Wednesday 20 November 2019

Tears flow as sisters face up to their new lives outside the convent

End of an era: Sr Mary Cuddy, Sr Mary Devine and Sr Mary Teresa Killelea at the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Boyle, Co Roscommon, which is due to close Photo: Brian Farrell
End of an era: Sr Mary Cuddy, Sr Mary Devine and Sr Mary Teresa Killelea at the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Boyle, Co Roscommon, which is due to close Photo: Brian Farrell
Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

It has been a seat of education, a haven for the troubled and a refuge for the hungry, where a warm meal awaited without judgment.

It's also been the home of four nuns who will have to bid a sad farewell to it on Friday.

Like so many provincial towns, Boyle will lose its convent on April 28, severing the town's 142-year link with the Sisters of Mercy.

Four nuns were dispatched to the north Co Roscommon town from Sligo in 1875 to set up a school. All these years later, the remaining nuns also number four.

Sr Mary Devine, a native of Boyle, and Sr Mary Cuddy from Roscommon are going to Sligo, and Sr Mary Teresa Killelea and Sr Richard Dufficy to Athlone.

Sr Mary Teresa says the move was inevitable and now, in their old age, they need to be looked after.

"I would have experience of my congregation protecting me and watching out for me and seeing a way that my talents were used," she says.

"In return for that, I do the best work that I can and contribute as best I can so it's a two-way thing but a wonderful process to be in."

She says the move is something that they all realised needed to happen. They were getting older, the convent was a big building to maintain and heat - and aged in their 60s, 70s and 80s, each woman has their own health issues.

"We won't have the pressure of minding this property, coming down in the morning and finding the boiler has given up and there's no heat.

"Everything has become more of a challenge and energy is lower. The other thing that has happened is the fall in vocations and there aren't any younger people coming up that we can hand over to."

Mary Teresa Killelea was principal of the Convent Primary School from 1986 to 2004. She grew up on the Plains of Boyle, one of a family of five born to farmers.

She entered the convent in 1960, when she says she was "only learning to jive" and The Beatles were popular.

Her faith was tested a few years later when her youngest sister, Irene, was killed in a car accident, aged 26.

"There were five in the car and four got out perfect and attended her funeral. Irene is as real to me now as if she was still alive," she said.

"Our religious family is the next thing and nearly as important to us as our own family. It's nearly like marrying into a family, you become part of it," she added.

Sr Richard Dufficy taught music at the Convent Secondary School until her retirement. Born Alicia Dufficy into a farming family in Tulsk in 1936, Sr Richard chose not to return to her baptismal name and was even reluctant to give up her habit, which she says she still keeps in her room.

"I'd still be wearing it but I can't be seen as odd - but that's really the only reason," she says.

Sr Richard recalls a happy childhood with plenty of fun.

She remembers she and her siblings would remove their shoes and hide them on the way to school so they'd arrive barefoot like the other children. She entered the convent in 1950, came to Boyle in 1974 and hasn't moved since. Her sister, Christina, also became a nun.

"I went into the convent at 18. We were goms who didn't even know the facts of life or where babies came from we were so sheltered," she said.

She says she doesn't allow herself to dwell on Friday. She would only get sad. "I've known no place else," she explains.

Asked how she will feel when she closes the door for the last time, the tears flow down Sr Mary Teresa's cheek.

"I don't want to think about that," she says, quickly brushing away the tears and regaining composure.

What happens to the convent next is a matter for the Order to decide.

Sunday Independent

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