I had never planned to join religious life. In my head and heart I had other plans in store for myself. I am the second eldest of ten children and had always dreamed of having my own family. However God had His plans. Let me tell you my story.
Last year I celebrated my Silver Jubilee as a Religious Sister of Mercy. Jubilees are times when one reflects on the past and look forward to the future.
The seeds of my vocation were sown within my home where I witnessed my mother feeding the poor. I have vivid memories of a Travelling family that called religiously every Saturday. My mother always invited the young travelling lady and her children in and tea was served. My mother sat with this young woman and listened to her troubles, and as she left gave her butter, milk and sugar. These actions of love and care by my mother went on to have a deep effect on me. As children we called this family “our cousins” because we saw so much of them.
I can’t say that my parents were overly religious but I can remember each morning as we left for school my mother would sprinkle us with holy water. My grandmother also influenced me even though she died when I was eight years old. My memories are of a woman of deep faith and prayer. I remember going to Mass with her and on one occasion I have a clear memory of Granny Culhane leaning down towards me at Mass and whispering in my ear “Helen when the Priest lifts the host say “My Lord and God”.
Sr. Helen Culhane
That memory was to return to me some twenty-seven years later as I prepared for my Final Profession in 1990. I was on retreat and was reflecting on a motto for my ring. Every Mercy Sister chooses a motto that is engraved on her ring. Daily I prayed for guidance but I met a blank wall and one day as I walked in the garden somewhere within my heart I heard “My Lord and my God”. So I said thank you Granny.
My first encounter with the Sisters of Mercy was in Secondary School at Scoil Carmel Limerick. The Sisters I met there inspired me. After Secondary School I worked for one year as a Care Assistant with the Sister of Mercy in Croom Hospital. Here I witnessed again Sisters who never spared themselves in looking after the sick and priority was given to the poor.
I worked for three years in a factory, work that I loved and the money was good. I was involved in many organisations that fuelled my social life. However I felt empty inside and something was missing.
In 1980 I made the decision to join the Sisters of Mercy. I was drawn to the Mercy Congregation because of their emphasis in working with the poor in society.
I trained as a Social Worker in 1983 and worked for 13 years in the area of Child Protection/Abuse. For the last seven years I have been working with the terminally ill and bereaved. I am so privilege to be involved in this area of work. Daily, I meet very ill people whose faith and suffering inspire and challenge me.
My years as a Sister of Mercy have not all been smooth sailing. I have hit many dark spots. However, I have found the words of scripture always helped, “Do not be afraid”. These words helped me to realize that I am never alone. God is always with me.
Sr. Helen Culhane