St. Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen @ 11.30am, 8.12.22
We gather to pay a faith-filled farewell Sr. Mary McGann. I welcome all of you who join with us this Holyday morning here in St. Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen.
My prayers are very much with Sr. Rosario and the Poor Clare community here who welcomed Sr. Mary among them in 2012. I welcome the McGann, Flynn and Martin families, Sr. Mary’s nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces. And I very especially welcome Sr. Mary’s sister, Sr. Mary David who is being cared for in the Nazareth Nursing Home, Sligo from where she and the staff join us through the webcam this morning.
A word of thanks also to the staff of the Sacred Heart Hospital here in Carlow who couldn’t do enough for Sr. Mary in last few years.
In our feast this morning of the Immaculate Conception, a beautiful feast to send Sr. Mary home to the Lord. We celebrate how Our Lady was handmade by God from the very beginning to bring Jesus into the world. In the words of our preface she is for us “a model of holiness”, none of the rest of us are, we pause for mercy, understanding and forgiveness as we call to mind our sins …
The forensic detail in Luke’s gospel text is not by chance. Every detail is there, the name of the angel, the name of the town, the location of the town. And of course who was visited upon. Every word in the dialogue, the conversation, the exchange is given.
Luke manages to capture Mary’s puzzlement: “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?”. Mary takes time to be convinced, we are told she is “deeply disturbed”; we even hear what she is thinking without ever uttering a word. The gospel is like having dashcam footage of an incident or a clear crisp recording of an encounter. Nothing is omitted; nothing left to chance.
We know Luke’s account as ‘The Annunciation’, God sending His angel with a message of joy to a woman who was basically minding her own business. Moments of Annunciations are not confined to towns in Galilee, they happen everywhere, every day. God intervening in human history, because He loves us and He only wants the best for us.
He wanted the best for Sr. Mary McGann. Mary’s burial this day marks the definite end of the Poor Clare era on Cliftonville Road in Belfast. She is gone, as many of the tributes on rip.ie remarked to join her friend Sr. Paschal who died on May 8th last. Indeed this morning I bring the sympathies of Bishop Donal and Bishop Noel who were both very familiar Mary and Paschal well in their days in Belfast, Paschal being the aunt of Bishop Donal.
Wee Sr. Mary grew up in Theur, Riverstown, in County Sligo. Her dad John was a carpenter with his workshop close to the home; her mother Margaret had a cure for the ‘pip’, so people came from miles around to have their hens and poultry cured or their carpentry needs met! It was a busy home to grow up in, the second youngest of five.
I’m told her dad said he would never drive a nail on a Friday as Christ was crucified on a Friday. At four years of age Sr. Mary developed cancer in her right arm, spending months in hospital. As a result she always had a weak arm, but never saw that weak arm as a drawback. She was always very open about the arm and her story. Her niece Bernie tells me Sr. Mary had to learn to do everything with her left hand. That shows the steely determination of this little nun who came among us from Cliftonville Road in Belfast in 2012.
Maybe at that age of four she too was visited upon by an angel who told her not to be afraid that whatever obstacle might confront her in life, God would be at her side? A determination that grew out of dealing with serious health challenges at a very tender age; a determination that grew out of ministering in Belfast in the depths of the troubles; a determination that grew out of the family home and parental example. I have no doubt she too like Our Lady in Luke’s text was a “handmaid of the Lord”, serving as Novice mistress in Belfast and later Abbess. All of this helped her and Paschal settle splendidly by the banks of the Barrow. They were both welcomed and loved by the community here. I am confident the pair of them who were inseparable companions are now reunited in eternity, alongside Sr. Assumpta and all who served on Cliftonville Road.
Dementia sadly meant that Sr. Mary would spend the last few years of her life in the magnificent care of the Sacred Heart Hospital. Dementia is an illness that afflicts many families but we can have the confidence where our loved ones memory and ability to recall is challenged, God’s never is. He never forgets us. The word ‘memorial’ is always centred on the celebration of the Mass, all the more so at a Requiem Mass where Sr. Mary, her parents John and Margaret, her siblings Joe, Mary and Kathleen, Sr. Paschal and the many Poor Clare’s who served here in Gaiguecullen or up on Cliftonville Road are gathered around the altar in the communion of the living and the dead.
The Sisters were well looked after in Belfast during the troubles, people from all walks came to visit them and ask for prayers. The Sisters rang a bell on Cliftonville Road apparently if they were short of anything. People were so generous to them that the only time they needed to ring, it was for salt and they got so much it lasted for years!
I’ll conclude appropriately today with a ‘Litany of Mary’:
Mary of the Annunciation,
Teach us how to respond with faith to divine mystery.
Mary at her cousin Elizabeth’s,
Teach us to be generous with our capacity to care.
Mary giving birth to Jesus,
Teach us to look for your Son in our adverse conditions.
Mary fleeing into the strange land of Egypt,
Teach us to welcome strangers from foreign lands.
Mary at the Presentation of Jesus,
Teach us how to accept the conditions of loving fully.
Mary in the Temple where Jesus preached,
Teach us to be diligent in finding our spiritual treasure.
Mary at home in Nazareth with her family,
Teach us to value the gift of our relationships.
Mary at the wedding feast of Cana,
Teach us how to humbly ask for what is needed.
Mary meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary,
Teach us to meet our pain with compassion.
Mary standing beneath the Cross,
Teach us to be present to the suffering ones of our world.
Mary receiving your crucified Son in your arms,
Teach us that we, too, can embrace our losses with courage.
Mary at the tomb,
Teach us not to be afraid to enter into grief.
Mary in the Upper Room with the disciples,
Teach us the strength of community and the power of prayer.