Sister Mairead was born Maire Eilish in Dublin in 1946 and joined MMM in 1964. After profession she trained as a social worker at University College Dublin, obtaining an Honours B. Soc. Sc. Degree. In 1970 she founded and worked in the Community Services Centre in Drogheda.
In 1972 Mairead was assigned to Kenya and for two and a half years she was coordinator of women’s development in Eldoret Diocese, working to improve the quality of life of local women. This was followed by two years in social work in the IMTH (Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital) in Drogheda and in mission awareness.
After obtaining a Master’s in Community Health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 1978, Mairead did primary health care work in Ondo and Irele, Nigeria in 1979. She then completed a Communication Arts degree at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY, USA. She was directress of the MMM Social Communications Department from 1981 to 1988, producing publications and promotional literature.
From 1988 to 1992 Mairead worked in the Communications and Research Office at the Conference of Major Religious Superiors in Ireland (now known as AMRI) and was assistant to the secretary general. In 1993 she was assigned to Malawi, where she served as Executive Secretary for the Association of Women Religious. In 1996 she was assigned to a new MMM house in Silvertown, London and worked for the Diocese of Brentwood, England in refugee development.
Mairead returned to Ireland in 2001 and was involved in administration in St. Francis’ Hospice in Dublin for six years. Health issues necessitated ongoing nursing care and she moved to Aras Mhuire in 2009. She was cared for with love and tenderness by the superb staff. She died there peacefully on 22 October 2017.
Mairead bore her illness with great dignity and courage and was very aware of what it entailed. She maintained a positive attitude and an interest in the activities of her family and the staff, part of her deep trust in God. She accepted the limitations it imposed on her little by little. Sister Gabriel Ashe prayed the Divine Office with her frequently and Sister Celine Jones read for her when she felt well enough to enjoy it.
She continued to be a fun-loving person and enjoyed watching television. She had a great interest in horse-racing and, with the help of the carers, organised a sweepstake for the big races like the Grand National, involving residents and staff. Participants paid €2 and drew a horse. The excitement was great as they watched to see whose horse had won! She loved other sports, especially rugby, and would never miss a match when Ireland or her favourite team, Dublin, was playing.
Mairead was also an extremely creative person. She had a little garden which she loved to tend with the help of the staff, producing beautiful flowers and plant life.
Mairead’s death was sudden and unexpected. Her funeral was a celebration of her life and was attended by her extended family, including some beautiful baby grand-nieces and nephews; many friends, professional colleagues and MMMs from the smaller communities in Ireland. The chief celebrant was Father Dermot Connolly, SPS, accompanied by five other Saint Patrick’s Fathers.
Father Séamus Donohue, SPS, who works in Kenya, gave the homily. He spoke eloquently about Mairead’s time there and the great work she did in empowering the women of Eldoret Diocese in spite of many setbacks. He likened her journey, through her illness, to that of the women with whom she worked.
He said, ‘She experienced the frustration of powerlessness; the loss of independence; the pain of not being able to use her talents; and in the end not having the voice to articulate what she felt. Like illiterate women she worked with, she could not write.’
Her brother John gave the eulogy at the end of Mass, a moving testimony to the great person Mairead was in her healthier and active days, but especially in more recent years of sickness and disability.
We are still stunned by Mairead’s death, but we are happy for her that her sufferings are at an end and that she is now united with the God she served so faithfully in so many parts of the world.