I am the second youngest of a family of eleven, six girls and five boys, born during the war years in Athenry, Co. Galway - the place made famous by Paddy Reilly in his song ‘The Fields of Athenry’. This was a very big family by today’s standards but we were self- sufficient on our little farm. The weekly groceries were purchased with the sale of eggs and butter and the October Fair saw us with new boots from the sale of cattle. I attended Newcastle Primary School and most days we walked to school through the fields checking to see if there was a bull in sight! If we walked on the road we might encounter a cross dog, a gander or on a few occasions a puck goat! So early in life I learned to be brave and deal with fear. In school we had to cope with fear too as we had a cross teacher! Lucky for us we only had a healthy fear at home and were very happy. No need to make us study, we just did it! My father loved music and played the accordion. In the long winter nights we had lots of sing songs around the fireside and the gramophone was the centre of attraction also.
The Presentation Sisters opened a secondary school in the fifties and lucky for us the fee was only six pounds a term. I have good memories of my years with the sisters and was greatly influenced by those who taught me. I joined the Young Priests Society to collect money for the ordination of boys who couldn’t afford College. I tell this for a purpose, because it was in visiting an old man to get his subscription that I made up my mind to spend my life visiting the lonely. He had an accordion on the mantelpiece covered with ashes and when I asked him to play it for me his eyes lit up, blew the ashes away and played me some wonderful music. He had come to life because I had cared to listen. Was this the seed of my religious vocation? Who knows, but I like to think it was. This seed was nurtured by the nightly recitation of the Rosary in our home followed by a few minutes silence. The silence was powerful and I remember looking at my mother’s eyes as she gazed at the Sacred Heart picture. He was real to her and I never forgot that.
My mother also had three sisters in the Athy Mercy Convent and we looked forward each summer to their visit home to Galway. Their big deep pockets were filled with religious goods, the kind we see for sale in the stalls at Knock! I owe them my very first soft doll, which I loved. My sister, three years older than me decided to join my aunts and we were broken-hearted! However the trips to Athy made us feel better when we realised she was happy. In my leaving cert year my two oldest sisters got married and I was bridesmaid. The struggle started again for me between entering and getting married! I had high ambitions – to be a saint! I got in touch with a few convents and finally decided to visit the Convent of Mercy, Loughrea, Co. Galway. I knew instantly that this was the place for me and my search was over.
I entered in Loughrea on Mercy Day, September 24th, 1959 and was blissfully happy with my newly found family. This was the honeymoon period! However I soon found out that to be a saint one had to be tried and tested and that is a life’s journey. Living in close contact with others, like the pebbles on the seashore, one gets the corners knocked off, our novice mistress told us! After two years formation I was sent on my first mission to Ballinasloe to teach forty junior infants! I loved this work and was on my way to Carysfort Training College the following September. My life from now on was to be a series of beginnings and endings as I was assigned to different schools in the Diocese of Clonfert: Loughrea, Eyrecourt, Woodford and Portumna. I tried not to get too attached to any place I was assigned to but I’m afraid I failed in that effort and each move was a mini death experience for me!
In 1975 I trained in catechetics in Mount Oliver and that year included a trip to the Holy Land, which I treasured. I then got involved with Sacramental Preparation programmes in a few parishes till I was asked to leave for California. I found myself well equipped for this challenge and enjoyed eight very fulfilling and exciting years in The Napa Valley (without tasting the vino!) and four in San Francisco. I was amazed to find the people so involved in their parishes, and working there, from that perspective, was so much easier than in Ireland. In 1991 I was invited back to care for a large community of 29 in Ballinasloe. I spent two happy years there and relished the opportunity of being in the company of older sisters once more, listening to their wisdom and having a break from school!
At this time care of the Earth was now beginning to be a priority for all of us in Clonfert and in 1993 I joined three others to start a new project in Portumna, which we named The Gairdin. We built our own environmentally friendly house (a daunting task for the four of us!) with underground solar heating in an effort to raise awareness of what could be done to save the planet. Organic gardening, education and recycling were our main focus and our house was open to all! I had returned to the classroom again and taught in Woodford and in Eyrecourt till severe osteoporosis forced me into early retirement.
In 1999 I moved to Eyrecourt to live and was given a Sabbatical, which was a real blessing at this time. During that year I took time to reflect on life’s journey and decided to train in Spiritual direction and do a Diploma in Theology. So the word retirement meant new direction for me and I can truly say life is worth living to the full! At present I am involved with Liturgy in a few schools and co-ordinator of the PreBaptism Programme covering nine parishes. Visiting the sick, elderly and the needy is a big priority for me all my life. Being a Sister of Mercy has given me the opportunity to be part of so many people’s lives and I have been enriched by those experiences.
But my life, too, has not been without pain and sorrow as three brothers in their sixties and a sister at the age of 36 died, and I had some illness to cope with myself. It was at times like these especially, that I found the spirit of our foundress Catherine McAuley alive and well in our sisters and that I valued the friendship of true friends. Yes, to be a saint one has to be tried and tested but what I have discovered is that God’s love was never found wanting if I took the time to reflect on my day.