Neither Sr. Alphonsus or John Cummins were natives of Athy. Both were in time to become inseparably associated with the South Kildare town.
Sheila Meagher arrived here from her County Limerick home in 1939. She joined her sister Winifred in the Convent of Mercy, Athy where Winifred had entered a year earlier and taken the name Sr. Mary Oliver. Sheila Meagher, when professed, took the name Sr. Mary Alphonsus. Sadly the two sisters were to die within a year of each other, Sr. Oliver having pre-deceased Sr. Alphonsus who died this week.
Sr. Alphonsus was one of those gallant group of women who in the spirit of Catherine McAuley dedicated their lives to the education and welfare of others. As a teacher and as principal of Scoil Mhichil Naofa she taught hundreds of young girls in the local primary school.
Some years ago Sr. Alphonsus facilitated my historical research in allowing me to examine the Annals of the local Convent of Mercy. She was extremely helpful dealing with every and any query I raised. My regret is that I did not embark on the writing of the history of the Sisters of Mercy in Athy in time to have the work completed before Sr. Alphonsus passed away.
John Cummins came to Shaws Department Store in Duke Street in or about 1977, replacing Kennedy O’Brien as the Store Manager. His happy, friendly, invariably optimistic approach to life was guaranteed to dispel the hidden shadows of gloom, no matter where and in whom they appeared. He was an affable person with a character which shone bright, never down beat, ever optimistic, ever chirpy.
As I was writing the above I learned of the sudden death of Jack O’Rourke. Jack was for many recent years a faithful servant of the local Dominican Fathers in the same way as the Dominican Fathers were servants over the centuries of the people of Athy and district. A quiet gentleman, Jack was a native of Athy with family links extending back over many generations. The O’Rourke family name is recalled and celebrated when everyone speaks and writes of the Irish War of Independence. Several members of the family were actively involved in that war and some of them were imprisoned for periods during that war on account of their involvement in the Republican movement. Jack married Nan Breen, a member of an old Athy family and they lived in the Breen former family home in Offaly Street.
In a week which witnessed the death of three exceptional persons there is a reminder of the strong link between the secular life and the religious life in our local community. For almost 70 years Sr. Alphonsus was to the forefront in the leading role played by the Sisters of Mercy in the education of the young townspeople of Athy. Her work and that of her colleagues in religion brought enormous benefits to young people who might not otherwise have achieved their full potential in adult life.
Jack O’Rourke and John Cummins were men noted for their loyalty and work commitment. In Jack’s case to the Dominicans, John to the thriving business developed by Sam Shaw on the main street of Athy. Jack was to be seen each day walking or cycling to and from the Dominican Priory and it was with the Athy Dominicans that Jack O’Rourke’s name was inevitably linked in his later years. John Cummins was part of the Shaw team for so many decades here in Athy and earlier in Waterford that no reference could be made to him without a mention of Shaws. A cheerful and good natured man he epitomised everything that was expected to be found in someone who dealt on a daily basis with the general public.
Today we mourn the passing of Sr. Alphonsus, John Cummins and Jack O’Rourke and acknowledge that as they passed away in old age they left behind a community which they enriched by their presence.