Sister Benedicta was born Margaret Friel in Derry City, Co. Derry, in 1929, the eldest of 4 children. She received her early education at St. Eugene’s Convent School. After training in bookkeeping and shorthand she spent some time in office work. Her real interest was in nursing, so in 1951 she began training in Hope Hospital in Salford, near Manchester, England, and qualified as and nurse and midwife in 1956.
She greatly loved her time there and became a loyal fan of Manchester United. She then worked in the Waterside Hospital in Derry.
Margaret joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1957. Her first assignment was to an MMM hospital in Chiulo, southern Angola. She was happy to go to the missions and was full of energy and enthusiasm. She was a great nurse and midwife and worked very hard. In 1962, she traveled further south to open a second hospital in Cuamato with two other MMMs. The thirty-bed unit was in a remote area and there was no resident doctor or transport. The days were busy and challenging and Benedicta loved every minute.
Benedicta had always had good health but tragedy struck in 1972. She was diagnosed with a chronic neurological condition and had to come home from Angola, which broke her heart. She then helped in the Motherhouse and cared for Mother Mary in her last illness. She worked tirelessly to keep her muscles in tone, but her illness progressed in spite of her efforts. She used a motorised wheelchair for some time, which gave her some independence.
She was one of the first MMMs to be transferred to the new nursing facility, Áras Mhuire, when it was opened in 1994. The staff lovingly took care of her for the next nineteen years. Her health gradually declined but as her body weakened, her spirit and mind grew stronger. She was interested in everybody and everything. She didn’t forget birthdays, feast days, or special celebrations. She gave the gifts she received to others. Benny never missed a Manchester United match and always read the sports section of the newspaper. She loved flowers in her room. When her team was playing the flowers had to be red, the Man. United colours, and the staff always kept her supplied. In Gaelic games, she was a staunch supporter of Derry and Donegal.
Some years before she died Sister Benedicta changed her name to Sister Benedict of the Cross, after Edith Stein. In her last years she couldn’t do anything for herself. As was said at her funeral Mass, she received a call within her missionary call to closer union with God and said ‘yes’. Greater intimacy with Christ is found through the Cross.
Sister Benedict died on 1 May 2013. At her funeral the MMM auditorium was packed with family and friends.