Sr. Joseph Mary – Ursula Sheehan
of Mallow, County Cork, Ireland
who died at Llantarnam Abbey
on 23rd September 2021
aged 84 years, 65 of Religious Profession.
All who knew Sr. Joseph Mary in her active life will be aware that she was both an intrepid worker and a keen gardener. St. Teresa of Avila uses a garden as a metaphor for our own precious lives and prompts the use of garden references in this brief overview of Sister’s life – much of the material having been provided by Sister herself.
Sister was born on the 14th. February 1937 in Mallow, Co. Cork Ireland and given the name Ursula. She was, if you like, the first fruit of the love between Josephine and Thomas Sheehan. She was the oldest of three – her brother John who died in 2019 and she is survived by her sister, Frances, known as Sr. Ursula – a Mercy sister.
At the age of 17 and with the approval of her parents, Sister joined our Sisters in Llantarnam on the 2nd February 1955. She was following in the footsteps of her Aunt, Sr. Agnes, who died in Llantarnam Abbey in 1971 after a long life spent in this part of the Congregation. Sister Joseph Mary received the habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph in September 1955, becoming known as Sr. Joseph Mary and was finally professed on 8th September 1959. Sister trained as a Primary School teacher in London and then began her long teaching career of 36 and a half years in 5 different areas of England. She also therefore experienced living in five different communities of Sisters. She was a Head Teacher in challenging times, taking every opportunity to keep up to date with the latest changes.
Retiring from teaching and after a short sabbatical, Sister became very involved in Parish ministry on many levels. Her last parish placement was in Penarth, Cardiff and here Sister worked with the young and the elderly. She had a special bond with the elderly and spent many hours visiting the sick and housebound especially when they could no longer physically attend church. She stoically carried on with this until she herself needed care and rest. Sister came to the Abbey in November 2015 so that she could receive the attention that she needed. During her first year here, in spite of memory loss and associated problems she was able to return to the parish in Penarth where she had a wonderful presentation. All the “God seeds” she had sown in her local parish and community were so appreciated and affirmed.
Sister wrote quite simply about some of her qualities and skills. She used these words:
I like a chronological approach to life.
I have and I like stickability.
I love gardening and sewing as they help me nurture my creativity.
As a member of community and a Parish sister, I try to reveal God’s love through the quality of my witness and presence.
Not everyone in a community shares the same qualities or gifts and this can present challenges or opportunities for growth even in unexpected places.
Jo was fortunate in her final years to be well cared for in the Abbey. She had the added bonus of having a good friend in Sr. Genevieve - someone who had shared a similar ministry for many years and who in these last few years especially, helped her grow even more fruit in times of decreasing abilities. Jo’s own sister Ursula was also a constant support, visiting when possible and regularly corresponding with her, sending her publications like Irelands Own, the Messenger and the Holly Bough which she loved to receive and share.
Jo’s final illness was brief, comfortable, and free from pain.
On Friday 17th September, she had a turn, and the doctor was immediately sent for and outlined the best treatment for her. She gradually deteriorated - all the time accompanied by her sisters and tenderly cared for by staff. On Thursday September 23rd, surrounded by our Sisters, she breathed her last in the prayerful and loving support of those who loved and cared for her.
Jo, you now know where those awkward pieces of the jigsaws fit and how much you yourself have been part of the story of the Sisters of St. Joseph in those gardens where you were planted and watered.
We are in the season of Autumn, the season of letting go and yet we know that our gardens however small will sprout with resurrected life again in the Summer. From death comes new life and hope. Each gardening season has its own gifts encouraging joy, contemplation, and hope. Jo, may you enjoy being in the company of a God who loves you unconditionally in that indescribable garden of eternal life – remembering that what in life sometimes appears to be the end is really just a new beginning. May you rest in peace.