Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sr. Eileen Ryan of Athy's Sisters of Mercy

With the recent death of Sr. Eileen Ryan our local community has lost another link in a history stretching back 167 years to the post famine year when the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Athy. A native of County Limerick Sr. Eileen was one of five daughters of John and Margaret Ryan, three of whom joined religious orders. She entered the Athy Convent in July 1959 when vocations to religious life were plentiful as evidenced by an entry in the convent annals which recorded 55 nuns from Athy Convent attending a retreat given by the local Dominican friar, Fr. Pollack a few years later. She took the name Sr. Loreta the following July and made her first profession in June 1962. That September Sr. Loreta joined the staff of St. Michael’s school and made her final profession in June 1965. Within four months she began her Bachelor of Arts study in UCD and her replacement in St. Michael’s school was Miss T. McGrath who was the first lay teacher to join the teaching staff of the convent primary school. There are presently 52 lay teachers in the primary school and no Sisters of Mercy. Sr. Loreta graduated with a B.A. in 1968 and a year later received a diploma in education. She then joined the staff of St. Mary’s Secondary school where she was to remain teaching for many years. The first Mercy sisters who arrived in Athy on 10th October 1852 travelled from Dublin by rail and on arrival at the local railway station they were brought by horse and carriage with closed window blinds to the newly built convent. 118 years were to pass before the Athy Sisters of Mercy acquired a motor car. Four young nuns were chosen to take driving lessons and one of the those chosen was the former Eileen Ryan from County Limerick. Twelve years after Sister Loreta joined the staff of St. Mary’s secondary school she was appointed to a teaching post in Makuni, Kenya. On 31st August 1981 together with Sr. Catherine, who had previously worked in St. Vincents Hospital, Sr. Loreta travelled to Kenya where she was to remain for three years. The work of the Sisters of Mercy from the Athy Convent was not just limited to educating local girls, but included service in hospitals and schools as far apart as Kenya, Nairobi and Brazil. An unusual extension of their missionary work saw Sr. Cecilia travelling to Germany to give catechetical instruction to USA army families. Sr. Loreta celebrated the Silver Jubilee of her profession in 1987, the same year the adjoining schools of Scoil Eoin and Scoil Mhuire, built at a cost of £1.7million, were officially opened. In September 1996 Sr. Eileen took a year’s sabbatical from teaching in Scoil Mhuire to do voluntary work in the Mercy International Centre, Baggot Street, Dublin. During her teaching career Sr. Eileen proved to be very popular with fellow teachers and pupils alike. Her life as a Sister of Mercy mirrored in so many ways the lives of the many Sisters of Mercy who were part of the religious community in the Athy Convent following its foundation in 1852. From the time the first convent school was opened in Athy an unbroken succession of Sisters of Mercy devoted their lives to improving through education the lives of the young people of Athy and district. Their generosity of spirit in visiting and providing for the poorer families of Athy at a time when there were limited social services available is also worthy of mention. The local Wheelchair Association and Cuan Mhuire, together with the House of Galilee, are important legacies of Athy’s Sisters of Mercy. No less important were the Youth Clubs and the still active Travellers Club set up by Sisters of Mercy who for decades from the 1870s provided nursing care in the former workhouse, now St. Vincent’s Hospital. Sister Loreta who adopted the name Sr. Eileen in later years was but one of the many generously spirited women who worked in communities throughout Ireland and the world as members of a religious order which had its first Sister of Mercy professed in Dublin in December 1831. With her passing the curtain has further closed on our memories of those wonderful women of the cloth. The War of Independence Exhibition presently running in the Shackleton Museum, Town Hall, Athy will end on Friday, 11th October. This is a very important exhibition which recalls and honours the men and women from South Kildare who participated in Ireland’s struggle for independence. It’s an exhibition not to be missed. It will be followed by an exhibition on Ernest Shackleton’s last polar expedition which will open on Friday 25th October as part of the 19th Annual Shackleton Autumn School.

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