Sister Gerardine McChrystal was born Ellen McChrystal in Derry city in 1927. One of six girls and six boys, she was known as Eileen in her family. She worked in a sewing machine factory before joining MMM in 1953. After profession she worked in the MMM laundry in Drogheda for six years and then trained as a nurse-midwife. In 1966, she was assigned to Tanzania, where she spent nine years in Kabanga, first as a staff nurse and then as assistant matron and matron.
Kabanga was a very isolated place where MMM administered a busy hospital, a nurses’ training school and a large outreach programme.
In 1975 she was assigned to do mission awareness work in the USA. She returned to Tanzania in 1979, again as a staff nurse and matron, as well as a clinical instructress.
She then had the opportunity to study for an academic year at Regina Mundi Theological College in Rome.
In 1984, Gerardine moved to Mwanza, Tanzania, where for more than a year she did pastoral work in the hospital. She then began a natural family planning (NFP) programme in Arusha, which she continued in Makiungu.
In 1990 she returned to Kabanga and was involved in pastoral care and NFP for twelve years. She said that following the crisis in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994, thousands of refugees fled over the border into Tanzania and the Sisters were asked to help. Gerardine and her staff found the refugees lying exhausted, frozen and hungry under trees everywhere. Although totally unprepared for this influx, they responded as best they could. Finally, teams from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees arrived with much needed food and shelter and the situation began to improve.
Gerardine returned to Ireland in 2002. In the Motherhouse she helped in the sacristy, worked in the stamp department and helped entertain visitors. She also visited in Aras Mhuire. Her own health deteriorated gradually over the years and in early 2010 she moved to Áras Mhuire for nursing care. The staff took wonderful care of her. They said she gave them the best hugs and kisses, holding them so tightly that she could squeeze any worries out of their system. They always left her feeling better! Gerardine loved to participate in the nursing home activities. When she was no longer able to do so her eyes and smile did the dancing for her. Her family visited her regularly.
She died peacefully in Áras Mhuire on 22 August 2018, on the feast of the Queenship of Mary, very meaningful because she had great devotion to Our Lady.
Gerardine was a lovely woman, cheerful, outgoing and welcoming to all. She had a beautiful smile and enjoyed life. She had a great gift of producing surprises for feast days and birthdays or on the rare occasions that unexpected visitors arrived in Kabanga. Her family made sure she was never short of treats for these special events.
Her funeral was a celebration of her life, lived in faith. Father Tommy Hogan, CSsR, was the main celebrant, assisted by Father Eddie Brady, MAfr, and three Carmelites from Gort Mhuire. They were confreres of her deceased brother, Father Mark. Father Eddie spoke about Gerardine and the wonderful witness she was in Tanzania throughout the years. Her nephew Gerald played the saxophone during the Mass.