Sr. Grace Rowan, departed this earthly life in the early morning of Thursday, 21st September 2023. Sr. Grace will be sorely missed by all of us.

She is survived by her brother, Patrick, as well as her nieces and nephews. Sr. Grace was preceded in death by her parents, Patrick and Mary, as well as her brothers Bernard and Harry.

A Requiem Mass to celebrate Sr. Grace’s life was held on Saturday, 23rd September 2023, at 2:30 pm at Ardfoyle Convent. Following the Mass, Sr. Grace was laid to rest in the Community Cemetery.

We remember her in our thoughts and prayers, cherishing the memories we have shared with her. May her soul find eternal rest.

Below are the words of farewell by our Provincial Leader, Kathleen McGarvey OLA.

Farewell to Sr Grace Rowan, 23rd September 2023, Ardfoyle

Good afternoon and welcome. We are gathered here today to thank God for the gift of a gentle, gracious, lady, Sr Grace Rowan. We are here to bid farewell to her and, with faith, to entrust her into her eternal resting place with God. We are indeed sorry to see her go but we thank God for her, and for her long and full life of nearly 87 years. Here with us today are Sr Grace’s very dear brother Patrick, her niece Anne, nephew Paul, cousin Clare and Rob, many other family and friends, staff from our Infirmary… Other family and friends are joined with us online. Thank you all for being here. Thank you too for the love and care you have shown to Grace over the years.  Welcome to all here present, to the OLA Sisters who have come from other communities in Ireland and to the SMA Fathers who are here in communion with us.

Grace has gone now to join her parents Patrick and Mary, her brothers Bernard and Harry, Patrick’s partner Concepita, Harry’s wife, as well as all the other beloved members of her family who have gone before us. Today we also remember Susan, a very dear staff member who started work in our infirmary here in 2005, while Grace was the Infirmarian. On Thursday, Susan, at just fifty years of age, was laid to rest. May Grace, Susan, all their deceased relatives and friends, and all the deceased OLA Sisters and SMA Fathers who walked the journey of life with Grace, rejoice together in heaven and send blessings on us from above. 

Sr Grace was born in the Curragh, Co. Kildare in November 1936, the third in a family of four, the only girl. Losing her mother at the age of nine, being brought up for some years by an Aunt in Waterford, going to a school with the Presentation Sisters, and working for some years as a secretary in a furniture store in Dublin, all served to lay the foundation for the religious and missionary woman Grace was to become. For a long time she was drawn to religious life but didn’t know which congregation; when she was nineteen, she met an SMA priest in Knock, felt moved by his words about his missionary experiences in Africa, and hence decided to apply here to Ardfoyle. She wrote later that from the day she first visited here she felt like she was coming home, and she knew that with the OLAs was where she belonged. She entered here on the 11th February 1957, at the age of twenty. I think it is no coincidence that she entered on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and died on the Feast of St Matthew, the Apostle – truly significant for a Sister of Our Lady of Apostles. Since she entered, everywhere she has lived and ministered, and even in her last years here in the Infirmary, Grace showed great strength of character and a strong sense of independence. Always simply but neatly dressed, perfectly clean, with her wavy well-kept hair and her little handbag never far away, Grace is and will be fondly remembered for her determination, gentleness, discipline, graciousness, and an ever-ready smile.

After first profession in September 1959, Grace spent over two years fundraising with Sr Fintan and it seems she was the first young Sister in Ardfoyle to learn to drive, so that they could go around the country in a Morris Minor collecting for the missions. She then did her nursing training in Manchester and her midwifery training in Drogheda; some years later she also trained as a Midwife Tutor in Lancs, England. In 1970, she set out for Nigeria where she was to spend the next twenty years, working as a nurse, administrator, and Tutor, in Abeokuta, Akwanga, Kaduna, Benin, Zawan, Oke-Offa (Ibadan). Several OLA Sisters were among her students in the school of Midwifery, and in their messages of condolence they speak of her with great love and with gratitude for the gift that she was to them and to so many others whose lives she touched. Grace loved people and always sought ways to reach out to others; she loved Nigeria; she loved the missions; she loved her ministry of teaching and nursing. She also loved her Sunday visits to the local Prison in Abeokuta, where she visited thirty women who were condemned to death. As she wrote in her Memoirs, “I never wanted to miss this, as chatting and praying with them, and just accepting them, meant so much to the prisoners”. Looking back over her years in Nigeria, Grace wrote: “What I found most life giving and fulfilling was my time with the students, my visits to the prisoners, and also my interaction with those who needed care in the clinics and hospitals”. 

Unfortunately, in Nigeria she developed a lung condition, that was to remain with her for the rest of her years, causing breathlessness, wheeziness, and discomfort. Therefore, in 1989 she said Good-bye to Africa and instead worked in Ireland and in England for ten years – in the OLA run Hospice in Lancaster for over a year, in the SMA infirmary in Blackrock Road for a year, caring for the elderly in Leigh for six years, and working as a nurse in Castlemagarret for two and a half years.  In 1998 she was asked to serve in the OLA Generalate in Rome, where she worked for the next five years, not as a nurse or tutor but as English Secretary, something she had been trained to do before she entered the OLAs. Eileen Cummins, who was with her in Rome during those years, remembers not only her neatness, gentleness, ready smile, but also the great carrot cakes and other top class baking Grace would produce. Indeed, Grace was a woman of many gifts! 

In 2003, Grace returned to nursing when she was asked to take responsibility for the Infirmary in Ardfoyle, and here she cared for our own infirm Sisters until 2006. After some time of sabbatical and renewal, she then moved again in 2008, this time to Rostrevor where she remained for over ten years, helping out in the parish, and being particularly close to the Travelling community.  She was very much loved and appreciated by the people there. As Canon Kearney, the parish priest in Warrenpoint, wrote, Grace “brought a great deal to the parish and the community… particularly kind and accepting to those who found themselves on the fringes of life and parish, and welcomed them with open arms”.  

Grace returned here to Ardfoyle in March 2018, and for the first few years she helped in whatever way she could, looking after the wash-up room and other small services. Over the last few years, when health of mind and body began to deteriorate, she has been cared for with such gentle compassion, patience, and love by our staff in the infirmary. To all our staff, we are sincerely grateful.

Grace was indeed a gracious and pleasant woman. No matter how short a visit to her was in the Infirmary, and even when her health of mind was weakened, she would always say Thank You. In her last days, her wheeziness left her, her breathing was smooth, and gently she passed away, just as with gentleness and grace she has passed through life. I have no doubt she is now happy and at rest, chatting with her loved ones and smiling graciously down upon us as we are gathered here. Thank you Grace. May she now rest in peace in God’s eternal embrace.

I now hand you over to our main celebrant, Fr Mick, to begin our Eucharistic celebration.


Kathleen McGarvey

Provincial Leader