Sr Catherine Devane was called home to God on Friday 17th September 2021 at Ardfoyle Convent.
Formerly of Barrow, Ardfert, Co. Kerrym, Sr Catherine is deeply mourned by her nieces Anna Devane Porter and Elizabeth Hawkes, her relatives, friends and the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles.
Predeceased by her sister Nellie and brothers Donal, John, Jerry, Fr. Tom SMA, Bro. Dermot OCSO, Willie and Brendan.
Requiem Mass was held at 2.30pm on Monday 20th September at Ardfoyle Convent followed by the burial in the Community cemetery. The funeral Mass was transmitted live on our YouTube channel
May Sr Catherine rest in eternal peace.
Below are the words of our Provincial Leader, Sr Kathleen McGarvey
Farewell to Sr. Catherine Devane, 20 September 2021
Good afternoon and welcome. We are gathered today to bid farewell to a very special person, a lady in the very best sense of that word, a gentle, humble, genuine, kind, caring, prayerful, beautiful woman, Sr Catherine Devane, once known as Sr Ambrose. We are indeed very sorry to see her depart from us, but we thank God for the gift that she was, for her long life of almost ninety-six years, lived in the service of God and others, and with faith we entrust her back to God.
Today, the COVID restrictions allow us to be here in greater numbers than has been allowed in the last 18 months; thankfully many of the OLA Sisters living in Ireland can be here in this chapel for this funeral mass together with some of her family members and friends. All are very welcome. Sr Catherine was from a big family, the youngest of nine; she lost her own mother at the age of four, and was very precious, especially to her Dad. During these last weeks, as death seemed near, she shared many memories of her early days. Today, she joins her parents John and Annie, and all her eight siblings who have gone before her: Nellie, Donal, John, Jerry, Fr Tom SMA, Br Dermot OCSO, Willie and Brendan. May they rejoice to be reunited in heaven and may they intercede for us all from above. Some family and friends cannot be with us today and we hope you are joined with us online; we send all of you our sincere condolences, particularly to her three nieces Anna, Catherine and Elizabeth and to their family members. Welcome and thanks to our SMA Brothers who are here and to Fr Malachy Flanagan, our chief celebrant; Malachy is the Provincial Leader of the SMA and a big friend of Sister Catherine.
Catherine left her home in Ardfert, Kerry to come here to Ardfoyle in August 1951, seventy years ago. Her decision to enter here was certainly influenced by her brother Tom, who was then an SMA priest on mission in Africa. She knew he was very happy and interested in his missionary work in Africa, and, as she said herself, she too wanted to ‘work for God’s honour and glory’. Throughout these seventy years Catherine didn’t look for titles or any limelight; she went where she was sent, did whatever she was asked to do, and through it all, up until her very last day, through her person, her way of relating genuinely and kindly with others, she radiated God’s presence, God’s goodness, God’s gentle and caring love – and she has certainly, honoured and glorified God.
Six entered the OLAs in 1951, including Sr Mary Agnes Ruane who is here with today. At 26 years of age when she entered, Catherine was quite a bit older than the other postulants but she treated the others as she has treated people all her life – as a gentle, kind, thoughtful, pleasant, woman of deep faith, genuinely interested in each person. After her first profession in March 1954, she did some studies in Domestic Science first in Ardfoyle and then in London. She then was sent to the SMA novitiate house in Kilcolgan (Co Galway) for four years, and from there, just after her final profession, to the Cistercian Monastery in Mount Mellaray where she was the Superior of the OLA community there; in both Kilcolgan and Mount Mellaray the OLA Sisters looked after the kitchen and laundry and cared for any of the boys who were sick. Sr Bernadette O Connell, who was with Catherine in Mount Mellaray, tells me that a nicer community superior you could never have; she was mature, caring, motherly, dignified, capable, and fair, not only to the Sisters but also to all the workers and to the young boys and seminarians they cared for.
In 1962, Catherine was finally sent to her beloved Africa – Nigeria, first to Agbor for a year and then to Sapele for three years, teaching in our schools in both places. In 1966 she was called home to Ireland to help with the mite-boxes, collecting money here for mission in Africa. Then she went to London to do a course in Montessori teaching, before returning to Nigeria in 1971, this time to Kaduna in the North to take over as Headmistress of St Anne’s Primary School. Here she was to serve for the next sixteen years and here she is still so very fondly remembered. I have received so many condolence messages from her past pupils in Kaduna. In 2009, when I myself was in Kaduna, we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the school, and past pupils from those years came in huge numbers and gave generously to the development of the school. Many shared wonderful memories with me of their years with Sr Catherine as Headmistress, the great education they received, the love and care they were shown no matter what religion they professed, and overall happy grateful memories of Sr Catherine. One particularly prominent past pupil who so often speaks of Sr Catherine and his years in St Anne’s is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who was the 14th Emir of Kano, a highly important emirate in Northern Nigeria. He himself called me on Friday to send his condolences and plans to call to visit Ardfoyle before the end of this year and to visit Sr Catherine’s grave. As an outspoken intellectual and leader, Sanusi often refers to Sr Catherine and his years in that school as an example and model for peaceful interreligious co-existence; we pray this can be promoted in Nigeria which today continues to suffer great injustice and insecurity as well as religious polarization and conflict.
In 1988, Sr Catherine was sent to work in Asaba, in the southeast of Nigeria where she taught for two years before finally returning to Ireland in 1990. The OLA Provincial Leader of Nigeria has sent a letter of condolence. She says “Sr Catherine was a woman of faith, known for the many acts of charity she performed. The poor and destitute were especially dear to her heart. She was a mediator and one whose arms welcomed everyone of diverse faiths, age or status in life.” Her words echo what I have heard so many sisters and other people say: that she was a lovely community person, gentle, appreciative, understanding, and very welcoming, making anyone who visited feel very much at home and very much accepted. I don’t believe Catherine ever spoke a negative word about any other human being. Many SMA priests have spoken to us in recent days expressing gratitude for her care and support of them which helped them not only persevere in the novitiate but also in Africa. Sr. Catherine was a very artistic woman, as her many paintings attest to, such as the one here before the altar, and she used her artistic skills in the education she imparted as well as in community. I’m told she was a great cook, and very much enjoyed it, was good at crochet, knitting… She even did a Diploma in Hairdressing here in the Cork International School of Hairdressing in 1995, at the age of 70, and was the community hairdresser with her own salon here in Ardfoyle until not too many years ago.
After returning to Ireland, Catherine cared for her brother at home for three years, and then for the next seventeen years, from 1993 until 2010, Catherine drove around Ireland, first with Sr Fintan and then with Sr Mary Martin, God rest them both, collecting mite-boxes for the mission in Africa. No doubt, her own calmness and sense of humour helped her during those years about which she had many great stories to tell. Her service to the community as hairdresser continued until about 2017 when a fall obliged her to move to the Infirmary. Despite her very poor hearing, she continued always interested in everyone and there is nobody more faithful to prayer for any intention she was asked to pray for. I have no doubt she will continue praying for us all from above. May she rest in peace in God’s eternal embrace and may her beautiful smile continue to spread hope and joy among us. In truth, if Sr Catherine doesn’t go to heaven, I doubt anyone ever will.
Before I finish, I take this opportunity to thank Nurse Joan and all the staff in the Infirmary as well as Sr. Katherine and the House Council, Michelle and all our staff here in Ardfoyle who show such respectful care and compassion daily to our elderly and infirm sisters. I also thank Sr Catherine’s family for the love they showed to her throughout the years. May she, reunited in heaven with her parents, her siblings and all who have gone before her, send many blessings from above.
I now hand you over to Fr Malachy to lead us in our Eucharist.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir.
Kathleen McGarvey OLA