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celine-corriganSister Celine Corrigan

1927 - 2016

Born:  21st May 1927

Entered Religious Life:  8th October 1945

Died:  17th March 2016

 

Address given by Sr Rita Dawson, Provincial Leader, at the funeral of Sr Celine in Hackney

Sr Celine was born in Dublin.  Celine and her twin sister Clare, were the youngest children of Margaret and John James Corrigan.  Celine had two older sisters, Maureen and Pauline, who have died she did not have any brothers. 

Celine’s father and uncles owned a very successful grocery businesses in Rathmines and Harold’s Cross.  Her uncle (Andrew Corrigan) supplied groceries to Milltown, Donnybrook and the Hospice convents for many years.

The four girls attended the Louis Convent Rathmines and later transferred to Carrickmacross as boarders.  Celine was educated by the Sisters of St Louis.  She had intended to enter with the Sisters of St Louis but did not wish to teach.  She decided to become a Sister of Charity knowing we had a variety of other works which other Congregations did not have at this time.  Celine was trying hard to avoid teaching!! 

After completing her education at Carrickmacross, Nancy Corrigan entered Milltown in October 1945 and took the name Celine at her Reception.  She really wanted Therese but Mother Mary Bernard said it was not available and helped her to settle with ‘Celine’ instead!  Her mother died while Celine was in the Noviceship.  In the meantime Pauline had also entered religious life with the Holy Rosary Sisters in Killeshandra.  Owing to ill health she had to leave Killeshandra and after some time she joined Celine in Milltown.  But Pauline left the Congregation before her Profession. 

Interestingly, the Noviceship piano in Milltown was donated by the Corrigans after Celine entered. 

Celine was first assigned to Children’s Nursing in Temple Hill and later to St. Vincent’s Hospital to train in General Nursing.  She was in a male ward - Sr. Frances Borgia being the Ward Sister! Celine was so terrified of everything and everyone and broke so many thermometers that after some time it was decided nursing wasn’t for her!   

Sister Agnes Roche encouraged Celine to train as a domestic science teacher in Liverpool.  Although she had no desire to teach, Celine felt it was an achievement and gave it her all.  She was terrified of facing classrooms of teenage girls.  She had absolutely no previous experience of domestic work and never saw a cabbage or meat in their raw state! 

After much hard work Celine eventually qualified as a Domestic Science Teacher and was sent to teach in the Domestic Training College, Clonmel.   In 1958 she was missioned to the newly opened secondary school in Bristol – St. Bernadette’s – to accompany Sr. Anne Shine.

Due to her domestic science education, Celine was extremely knowledgeable about vitamins, and enjoyed passing on that information telling people what was good for them - but would not touch green vegetables herself!!! 

Celine was always uncomfortable with Domestic Science Teaching, but she worked extremely hard at it and eventually was so efficient that she became Head of her Department.  She was greatly respected and loved in her school.  She retired before the ‘official’ retiring date and was then missioned to Macclesfield as Local Leader and Parish Sister.  In community she was well known for her millionaire shortbread and she used to do a regular baking of scones on a Saturday filling all the cake tins for the days ahead – all this, despite not enjoying cooking! 

Celine loved her time spent with parishioners, especially the elderly.  She was totally dedicated to them in such a natural manner and they loved and respected her. 

Celine retired to Hackney in 2004. She always joined Sr. Margaret Devlin in the evenings in her room when she was following ‘the soaps’ and said that otherwise Margaret would have no company!  She also ensured that Margaret would always have a good supply of her favourite mint imperial sweets!  Until very recently, Celine went each night to pray and talk with two sisters who were confined to their rooms – even though she herself was becoming more confused.

People describe Celine as a very spiritual and gentle lady.  She gave herself and her ‘all’ to the Lord all those years ago.  She never asked for anything in return and was always more concerned for everyone else’s welfare - going through life in her own ‘Little Way’ and making a difference!  She had a close relationship with the ladies in St Margaret’s Rockferry and in the local community who loved her regular visits.  She was very involved with the St Vincent De Paul.  In spite of her failing health she made a contribution by being involved in any of the activities both in her own Community and in the larger Community of the Parish. 

Celine lacked confidence in herself but was very kind and caring.  She also loved dancing – in fact she completed a course in Line Dancing.  She would sing and her party piece was always “in her sweet little Alice blue gown” to which she would do the actions to perfection. 

When we lose a member of our community, and one so committed, it is very important for me to do proper research into their lives.  Therefore, I am very grateful to the following, all having lived with Celine - Mary Brennan, Jacinta Rankin and Anne Lally for their contribution to this story.

As we are now in Holy Week we remember Celine, not someone who is dead and gone; but we are remembering someone who has died to this life and who now lives with the Risen Christ. Celine’s last words to me were “well what can I expect I’m nearly ninety and I can’t go on forever”.  It is time to go, she was ready to leave this life and go to her Father.

Again I wish to express our sincere thanks to all those who have given so much support to Celine, shown her compassion and love throughout her time here especially this community. 

Sr Helena, Sr Jackie all staff on the care floor and of course the Palliative care team from the Hospice.  

Our thanks also to Father Peter Scott for the lovely Mass today.

May God Bless you all.

May Celine now Rest in Peace.

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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