Sister Mary Dunne (1941-2011)
Mary was the youngest child and only daughter of Kathleen and Patrick Dunne. She grew up in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, and trained as a nurse in Kent, and then studied midwifery in Scotland. Having worked as a staff nurse for some time, she volunteered for a nursing post in Zambia. From there she took a holiday with another volunteer, travelling through Tanzania and stopping off at Makiungu Hospital. There she met MMM for the first time, and discovered a life-long journey had begun.
She joined MMM in 1969 and after her religious formation was assigned to Kenya. Her first mission was in the far north of the Turkana Desert, where she was Nursing Officer in charge of the government Health Centre at Lokitaung. It was remote, isolated, depending on the small plane of the Flying Doctors’ Service for supplies and support. The catchment area of the Health Centre was the size of Ulster.
Despite the harsh climate, famine, isolation and the insecurity around the nearby borders with Sudan and Ethiopia, she experienced a great sense of satisfaction in being part of the development of a people, a country and a church. Many lasting friendships were formed with other volunteers and missionaries from various countries.
Mary’s love of sport embraced rugby, soccer and tennis, which she followed on short-wave radio. She loved music, especially the cello, and read widely using the mobile missionary library available throughout Kenya.
During sabbatical leave she specialised in oncology nursing. When she returned to Kenya she was assigned to Kitale, where she saw the huge needs of people with HIV/AIDS and the plight of children who had lost their parents to AIDS. She initiated and developed a comprehensive program to respond to this great need, and devoted the next fourteen years of her life to this work. With a well trained team, she provided services to thousands of people, giving hope and comfort in a desperate situation.
When she returned to Ireland in 2006, she realised she was beginning a new journey on life’s way. A diagnosis of cancer came, on top of the hearing difficulties she had been experiencing for some time. She faced her fears with the same courage, stubbornness and good humour that she had brought to all of life’s challenges. She spoke to her friends of ways of ‘befriending’ her illness. Her deep faith and serenity were an inspiration to all who supported and cared for her. A gifted planner all her life, a few weeks before death came, she prepared the inspiring liturgy at which we would say our earthly goodbye. Despite much pain, her serenity remained steadfast until God’s final call came in the early hours of November 23, 2011. May she rest in peace.