Cunningham, Sr. Marie Stella
Sister Marie Stella was born in Kinsalebeg, Waterford in 1925 and received her early education in Waterford and Cork. She trained as a nurse in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, before joining the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1951. After profession she trained as a nurse tutor in Edinburgh, Scotland. She was a theatre and casualty sister and was assigned to the nursing school in Drogheda as principal tutor in 1956.
Sister Eilis Weber did her nurse training in the IMTH while Marie Stella was in charge of the school of nursing there. Eilis wrote, ‘She ran the school with fairness and firmness, creating an atmosphere where each one was valued and loved. She was an excellent disciplinarian who sought to see the good in each one and empowered the students to believe in themselves. She was open to students being given a “second chance” in life if things did not work out the first time. She highlighted the nobility of the nursing profession and inculcated in the students the values so necessary in caring for the sick: compassion, gentleness and patience.’ Her graduates are working all over the world.
Marie Stella also served in Drogheda as home sister in the student nurses’ home. For several years she was the novice mistress in Drogheda, guiding many young women in their early years in MMM.
In 1975 Marie Stella was assigned to Malawi, where for seven years she was principal nurse tutor in St. John’s Hospital and was also home sister.
In 1982 she returned to Ireland and was principal nursing tutor in the IMTH for thirteen years. During that time she also served in MMM leadership.
In 1995 she moved to Bettystown and offered hospitality to visitors for eight years. She loved this change and was happy to be beside the sea.
Sister Marie Stella returned to the Motherhouse in 2003 and was part of St. Patrick’s Community. In 2007 she moved to the nursing facility, Áras Mhuire for nursing care. Her quality of life was poor but she bore all her sufferings with serenity. Past pupils of every era continued to visit her right through her illness. Her death came very suddenly in the end but she died there peacefully just after Mass on 31 January 2016.
Sister Eilis continued, ‘She was a deeply spiritual person who saw God in everybody and everything. She had a great appreciation of all things beautiful, the sea with its many moods, seashells with their uniqueness, paintings, music, mountains, and poetry.’
At the end of Marie Stella’s funeral Mass, Paula Halley, one of her students many years ago, spoke of how she loved her time in Drogheda and the good training she received. She told a story about Sister Marie Stella’s visits to the nurses’ home to inspect the students’ rooms.
‘She was looking to see if there was any dust under my bed and she found a beer bottle half full, so I told her we used that to help set our hair. One of the other students was very good at setting hair and she found the beer worked well.’
Paula thought she would get into trouble but Marie Stella accepted what she said and there wasn’t another word about it.
A text that Sister Marie Stella used to read to the novices was St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’ (Phil 4:4).