Farewell to Sr. Eugenius Colbert, 24th March 2020

Good afternoon and welcome. We are gathered today to bid farewell to a very unique lady, a true woman of strength, an absolute legacy, Sr Eugenius Colbert. Throughout her life, even up to the end, Sr Eugenius was a very organised woman, attentive to every detail both in her work and her appearance. Yet, even she could never have imagined, and certainly would not have wished, that her coffin could only be open for one hour and her funeral would have to be in private. Today we are all living with great uncertainty and anxiety but in faith we know that God is walking this painful journey with us.

Sr Eugenius’s nieces, nephews, relatives, neighbours, friends, as well as our OLA Sisters from other communities and other SMA fathers would all be here under normal circumstances. We send them our sincere condolences and hope they can participate in this funeral mass through its live transmission on the internet. We are indeed very sorry to see Sr Eugenius depart from us, but we thank God for the gift that she was, for her long and full life of almost ninety-eight years, lived in the service of God and others, and with faith we entrust her back to God.

In these last few years of her life, spent in the Ardfoyle Infirmary, Eugenius often spoke of her early years:  growing up in a family of eight girls, going to boarding school in the Convent Secondary School in Crosshaven, working in the post-war years in the family shop in Ballynoe, wanting to do something more with her life, praying a lot about it, and then one day when OLA Sr Macaire came into their shop to collect money for the missions, Eugenius, at that time called Mary, knew this was it: she too was called to give her life to the missions.

In August 1944, when she was just over 22 years of age, she entered Ardfoyle and from then until now Eugenius certainly did give her life to the missions. One of the many very proud moments of her life was in 2013 when she received an award in the City Hall in Dublin for having given forty years’ service in Africa. She spent about nine years in Ghana and thirty-one in Nigeria, working always in the field of healthcare as a nurse, midwife, Matron, hospital administrator. In both these countries she is still very fondly remembered. The Provincial of Ghana has written to tell me they are celebrating mass in her honour today and say that there she is remembered as “a unique person and a very special flower planted by God in our OLA garden.” They remember that she “always managed a beautiful smile even when she was not at her best.” They recount her gentleness and prayer life, her time consciousness and way of dressing.” Will any of us forget that!

In a very particular way Eugenius will never be forgotten in St Philomena’s hospital, Benin City, which she helped grow from a small health centre to a very well reputed top-class hospital and a nursing and midwifery school. St Philomena’s was started in 1941 as a clinic in a small room at the side of the road; it continued to function without any major development, providing small but valuable health care to the poor of that area; later it was transformed under Eugenius who took it over in 1961 and as she said herself “it flourished from day One to the day I left it on the 30th March 1987’. When the hospital celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2016 they asked Eugenius to send a greeting via video, which she very ably did, and they sent her an award which she was indeed proud to receive and which she very much deserved.

After Benin, Eugenius was sent to the North of Nigeria, to work in St Gerard’s hospital in Kaduna and here too she used all her administrative skills to introduce policies, pay off debts, organise staff,  and get that hospital on a solid foundation. Today mass is also being celebrated in Nigeria and the Sisters of the Nigerian Province send their sincere gratitude and condolences.

Eugenius returned to Ireland in 1991 and was of huge help in the OLA Community and Guest house in Rostrevor, where she looked after the books, ran a shop, helped with reception and did so many other very useful services. She moved back here to Ardfoyle only in 2014 when health left her no option and over the last few years she has been cared for here in the Infirmary. Although she was of a great age, she could never understand why she didn’t have energy to ‘run up the stairs’ as she’d say herself. I think I can safely say that her very unique character will be very fondly remembered and missed not only in all the places she has served but also here in Ardfoyle community and in the Infirmary, by sisters and staff alike. Her last wish was that she would look well in the coffin, beautifully dressed and coifed as she always was and ‘as Our Lady of Apostles would wish it’. She does indeed look beautiful. I pray that as she reaches the gates of heaven she will be received with great joy and appreciation of how she has cared for her own soul and body as well as those of the countless others she cared for with great love and commitment throughout her many years.

I take this opportunity to thank Nurse Joan and all the staff in the Infirmary as well as Sr. Katherine and the House Council here in Ardfoyle who show such respectful care and compassion daily to our elderly and infirm sisters. I also thank Sr Eugenius’s family, especially her nieces and nephews, who would so love to be in this chapel with us today; thank you for having been so good to Eugenius, your Auntie May, throughout her life and especially during these last years. As she so often said, she is, by name, the last of the Colbert’s; may the dedicated, committed, hardworking Colbert spirit, which she demonstrated, live on in you and may Eugenius, now reunited in heaven with her parents, sisters and in-laws, send many blessings from above.

I now hand you over to Fr Eddie to lead us in our Eucharist as we entrust Sr. Eugenius into the hands of God. 

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir.

Kathleen McGarvey OLA

Provincial Leader