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The Ever Open Door

Memories of Sister Eucharia Keane

Author(s): Tinsley Ambrose

ISBN13: 9781853909993

ISBN10: 1853909998

Publisher: Veritas

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  • When Sister Eucharia Keane came to the village of Corofin, Co. Clare in 1981 she set in motion a ministry of spiritual and social care that left an indelible mark on locals and visitors alike. This long-lasting impact now finds voice in this collection of memories and stories from those who knew her best. Eucharia embodied the message of Julian of Norwich, in that All will be well and all manner of things will be well. As a compilation of her teachings and an insight into her deep spiritual life, The Ever-Open Door: Memories succeeds in spreading the personal message of Sister Eucharia.
  • Tinsley Ambrose

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  • Chapter One: Teacher and Carer

    Eucharia came to Ennis in 1936 through the influence of Fr Dan Roughan. She had a great regard for the Ursulines in Thurles where she went to school and often quoted them, especially a Mother Mary whom she greatly admired. She didnt enter with them as they were enclosed at the time and Eucharia wished to work with the poor.

    She was always conscious of not having been a past pupil of one of the local Mercy schools and often felt an outsider. Some of the novices experienced her as aloof and different while others enjoyed her sense of humour and her firm conviction about issues, which she clearly articulated. She always had her own mind about things, they said. One sister remarked, We had great discussions, but could never keep up with her! Everyone agreed, however, that, no matter what the circumstances, she was always ladylike and kind.

    During her years in the Novitiate, Eucharia seemed to have had a very close relationship with her father, but the family seemed independent of each other so she didnt have a lot of contact with them. In fact, when the novices wrote home on a monthly basis, as was allowed at the time, Eucharia often didnt see the need to do so. However, she was very concerned for her parents following the tragic accident that resulted in the death of her brother Denis. She also kept close contact with her older sister, May, when she was on her own in Dublin and before she moved to Cork in order to be close to her sister, Terry, whom Eucharia also visited in later years.

    Her deep commitment to Christ was evident from those early years. A companion remembers her saying, Wouldnt we have great regrets in heaven if we didnt do what the Lord laid out? In her younger years she was very diligent about being faithful to the rule and to religious superiors, seeing them as manifesting Gods own will for her. Her practical help of the poor, however, did not always meet with the approval of the Sisters. An example of this was when she wrapped a travellers sick child in a shawl and brought him up to the fire in the convent. It is interesting to note that, from her early years in religious life, Eucharias devotion to the Eucharist was just as evident as were her efforts for assisting the deprived.

    Sr Teresa Meaney
    Sr Frances Xavier Corry
    Sr Paul Byrne

    I remember Sr Eucharia with gratitude. My first meeting with her was in September 1939 when this beautiful, gentle Mercy Sister stepped into the classroom to teach English and Latin to thirty first-year students. Class always began with a meaningful prayer and from that time one she was loved and respected by all the students. Later in the early 1980s Sr Eucharia came to reside in my native Corofin. She was warmly received by young and old alike. My mother died unexpectedly in January 1982 and I still remember the beautiful prayer session we had with Sr Eucharia and her wonderful support at that time of sadness.

    At holiday time there was always an invitation to Emmaus, the house where Eucharia and Geraldine [Collins] lived, and I had the privilege of joining in the prayer sessions when I happened to be in Corofin. Sr Eucharias hospitality knew no bounds. She became a real Corofin person and we all knew that she loved Sweet Corofin.

    Idir dh?í l?íimh Chr?¡ost go raibh s?¡.

    Sr Benedict Kenny
    (Sister of Mercy]

    Eucharia was well named. She radiated respect for the Eucharist. She radiated peace. She blossomed where she was planted and wherever she lived, and all who met her benefited from her gentle influence.

    About 1954, Fr Mullaly, then curate in Miltown Malbay, said to me, Youll love Eucharia - she is coming to join the Spanish Point Convent staff. I always hated the pre-conceived notion of having to like someone! But Fr Mullalys words were prophetic and my pre-conception proved to be false.

    Times were tough in the fifties and pupils at all levels were used to rigid discipline. Softness was discouraged. Along with the prevailing discipline of the day, the prevailing winds from the wild Atlantic buffeted us all. The youngsters, cycling the rough coast roads with their heavy timber boxes shielding the sacrosanct schoolbooks, suffered most of all. They accepted their lot and they expected no relief. What a haven of rest and nurture they must have sensed in Eucharias class.

    The numbers that entered religious life and the caring professions during those frigid and frugal fifties were astounding. Eucharia, smiling down on her many protegees, may now be able to throw light on this stoic idealism.

    After our Spanish Point sojourn, forty years passed before I met Eucharia again. I knocked on the door of Emmaus one Sunday evening. Eucharia answered the knock, recognised me and I indeed recognised her too. She was the same Eucharia transcending time, age and space, still ever giving of her spiritual peace and hope.

    Suaimhneas siorra?¡ d?¡.

    Kathleen Ryder

    I believe in your unconditional love
    in every person-
    Please give me the grace to respond.

    Domestic Economy, St Josephs Secondary School, Spanish Point: our year was beavering away on the sewing machines. My project was a blouse and I worked on it under the watchful guidance of Sr Eucharia, our teacher. I was not a natural at sewing, didnt particularly like it if the truth be told, but this gently spoken nun encouraged me every step of the way. Upon completion of the blouse I sat back, delighted with my work. I handed it to Eucharia with pride, hoping that my work would show the gratitude I felt for the help she had given me. The blouse was held aloft; I smiled from ear to ear - my shining moment! Eucharia smiled that heartwarming smile she had and congratulated me aloud, but then she bent down and whispered to me that she was very proud of all the hard work I had done but wondered where I intended to put my arms! I had managed to sew up the armholes of the blouse while attaching the sleeves. She helped me correct my error that day with patience and the minimum of fuss. While I did not go on to become a seamstress, or a Domestic Economy teacher, I learned a valuable lesson that will stay with me forever: life is never straightforward, but if you face it with a smile and encourage those around you on the way you will make their passage a little better for having done so.

    Eucharia, you were a positive influence in my life. It is richer for having known you. Thank you!

    Mary Macnamara

    What does it really mean to be a religious?
    As I now see it,
    it is to be a sign of Christs love and compassion.

    I was so saddened to hear of the death of Eucharia. I loved her. If you have read Tuesdays with Morrie, she was my Morrie; she inspired me.

    She taught me in Col?íiste in the 1960s and everyone, even those who had no interest in sewing or cookery, looked forward to her class. She taught us so much more than Domestic Science (as it was then called) and she was one of the few teachers who treated us like adults. She gave me a love of cooking and homemaking that has stayed with me to this day. She always said that our class, 1967 Leaving Cert., was the best class she ever taught; we were so mature!

    Eucharia was so far ahead of her time in terms of social service. She loved people and she had a special affinity with those in need of either physical or spiritual support. In the sixties she had our class writing Christmas cards to the patients in Our Ladys Psychiatric Hospital who had no one else to send them one. It is due to her, and to her interest in helping the less fortunate in our community, that Clare Social Services, now Clare Care, was set up. When I returned to live in Ennis in the early 1970s she collared me to help with a sewing group she had, making quilts out of old blankets for the elderly. Bit by bit she got me more involved in social services, and thirty years later Im still involved.

    I often visited her in Corofin and I know how difficult it was for her when she had to leave there. She never saw herself getting old and needing care and found it so hard to accept. She was so used to taking care of others. I visited her while she was in Ennis hospital but, regrettably, although I had intended getting in to Limerick to see her, I never made it.

    I believe it is a measure of how close she was to God that he called her home on her feast day.

    From Tuesdays with Morrie:

    Maybe it was a grandparent, a teacher or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and impassioned, and helped you to see the world as a more profound place, and gave you sound advice to guide your way through it.

    For me, it was Eucharia.
    May she rest in peace.

    Fionnuala Moran (Hensey)

    I do my thing and you do yours.
    I am not in the world to live up to your expectations
    and you are not in the world to live up to mine.
    You are you and I am I
    and if, by chance, we find each other
    it is beautiful.

    Sr Eucharia taught in the school that I attended as a boarder in Ennis but I came to know her through her stopping to ask us lost souls how we were doing. She seemed to sense our loneliness and isolation in this new world. Her person exuded a sense of inner calm and dignity and was reciprocated with a respect that extended far beyond what we as teenagers extended to any other adult. One felt a sense of being privileged when in her presence. She organised and facilitated an interactive, discussion group called LINKS which dealt in an open and sympathetic way with many of the issues of interest to us at that time. This group had a spiritual dimension that made prayer and spirituality relevant to us in our daily lives. Sr Eucharia never forced an issue but let us reach our own conclusions through discussion and prayer. She was a gifted leader who practised far more than she preached.

    What a lovely surprise it was to learn that she was living opposite me when I married and moved to Corofin many years later. It was a real pleasure to stop and talk with her on the road and come away feeling that the world was a better place after all.

    She loved life and enjoyed nothing better than to have a chat with someone up the street. May she rest in peace with the God she loved.

    Mary Healy

    Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day,
    Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.

    This old Chinese proverb sums up what Sr Eucharia did for me. She taught me Religion in my Leaving Cert. year of 1969. I can still visualise her in the classroom, her fresh complexion and gentle eyes. She spoke to us about life and about the facts of life. She spoke about our femininity and our sexuality. She spoke to me in the silence of my heart. She made me aware of my own uniqueness. She instilled in me the principle that I deserve to be respected and, in turn, should respect others. This guidance has never failed me.

    Sr Eucharia spoke to us one day about how to pray. She said, and rightly so, that we probably prayed to God-up-in-the-sky! She then explained that when we pray we should turn our thoughts inward to our souls. God dwells therein. Going home from school that evening I went into the church and prayed for the first time in this manner. In a matter of seconds my prayer-life had taken on a new meaning, and has changed for ever. Like the ancient proverb, she did not just say a prayer, she taught me how to pray. So many times down the years I meant to visit her but, regretfully, put it off too long. And now, by a series of coincidences, I am belatedly saying a big thanks to her for the direction she gave me on my life-long, spiritual journey.

    Marie Burke (n?®e Kennedy)

    Men and women
    have lost touch with the transcendent
    in the world and in themselves.

    Leaving her years of work in structured education, Sr Eucharia changed in 1969/1970 to a new and unstructured role in social care. In those times many did not understand why she would want to make such a move. That she was allowed to do so is a tribute to those whose agreement was forthcoming.

    She became a full-time, unpaid worker in the newly established Clare Social Service Council, which could boast of only a small office and a secretary. It was uncharted territory and the officers and committee of the Council progressed on a steep learning curve. Given the opportunity for the first time, people began to come forward, seeking help with their personal problems and needs. Eucharia was well known in Ennis through her work in education and people were at ease in approaching her. She responded as best she could, improvising, befriending, supporting.

    Meanwhile, the officers of Clare Social Service Council were intending to create structures for the care of the elderly in parishes throughout the county. Eucharia played her part in this while also working with the traveller community. By 1971 the work was progressing and uncovering needs and problems hitherto unacknowledged. It became apparent that there was an urgent need for assistance and for personnel with professional training. This led to a process that brought the first two Little Sisters of the Assumption to work in Clare Social Service Council.

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The Ever Open Door