Sr Henrietta (Maura) Power was called home to God on Monday 30th November 2020.

Sr henrietta is predeceased by her brothers Martin and Richard, and her sister Siobhan Walsh. She is deeply regretted by her nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews and all the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA).

Requiem Mass was held on Wednesday 2 December and transmitted live via our YouTube channel 

The words of Sr Kathleen McGarvey, our Provicial Leader follow:

Farewell to Sr. Henrietta Power, 2nd December 2020

Good afternoon and welcome. We are gathered today to bid farewell to Sr Henrietta Power, a lady in every sense of the word, a woman of few words but of great impact and influence. She is known and very fondly remembered by many people, especially in Nigeria, and many are mourning her loss. Today, due to the COVID pandemic and the restrictions in place, sadly so few of us can be here in this chapel in person to bid farewell to this great woman at her funeral mass.

Our sincere condolences to Sr Henrietta’s family who are here – her nephews, nieces, grand nephews and grandnephews, including her grandnephew, Fr Jim, who is our celebrant today. To the many other relatives and friends who cannot be here, we hope you are joined with us online and we send all of you our sincere condolences.

We are gathered in prayer with all the OLA Sisters of Ardfoyle, including those joining us today from the Community Room or other parts of Ardfoyle and from the Infirmary Community where Henrietta was a member for the past number of years. Also joined with us are OLA Sisters from our other communities both in Ireland and abroad, SMA Fathers, former students of Henrietta from Nigeria, and so many others who would all be here under normal circumstances. We are indeed very sorry to see Sr Henrietta depart from us, but we thank God for the gift that she was, for her long and full life of over ninety-seven years. Today, with faith and thanksgiving we entrust her back to God.

It seems Henrietta was, even at a young age, a very bright woman who took education very seriously, receiving a County Council scholarship in her home county Wexford to go to the St Louis Secondary school in Carrickmacross. Sr Henrietta, at that time Maura Power, entered Ardfoyle in March 1942, when she was not yet nineteen. After her first profession in September 1944, where she vowed to give her life to the service of God in Africa as an OLA Sister, she was sent to UCC to do a degree in Science, followed by a H.Dip in Cambridge, and from there in 1948 she was set sail for Nigeria on the Elder Dempster Ship. Apart from 6 months in 1961 helping in the OLA school in Ho, Ghana, Henrietta lived and worked in Nigeria from the age of twenty-five until she was nearly seventy-seven years of age, that is almost fifty-two years, during all those years promoting the cause of the education of girls and women.  She worked for twelve years in St Teresa’s College Ibadan, twenty-two years in St Maria Goretti Grammar School Benin and fifteen years in St Bernadette’s Primary School Abeokuta. She also served for six months in Marymount College Agbor.

When Henrietta first went to Nigeria in 1948, the education of girls was considered at best a luxury, if not a ludicrous waste of time and money. Unfortunately, this attitude towards girls’ education continues to be the case in many parts of the world today and our ongoing commitment to bringing change, following the example of Sr Henrietta, is necessary. Henrietta, and the other OLA Sisters with her, struggled to convince and encourage parents to educate their daughters. In 1977, the University of Benin gave her an honorary Doctorate (D.Litt) and in his speech that day the University Orator said “When the history of Girls’ education comes to be written, the names of people of the stamp of Sr Henrietta will be in letters of Gold. The fruits of those years of toil are shown in the fact that there is hardly any major town in Nigeria that Sr Henrietta will visit today where there will not be an old pupil – holding a commanding and influential position. Indeed, to many of our women folk, the name – Sr Henrietta – has become a household and joyful name.”

This honorary doctorate was only one of many awards for her contribution that Henrietta received in Nigeria, including a Medal of the Order of the Niger by the Federal Government. The past pupils of St Maria Goretti College (Old Girls Association) have visited Ardfoyle regularly over the past years, they have sent this beautiful bouquet of flowers, many messages of condolence and a eulogy which I will share with you, and I know that many of them are participating in this mass online today. Just in 2012, these same past pupils raised funds to build a new Chemistry and Physics block in their old school, and it is called Sr (Dr) Henrietta Block – the photo album of that event is before the altar, together with some other symbols from Sr Henrietta’s life. The love and appreciation of her past-pupils speaks volumes of the influence Sr Henrietta has had on their lives and on countless other women, girls, and the larger society in Nigeria.

While her contribution to the field of education was immense, she is also remembered for so many other things. I am told the presence of the Jesuits in Nigeria today is greatly indebted to Sr Henrietta, who welcomed Fr Henfi, the first Jesuit to Nigeria in the 1960s, showed him the ropes, and helped them to get established. The Jesuits invited her to New York in 1993 and awarded her with the prestigious Xavier Award for her part in their missionary development.

Henrietta was not just a dedicated religious and missionary, a good teacher and excellent administrator, but she was a good woman, a gentle lady, she was interested in and loved every student and their family, she was tough but gentle, she was demanding but very kind, she was hard working and totally committed, she was talented and used her talents to serve others and bring out the best in all those put in her care. I’m told she was not able to sing and yet she organised and led her students in producing some of the best operas in Nigeria! She was indeed a remarkable lady.

After returning to Ireland in 1999, leaving her adopted home Nigeria, she spent three years in Rostrevor before moving here to Ardfoyle. Gradually her health deteriorated, and her great brain began to falter. These past many years she has been in the Infirmary, her mind gone from us but her presence very much there, inspiring always in her gentleness and graciousness, witnessing to the gentle nature and silent mysterious presence of God.

The staff in our Infirmary have accompanied and cared for her so lovingly for many years and to them we are deeply grateful, for the care they showed Henrietta as they also do to all our other infirm and elderly Sisters. Even during these trying months of COVID-19, our staff in the Infirmary and in this house, true frontline workers, have witnessed to courage, faithfulness and love. I take this opportunity to thank each one of them just as I thank you her nephews, nieces, and family for being so supportive and faithful to Henrietta during these years.

May she now, reunited in heaven with her parents, siblings, and all who have gone before her, send many blessings from above.

I now hand you over to Fr Jim to lead us in our Eucharist.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir.

Kathleen McGarvey OLA,
Provincial Leader