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carmel-bernadette-keeganSister Carmel Bernadette Keegan

1933 - 2015

Born: 24th February 1933

Entered Religious Life: 11th October 1954

Died: 8th August 2015

 

 

Eulogy delivered at Sr Carmel Bernadette’s funeral by Sr Rita Dawson
Provincial Leader, England/Scotland


Sr Carmel was born on 24 February 1933, the second youngest of a family of seven children; two girls and five boys. Three of her brothers, John, Frank and Joseph, have died, as has her older sister, known as Sr Veronica of the Mercy Sisters.

Sr Carmel is survived by her two brothers Patrick and William.

Carmel was very close to her niece Teresa, and her six nephews and had a great fondness for all of them.  Felim, Declan, John and Brendan live in Ireland; and Declan and Desmond live in England.

Brendan drove Carmel around during her last two holidays and it was he who encouraged her to go home this year. Brendan would regularly email Carmel to see how she was doing.

She was christened Brigid Philomena and attended Ballinagore Primary School, followed by Kilbeggan Convent School run by the Sisters of Mercy.

Carmel undertook the civil service exam and obtained a place in the G.P.O in Dublin.

She worked in the Civil Service until 1954 before entering the Sisters of Charity in Milltown on 11 October 1954.

After her profession in 1957, she moved to Birkenhead to undertake Parish Work.  After this, she moved to Bath to continue her parish work before returning to Milltown for her Final Vows in 1960.

Carmel lived for some time in Donnybrook and Stanhope Street. Carmel spent a year at University College Dublin before undertaking a 2 year course in Social Work at the Josephine Butler College in Liverpool.  She received a Diploma and Degree in Social Science, and a Certificate in Social Casework.

Following completion of her education, Carmel returned to Hammersmith, then to Walthamstow and worked in Tower Hamlets Social Services from 1972-1979. During this time she often came to St Joseph's Convent for dinner. Later she did Chaplaincy work in Hammersmith Hospital which she enjoyed for nineteen years. 

She was still doing this work on a part-time basis until the time of her accident. 

It was a fracture of her right neck of femur that required surgery at Ealing Hospital in 2012 and led to her finally coming to St Joseph's Convent. She made a good recovery and used a walking stick. 

With the exception of this accident, Sr Carmel always enjoyed good health all her life.

Sr Carmel was a person who likes to keep active and busy.  Over the years she was very interested in art and attended art sessions twice a week at the Hospice.

Technology did not scare her either and she used an iPad to communicate with her family and friends. Music was also important to her and she enjoyed listening when she had time.  It is wonderful to see older people using iPads and it is a great way for them to keep in touch with families and friends.  I would encourage all older people to use the technology and keep up to date with it.  Carmel enjoyed holistic medicine and completed courses in Reiki and Metamorphic Technique.

Carmel had a lovely gentle approach to the patients whom she ministered at the Hammersmith Hospital. Right up to the time she stopped working, she would walk long distances through the hospital to visit and pray with the sick, and make sure they had escorts to bring them to Sunday Mass, should they wish.  I was also told last night that Carmel said beautiful prayers with the dying which the families appreciated very much.

Carmel could be quite demanding at times, and when she decided that she needed something done she would keep at the Staff until she got her request. No matter how big or small the job was she would keep at it until she got the required result.  When I was here a couple of months ago, I had spent some time with her in the evening before I was returning to Scotland.  However, as I was about to leave the next morning, Sister Geraldine said “Carmel wishes to see you Rita”.  I said “but I spent a long time with her last night”.  Geraldine said “I know but she wants to ask you something and is down waiting near the door”. 

When I came out, I said hello to Carmel and she started to talk about Kathleen who had died some time ago.  I certainly knew she was not looking for bereavement counselling!!  I said “listen Carmel, we have to be ever-ready like the batteries”.  She said “Oh Rita, you are the funniest Provincial we have ever had.” 

Now I have taken that as a compliment though with Carmel you would not know.  Carmel then said “I would like to go home Rita”.  I asked if there was problem.  She said “no, but…”.  I said “there’s no buts.  Where would you go from and who would be there to meet you in Dublin?”  She said almost indignantly, “my nephews are very good to me and they look after me.”  I said “then there’s no problem.  Off you go and enjoy yourself.  Geraldine will book your ticket now and get it all sorted for you”. 

She went away very happy, had a wonderful time in Ireland, came back delighted with herself.  She had seen a lot of cousins and friends and had used her iPad by Face-timing people with her nephew which she was absolutely thrilled about.  She then went to Herne Bay and had 2 wonderful weeks there which she thoroughly enjoyed.

I often think when older people ask to go home, there is a longing and a desire which sometimes we do not recognise but how wonderful it was that she was able to do all of this.

She also enjoyed meal times as she considered this to be a social event.  But she would draw it out, eating so slowly that her companions would be really frustrated!!! But Carmel would not be rushed.  Sometimes on a Sunday the Sisters would like to get out for a walk or maybe go to Kew Gardens but half the day would be gone before Carmel would finish her lunch. You have to admire the uniqueness and determination of someone like Carmel.  However, this can cause frustration for others.

During her last illness she was not always able to express herself verbally, but she always managed to thank anyone who attended to her, and the staff at the Homerton Hospital were very moved by her appreciation of their care for her.  Carmel did not wish anyone to know that she was not so well and had been admitted to hospital.  She had her own reasons for this and we had to respect it. 

On 18 March this year Mary Aikenhead was declared Venerable.  There has been much rejoicing within the Province and the Congregation.  It is therefore fitting that Carmel has been welcomed into Heaven by our Foundress the now Venerable Mary Aikenhead in this special year. 

Sr Carmel’s life can now be summed up as “My life is being given as an offering to God, and the time has come for me to leave this life. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NCV).  Or as Pope John XXIII said "My bags are packed and I am ready, very ready, to go."

This could sum up Carmel’s last days.  May she now rest in peace.  Amen.

Sr. Joseph Helen Cunningham.

 

We are standing this morning on holy ground: the place where Mary Aikenhead spent the last years of her life as an invalid – a woman whose vision, courage and practical common-sense gave birth to our Congregation and to our long and graced history of service of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.Today we are celebrating the life of Sr. Joseph Helen, a woman who cherished that charism, serving those in need with fidelity and generosity, and who also spent the last years of her life here in the Hospice.

 

The readings this morning are both comforting and challenging.In the Gospel Jesus speaks of himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life.He invites us to put our hope and our trust in Him and in His promise to be with us, steadily and constantly as we try each day to walk his way, to speak his truth, to live his life.It is an apt description of the life and commitment of the woman whom we are remembering here.

 

In her 103 years of life, Sr. Joseph Helen lived through historical and global changes that are impossible for us to imagine.She experienced seismic shifts in Church and state.She witnessed wars and famines on a world scale.Through all of those yearsshe remained steadfastly faithful to the constant core of who she was as an RSC.She was born Dorothy Cunningham in Ballacolla in Portlaoise on 1st July 1908. She was an only girl, with one brother, and was much loved by all.Her childhood and youth reflected the calm ordinariness of children’s lives at that time.Following her degree studies she spent some months caring for her mother who was ill and then secured a job teaching in Mountjoy St. School in Dublin.Her father was not impressed!His comment on hearing of that place was:“It doesn’t sound like much of a job but you like working for the poor and you’ve always been good at it”.She remained there until she entered the Sisters of Charity on 5th October 1931.

 

In the first reading we are told that God gives strength to the wearied; that those who hope in Yahweh will soar like eagles, run and no grow weary, walk and never tire.That was so true of J. Helen throughout her active life.She was missioned back to Mountjoy St. after her religious profession and taught there for 12 years.Following a year’s further study in Scotland, she went to teach in a Secondary Modern school inWalthamstow in England for a year.And then came the call to be one of our three founding Sisters of the Zambian Region, or Northern Rhodesia as it then was.

 

In 1948 they set sail, travelling for four weeks by boat – The Athlone Castle -rail, bus and lorry before arriving in Chisekesi Siding on a dark morning on 28th October 1948. Sr. Helen kept a diary of the journey which was printed for the 50th anniversary and which gives a fascinating insight into their journey and how they coped with, what was for them, such a strange and almost ‘alien’ environment.

 

One can only imagine the anticipation and anxiety, the challenge and the loneliness, the wonder and the doubts that marked that journey and her first months in Zambia.It was a place and people that she came to love and cherish.She committed herself to the education of girls and brought the gift of knowledge and freedom to countless women who still remember her with gratitude and appreciation.There are many past pupils with sad hearts in Zambia at the moment – their sadness at her passing tempered only by their gratitude that she is free from the debilities of her age.And that mourning is echoed this morning among our sisters there in the Region and here in this Chapel in the sisters who lived with her and shared her life for those 30 years.

 

Her first 15 years in Zambia were spent in the Teacher training college run by the Jesuits and began her work in promoting the education of girls – beginning with the setting up of a girls secondary boarding school in Roma in Lusaka.Nine years later she was appointed Regional Leader and on Independence day 1978she was conferred with the Order of Distinguished Service for 30 years of outstanding service to the people of Zambia in the fields of Education and Social work.

 

While she was a formidable woman in many ways, with high standards and expectations, her devotion to her religious life and her commitment to education was recognized and appreciated by all who knew her.She was a strict disciplinarian, spoke the truth without apology and demanded very high standards.At the same time her heart was compassionate and her generosity and hospitality were known and appreciated by all.

 

Like all of us, Helen has known suffering and joy, tears and laughter, pain and happiness, loneliness and friendship.And she had strong relationships with herfriends – too numerous to mention – but exemplified in the love and devotion of Sr. Mary Bernadette Collins and Catherine Fallon.Up to the end she valued and enjoyed her relationships with her nieces, nephews and other family members and followed their lives with interest, with love and with prayer.

 

In 1978 she was missioned to Ireland and worked on our Constitutions.Subsequently she was appointed as local leader to our community in Crumlin before her appointment to our Provincial Leadership team and consequent arrival here in Our Lady’s Mount in 1981.

 

Sr. J. Helen’s commitment to Mary Aikenhead's charism was single-minded and she never compromised on that.The second reading confirms her attitude to life:nothing outweighs the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus. It is only through Him, with Him and in Him that we can find life and happiness and fulfilment.Rooted in that conviction, she endorsed and embraced anything that served the people for whom she cared in a better, more dignified or respectful way.

 

She suffered in her growing debility and weakness these last years and all of us – family, community, friends and colleagues - were saddened as we watched her suffering and her struggle to cope.In spite of the wonderful, caring staff who surrounded her and the sisters and friends who were her constant support,she had difficult and dispiriting days.Yet she never gave up .Her faith in Providence was the touchstone of her life.In the midst of all her pain and letting-go she was confident that he was with her, holding her, comforting her and in the end, calling her to himself.And when that call came, sheyielded her spirit to the Lord, peace-filled, calm and trusting - blest with a death that had no struggle, no pain, no fear.And perhaps I can end with some words of hers, written in the diary of which I spoke, on her arrival in Chikuni:“Now that we have reached our Promised Land we must thank God and Our Lady for our very pleasant and on the whole easy journey which we have had . . . . “Those words echo, not only the journey to Chikuni, but her life journey, now at its end as she moves, we believe, into the fullness of the Promised land of God’s life and love.

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