200 Years of Missionary Service

Sr Jo Cox speaks about her work on the missions and what it was like to have three siblings who were also OLA missionary Sisters.


Sr. Jo Cox.


In 1963, Sr. Jo Cox followed the lead of her two older sisters and joined the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA). The three were later to be joined by a fourth sister in 1965. For many years the four Cox sisters served on the missions in Nigeria. While her three sisters have since gone to God, Sr. Jo actively continues her missionary work in Cork. Between the four sisters, they have given over 200 years of service on the missions in Ireland and overseas.

Sr. Jo Cox remembers her first mission to Nigeria in 1966. While a civil war broke out around the time she arrived, she always felt safe.

 “In all those years nothing terrible ever happened to me. I was a trained nurse before I became an OLA Sister. I went from a student nurse in Galway to running a maternity hospital in Nigeria!”

Sr. Jo later came back to Ireland to study medicine in her quest to be better able to help. She always felt a great sense of celebration of life and gratitude among the people in Nigeria.

“No matter what happened they were so grateful. They were grateful to be alive and had a deep gratitude for everything you did for them”.

“My oldest sister, Áine, trained as a nurse before joining the OLAs in 1950. She went to Nigeria in 1954. Carmel entered two years later at the age of 18 and spent many years teaching in different parts of Nigeria. I entered after Carmel. By this time, our father had died so Roisin, a trained nurse, stayed at home to mind our mother. When our mother went to God, Roisin joined the OLAs.”

Sr. Roisin went to Nigeria in 1965 which then meant all four Sisters were then on mission in Nigeria at the same time.

Sr. Jo recalls one time when she was mistaken for one of her sisters.

“I once visited a very rural community way out in the bush where my sister (Roisin) gave many years of loving service.  On seeing me the locals gladly rejoiced which surprised me at first as I had never been in the village before. They recognized my features and felt I looked like my sister, walked like my sister, talked like my sister and were utterly convinced that Roisin had returned.  Children came out and lifted me up high!”

Cox sisters.jpg

Sr Jo Cox (left) pictured with her siblings and fellow OLA Sisters, Áine (seated), Roisin (right) and Carmel. Image courtesy of the OLA Archive.


In November 2007, Sr. Jo returned to the OLA Convent in Cork. The following April, Sr. Jo had a chance meeting with Sr. Consillio, the founder of Cuan Mhuire, which runs drugs and alcohol rehabilitation centres across Ireland.

“I went to the Cuan Mhuire centre in West Cork. I literally had no idea the impact that drink and drugs were having on our people from across all walks of life. There were people aged between 18 and 70 in the centre. I can’t be but full of admiration for someone who picks up phone and says ‘I need help’. The ethos of Cuan Mhuire is that every individual in the world is of inestimable value.”

The warmth with which these affirming words are spoken help one appreciate the cloak of hope that they may offer for anyone who reaches this low point in life.

“We gently guide those in the centre to help them on the journey to realise their own self-worth. With this realization, they can give-up drink or drugs.”

The ripples from the years of Irish missionary work in Africa can now be felt on our own shores. Some past pupils of Nigerian OLA schools now live in Ireland. According to Sr. Jo it is not unusual to see Africans arriving at the door of our Convent.

“Those who come normally travel from different parts of Ireland or the UK. They come to the Convent to say hello, check up on a Sister or simply to say ‘thanks’.”

“We have been able to achieve so much on the missions thanks to the all our generous supporters. I have witnessed first-hand the tangible difference this support had on the lives of so many in Nigeria and for which the local people are eternally grateful.”