A woman of warmth, great faith and hospitality

The late Sr. Gemma McGrath


SR GEMMA McGrath, a well known Presentation Sister , who spent many years in Listowel and the latter six years in Tralee, passed away peacefully, albeit somewhat unexpectedly, at Our Lady of Fatima Home on Sunday, March 10.

Sr Gemma (Bridget Mary) was born in Baltovin, Ardfert, to John McGrath and Margaret Culloty on April 24, 1925. She was the third youngest of 10 children, four boys and six girls. Four of the girls entered religious life and two boys were ordained priests. Fr. Jim was a priest in the Diocese of Kerry while Fr. Gene ministered in Australia.

Sr Gemma was educated in Killahan Primary School and the Mercy Secondary School, Tralee. When she finished her secondary education she felt called to religious life, so she entered the Presentation Novitiate in Oakpark, Tralee in September, 1942.

Having finished her training in Oakpark she made her first profession in 1945. She was then assigned to Listowel Presentation Community and was finally professed there on June 28th 1950.

Education was foremost in Gemma's mind, so she went to study at UCC and received a Science Degree in 1950 followed by a Higher Diploma in Education from UCG in 1951.

She returned to her community in Listowel and taught Science in the secondary school, keeping abreast with the educational changes of her day and making many lifelong friends along the way with teaching colleagues and past pupils.

Conscious of the changing demands in education and the need for guidance for students she changed direction and secured a Diploma in Career Guidance and Counselling in 1974, a post which she held until her retirement in 1990. During that time she also studied for a Diploma in Catechetics.

Sr Gemma never really understood the word 'retirement' and no sooner had she finished her teaching at second level, than she embarked on a different type of education. The old Infant Primary school had been vacated and Gemma immediately stepped in to see how it could be used for the benefit of the people of Listowel. With the green light from her community and the necessary start up finance, she set about realising her dream for a new ministry in adult education.

In due course she contacted the VEC and planted the seed for the great need for continuing education. She gradually sourced funds through securing grants and fundraising and so she was able to organise courses in the school to further educate the young adults, especially young women, of Listowel. With her gentle smile, her power of persuasion and help from many friends, what is now known as the Listowel Family Resource Centre was set up. The Family Centre, which has grown to be a major asset to the Listowel area, provided courses each year relevant to the daily lives of the participants.

Sr Gemma's greatest joy came when she heard that peoples' lives had changed for the better as a result of their learning. Her community was always there to back her up and support her good work. There is no knowing the number of lives that she touched, her pupils, her colleagues, people looking for inspiration, encouragement or understanding, people who were impressed by her sincerity and quiet dedication.

Sr Gemma drew her energy and strength for her ministry from her deep faith and trust in a provident God. Her daily prayer and especially her devotion to the Eucharist was her strength for the journey of service. She also had a strong devotion to the Little Flower and to St Anthony - especially when she mislaid things.

In true Presentation spirit she was a woman of welcome and hospitality. All who visited her in the convent were the recipients of her warmth and hospitality. She loved to have a visit from her family and the love and concern she had for each of her nieces and nephews was evident to all who lived with her in community. There was a 'spring in her step' when she was awaiting the arrival of any family member. The table was ready and the kettle was boiled for the 'cuppa'.

Being a true Kerry woman Sr. Gemma always followed the Kerry team with great enthusiasm. She watched their matches on television but when there was a danger that Kerry could lose the match, the tension proved too much for her, so she left the room and paced up and down the garden walk saying the Rosary while awaiting the result.

Sr Gemma was a loyal and active community member, participating to the full in the daily life of the community and providing for the Sisters in her role as community bursar, a role she had for a number of years. She loved to celebrate with family, friends or community. She was always on the alert for any occasion that would call for a celebration, be it a community celebration, a family occasion, a staff outing or a Kerry All-Ireland win.

With the changes in different ministries and a call for a new way of religious living it was deemed necessary to close Listowel convent in 2007. This proved painful for all the sisters and Gemma was no exception. This was a difficult time for her, having spent 60 years serving the people of Listowel, but committed as ever she agreed to be assigned to Presentation Convent Tralee.

As her health declined and she needed nursing care she transferred to Our Lady of Fatima Home, Tralee. She accepted her failing health with patience and was always so grateful for the loving care and attention she received from the Matron and staff of the nursing home.

Sr.Gemma was pre-deceased by brothers - John, and Fr Jim, and sisters - Sr Angela, Nora, Sr Rose, Madge and Sr Pius.

Sr Gemma will be sadly missed by her Presentation Sisters, her brothers Fr Gene (Australia) and Cristie, her sister-in-law Úna, her nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews and very many friends,

Solas na bhFlaitheas uirthi.


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