Sister Monica Breen
1929 - 2016
Born: 24th January 1929
Entered Religious Life: 14th October 1957
Died: 9th December 2016
The following is an extended version of the eulogy given at Sr Monica's funeral
by Sr Rita Dawson RSC
Provincial of the English/Scottish Province
I should like to acknowledge those in attendance here today from Sr Monica’s family – her brother Alex and his wife Susan, also her sister Kathleen home from Canada with her husband James, and James’ sister, Eve.
On behalf of the family, the Congregation and the Clydebank Community, I should like to thank Canon Gerard Tartaglia for celebrating Mass today, also Father Aidan Martin and Father Joe McAuley and to Father Frank Wilson for his spiritual and compassionate support to Sr Monica.
Sr Patricia Lenihan who is here representing Sr Mary Christian. Professor John Welsh and Dr Guy Haworth for their excellent medical care of Sr Monica over the last number of years, and to all the nursing staff in the Mary Aikenhead Centre who looked after Sister Monica every day so beautifully full of love, compassion and respect. Sr Monica truly experienced our Core Values in action. I think the Venerable Mary Aikenhead would be very proud of all our staff.
To Sr Margaret for the singing today and to Stephen McGinley for the music. They are so wonderful at helping us with all our liturgical events.
Sister Monica was born and brought up in Clydebank. She is the eldest of four children - two girls and two boys.
Sister Monica attended Our Holy Redeemer's School which was the Catholic school for the whole of Clydebank. The result being it was a really big school where everybody knew everyone else and had a great sense of community. At the age of twelve, Monica moved on to Notre Dame High School in Dumbarton where she had to live up to the reputation of her clever cousins!! She really enjoyed her days in Notre Dame and made many life-long friends there.
Following this, she moved to Notre Dame Teacher Training College in Dowanhill Glasgow where she spent three years. She graduated from there in 1951 and was appointed to the staff in Our Holy Redeemer, where she taught for six years before joining the Sisters of Charity in Dublin in 1957, aged 28.
The big question all her friends asked her was why she needed to go to Dublin to join the Sisters of Charity. Why did she not join the Notre Dames whom she trained with and who’s main apostolate was education. However, Sister Monica wanted a broader congregation where, if at any time she wished to change direction, she would have this option.
So Sister of Charity it was!
She herself describes Ireland as “being in a foreign country”. She found understanding their language was difficult but it was also the same for them, as they struggled with the Scottish accent.
As a novice she was sent to Temple St Children's Hospital for experience – although she was terrified of seeing anyone sick or bleeding! But she considered this to be valuable experience.
In April 1960 she made her First Profession in Dublin and following this was sent to Birkenhead in England to teach in a Secondary School.
After three years she was called back to Dublin and was told to apply for a place at Dublin University to study Science and this was because Monica had Higher Maths and Science. She graduated in September 1967 and immediately returned to her post in Birkenhead in preparation for the merging of our school with the Convent Grammar School. In 1970 the merge was complete and after many teething troubles they managed to unite the pupils from both schools.
Monica’s mother died in 1983. As her family were now married and living abroad this left her father, who was in his eighties, and suffered from heart trouble, completely alone. Monica took early retirement from school and moved up to Clydebank where she was able to oversee her father's welfare. During this time, she was appointed Community Leader and Fulltime Chaplain to St Columba's School.
She really enjoyed the work in school as her years of teaching had given her a lot experience and she made many friends there.
Her father died in 1990.
Monica then went on Sabbatical in 1991 to Gonzaga University in America but after five weeks became ill, had surgery and had to return home. The following year she had a Sabbatical in Canterbury and really enjoyed this.
She then went back to Hackney in London and worked as School Chaplain in Cardinal Pole High School. This was very interesting as more than 40% of the pupils were Afro Caribbean. Monica found it quite challenging but very rewarding.
In 1981 she moved to Queensgate Villas in Hackney where she worked on the Archives and updated the Annals. In December 2005 she moved back to Clydebank.
Both parents - Alex and Catherine Breen - died here in the Hospice.
Sister Monica was admitted to the Mary Aikenhead Centre on 6 March 2014 due to the deterioration of her condition with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s often develops very slowly over several years. It is not always obvious to begin with as was the case with Sr Monica. She had a wonderful brain and even to the end could be very quick with her answers. Even recently, whenever you said to Sr Monica “are you all right”, she would quickly reply with “well, no, half of me is left”.
Sr Monica, at the very early stages of her illness, was very frightened she would be taken away from us. She regularly came to my office to say “you won’t allow them to send me away Rita, will you?”
In the Bible, you will find a passage that applies to any situation in life but this passage from John particularly applies to the most vulnerable: “In all truth I tell you, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go.” John 21:18
I had to constantly reassure Sr Monica that this would not happen. Who do you have to make sure your wishes and choices will be heard and respected? These patients are not only vulnerable in terms of their condition but also in terms of their care. How will you be cared for in the future? Will you have someone to speak up for you? Have you ever thought about this?
Fortunately, very early on I discussed with Sr Monica about having Power of Attorney and this we did together. So therefore as her illness progressed, I was able to take out the Power of Attorney and show her that no-one could send her anywhere else.
We have become a disposable society where if you are no longer able to make a contribution, you are deemed to be of no further use.
Well remember that could be anyone of us tomorrow and therefore we need to continue to be advocates for the most vulnerable.
When you look at someone suffering from Alzheimer’s you could reflect on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How often Sister Monica used this phrase.
May Sister Monica now Rest in Peace. Amen.