OUR LADY OF LOURDES CHURCH, DROGHEDA
SATURDAY 4 JUNE 2011
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
The funeral liturgy which we are celebrating has been carefully chosen and prepared in advance. Sister Eileen has left nothing to chance. The lovely hymns and the Scripture readings would have been selected, by her, for their beauty and their message. One of the tasks of every funeral liturgy is to identify and celebrate how God has been at work in the life of the deceased.
- So, thank you, Sister Eileen, for your thoughtfulness and usual concern for the rest of us today.
- Thank you for these past few months which you spent preparing for this week.
- Thank you for the History of Pastoral Care and for the letters from Father Hugh Kelly, your Spiritual Director for some 47 years.
- Thank you for the instructions to the Sisters and to your family so that this celebration would be a real celebration of your life and love.
The lovely Entrance Hymn – I Watch the Sunrise expresses so well her love of beauty – especially the beauty of nature.
I watch the sunrise lighting the sky
Casting its shadows near.
And in the morning, bright though it be,
I feel those shadows near me.
But that hymn does much more than that. I think it expresses Sister Eileen’s keen awareness of the beauty of nature – which is, of course, an expression, a reflection, a reminder of God, the source of all beauty. But that hymn also expresses her awareness of the shadows which are cast through all of our lives. For Sister Eileen that shadow would have come early on with the sudden death of her beloved mother at an early age and the death of her brother, Father Paddy, in 1957.
But the real message comes, I suggest, in the refrain and Eileen would have seen this as the treasure of her life which she glimpsed early on in life- and for which she gave all and set out to acquire the field in which it is to be found. That treasure is the Presence and Closeness of God.
But you are always close to me
Following al my ways,
May I be close to you,
Following all your way.
Sister Eileen would have felt that closeness of God through her parents and through her four brothers and four sisters and her education, first in Kilmainhamwood National School and later in Loreto College, Cavan. She would have felt that closeness of God as she discerned, in the early 40s, where God was calling her and what she has been called to do.
Mother Mary Martin had just then founded the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1937 and shortly afterwards set up the Mother House here at Our Lady of Lourdes. The young Eileen Keoghan would have been well aware of the great need of the missions for trained medical missionaries. She would also have known that the Church was just then encouraging religious congregations to devote themselves to all branches of medicine and so bring the compassionate love of Christ to the poorest of the poor at the ends of the earth.
So she joined the MMMs in 1944 and played her part in the phenomenal growth of the community. In less than 25 years it grew from three members to more than 400 doctors, nurses, medical personnel, teachers, and secretaries. By 963 the MMMs were maintaining 19 houses in Afraica, 7 in Ireland and one each in Italy and in the USA. By then it was operating four Nursing Training Schools in Africa and two in Ireland. It was staffing 14 General Hospitals, 18 Maternity Hospitals, 8 leprosaria and 159 Out Stations. It is a glorious chapter in the history of Irish Missionary activity.
Today we thank God for all of those valiant and generous women. We give praise to all those who responded to Mother Mary’s appeal personally but also those who supported them financially and spiritually.
Sister Eileen played her part in all of that:
• As a midwife here in the maternity hospital from 1947 to 1953.
• As a Medical Missionary in Tanzania from 1953 to1967,
• It fell to her lot to open up very different but new initiatives for the MMMs on three continents.
- A new hospital in Makiungu, Tanzania
- A new MMM House in Chicago for promotion work, and finally,
- The new initiative of Pastoral Care for the sick and dying and the bereaved.
• She discovered and studied Pastoral Care in the United States
• She pioneered it here in Drogheda and throughout Ireland.
• She expanded it to Nigeria
• Explained it to the Universal Church at a European Bishops’ Conference in Rome in 1989.
• Discussed Pastoral Care on the Late, Late Show in 1978 where Gay Byrne called her the ‘Dying Nun’, and most importantly,
She practiced what she preached – in her care of the sick, the dying in this hospital and far beyond, up until her retirement in 2002 and well beyond. In fact, until the day of her death. Sister Eileen was caring like the Good Shepherd for people in sickness and distress. She was attentive to her family and her friends with her prayers and sacrifices, her telephone calls and letters and communications. Just this Easter I got this gift from her. It is an Ode to Friendship – one of life’s special gifts. It says:
Thank goodness for friends who care so much about us.
They want us to be all we are
They see the good qualities other may miss and
Inspire us to keep our aims high and
They are behind us in all that we try
They give the encouragement all of us need and
You realise that friendship is life’s Most Special Gift.
Of course, Sister Eileen would be the first to admit that all of her long, varied and gracefilled life was built on a solid foundation – a solid spiritual foundation. The building blocks were laid in the Keoghan home in Kilmainhamwood, in the National School and in the Parish Church. The Loreto Order and the Venerable Mary Ward would have played their part. Then there was Mother Mary Martin and her new vast family of the MMMs. Today we salute the Medical Missionaries in Angola, Brazil, Honduras, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
The love of her family members was special and precious to her – a love which she returned a hundred fold. The spiritual direction offered by Father Hugh Kelly, S.J. provided her with a compass for life. Her devotion to St Therese – the Little Flower and to Our Lady of Guadalupe all contributed to lead her ever more dearly and ever more nearly to Jesus. Of course, Jesus responded to all of that by granting her the request she so often repeated in recent weeks: “I want to be with Jesus”. I think it is hugely significant that one hour before she had her massive stroke last Tuesday afternoon, she had passed over responsibility of her small chore to Sister Bernadette, saying that she would not be able to do it anymore. What truly prophetic words! The reminded me of the words of Simeon when he took the child Jesus in his arms in the temple and blessed God saying:
“Now Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised;
For my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations,
a light of revelation for the Gentiles and glory for your people, Israel”
Yes, the Master has now let his servant Sister Eileen go in peace as he promised. Her life has indeed been a light of revelation for so many. A revelation of God’s abiding and compassionate love for us all and glory for God’s people – the Church – the new Israel.
For me the final revelation from Sister Eileen comes in the final words of the Gospel she chose. There the Risen Lord says to Mary Magdalene:
Go and find the brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. So Mary of Magdala told the disciples: ‘I have seen the Lord’ and that he had said these things to her.
Sister Eileen is challenging each one of us to see the Lord in our own life and to really listen to what he is saying to us.
May she rest in peace.
OUR LADY OF LOURDES CHURCH, DROGHEDA
The Lord Jesus welcomes us, and I welcome you, as we gather around His table. We come to be nourished with the Word of Life and the Bread of Life. We come to give praise and glory to God – praise and glory and thanks, in this instance for the life of Sister Eileen Carmel Keoghan.
Sister Eileen departed this life at 10.15 pm on Wednesday night last – the eve of the Ascension of Our Lord to Heaven – after a long and fruitful and love-filled life of service to her Creator and to others – especially the sick, and the dying and bereaved.
I offer my sympathy to Phelim and Séamus, to her brother and sisters-in-law; to her nieces and nephews, extended family, and to her MMM family and very wide circle of friends.
As we give thanks, we also ask for mercy for her that God may give her a merciful judgement and admit her to the glory of Heaven.
We also think of our own death and judgement. We judge ourselves and we beg pardon for our sins