having trained as a Montessori teacher shared this gift firstly in our kindergarten in Boston and later in California, both in our own schools and later opening a Montessori kindergarten there. Her students loved her and the parents appreciated the wonderful foundation that she gave their children. In later life many of her students came back to thank her and even on Saturday, the day she died, one of the mothers whose sons she had taught in Kindergarten rang to enquire after her and on hearing of her death expressed her gratitude.
Although Mary Austin was fulfilled as a teacher nevertheless her first love continued to be mission awareness and even in the kindergartens she ‘recruited’ the parents to be part of the functions she was involved in organizing whether it was the lawn fetes or the dance or some other means of fund raising. Whatever she did she put her whole self into it – making the task one of joy – able to enjoy her work – if the fundraising was a dance, she danced; if it was a dinner dance it became a party and yet she never took her eye off the original purpose for which she was doing these tasks – to ensure that the Good News would reach the ends of the earth.
And above all, Sr. Mary Austin, Marie, loved you her family. We felt we knew you long before we met you. What love there must have been in that family home in Rosscarbury which Marie carried in her heart and which was nurtured through letters for those 19 years before she had a home visit. And you as family how you took her to yourself, entering into her ministry, supporting her when she was at home to visit family and friends, getting gifts for her benefactors in the U.S., listening to her stories and visiting, when you could the U.S. She was always so proud of you and so appreciated that the letter writing continued with the next generation in addition to phone calls – how she just loved to share in your lives.
Her wonderful trust in God and trust in Jesus – her motto Vive Jesus – Live Jesus – which had carried her the length and breadth of the United States was witnessed to in an even more profound way during these last years of her life as she was asked to come to Magheramore and was gradually called into immobility and silence. What a challenge, what a sacred journey it must have been for her. She who always loved to thank people for their kindness to her was unable to do so and yet I know that she will continue to intercede for you her family, her friends, our sisters who visited her and wrote to her and especially our wonderful staff who cared for her day after day.
So can we now enter into that silence that was hers for a minute as we each give thanks to God for her life.