During the past week two members of our community passed away. Sister Anne Guinan and Kevin Brady were members of two Irish institutions which in recent times have come in for criticism. Kevin was a retired member of An Garda Siochana and Sister Anne was a Sister of Mercy. Both the Garda Siochana and the Sisters of Mercy have recently suffered loss of esteem and respect which was their due following years of dedicated service in local communities throughout Ireland.
For the Garda Siochana, established on the setting up of the Free State in 1922 the recent controversies overshadow the excellent work which members of the force have carried out in their communities over many decades. Men like Kevin Brady, who as a young man arrived as a uniformed Garda in Athy in 1971. He retired in 1997, having occupied the role of Station Detective for the previous twenty years. He was part of a generation of police officers who lived amongst the community they served and whose service was evident in the effective policing methods they adopted. Chief amongst those was street patrolling which has now disappeared. Kevin was a first-class police officer who fulfilled his role with integrity and a deep sense of commitment. Like so many other members of the Garda Siochana he gave of his best throughout his career, honouring the commitment to enforce the law without fear or favour.
Sister Anne, one of the most pleasant persons one could hope to meet, was a member of the local Sisters of Mercy. She entered the convent in 1961 and gave a lifetime of service, not only to the religious community, but also to the wider community of Athy. In that regard she was following in the long established traditions of the Sisters of Mercy founded by Catherine McAuley in 1831. Since the first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Athy in 1852 successive generations of religious nuns devoted their lives and energies to educating the young people of Athy. They arrived here at a time when there were little educational opportunities for the vast majority of the young people of the town. It was due to the devoted work of the Sisters of Mercy and that of the Christian Brothers that generations of girls and boys from the ‘garrison town’ were given the opportunity to better their lives.
Now that the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers are no longer involved in the local schools we tend to forget the priceless contribution that the religious orders made to Irish education. It is not only in the educational field that the Sisters of Mercy were prominent. Here in Athy there are untold accounts of the charity of the local Sisters of Mercy. They were ever generous in helping the less well-off members of our local community, a role which today has fallen largely to be filled by the Athy branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
The death of St. Anne reduces the number of the Athy Sisters of Mercy still living amongst us following the closure of the Convent of Mercy some years ago. The Sisters of Mercy burial plot at St. Michael’s new cemetery was the scene of a poignant parting ceremony as Sisters of Mercy from the south and central Province joined their Athy sisters in religion in singing the Regina Coeli. It was a scene we have witnessed all too often in recent years as the aging Sisters of Mercy after a lifetime of service to our local community depart this life. They do so at a time when criticism is levelled at them for faults and failures, real and imagined, incurred generations ago, but measured by the standards of today. We can all find fault, not just with the Sisters of Mercy or the Garda Siochana, but we should not at the same time ignore the great good that both were responsible for over many years.
The likes of Kevin Brady and Sister Anne represented all that is good in an institution of the State and a religious body and with their passing we mourn the loss of two good people who enriched our lives and that of their local community.