Sister Maura was born Mary Brigid O’Donohue in Lickeen, Kilfenora, County Clare in 1933. She attended school at Kilshanny Primary School and Saint Mary’s College in Mountmellick. She entered the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1950. Two of her school friends, Maura Ramsbottom and Nano Rhatigan (Sister Consolata) also joined.
Maura began studies in medicine in UCD as a postulant and qualified in 1957. In 1958 she was assigned to Nigeria, where she worked for a year in Urua Akpan. In 1959 she was appointed to the MMM general council and served for three years. During that time she attended Regina Mundi Institute in Rome. Mother Mary also asked Maura to accompany her during an extended tour. This involved visiting MMM missions, inspecting hospitals and travelling to countries where MMM had been asked to establish services.
In 1962 Maura went to Spain to learn Spanish and re-qualify in medicine for the Spanish register. She served in MMM leadership from 1967 to 1969. After some updating, she went to Nigeria once more, and worked in Anua and Obudu for almost three years. Unfortunately she contracted resistant malaria. She was re-assigned to Ethiopia, to a highland area without malaria, arriving in Gambo in early 1974. Here she was involved in Hansen’s disease (leprosy) work for three years before completing a master’s degree in community health.
In 1979, at the request of the Sisters, Maura carried out a survey of our work in Kenya with Sister Marie Conlon. She returned to Ethiopia and spent eight years there, first as medical co-ordinator of the Catholic mission project at Gamo Goffa; then as co-ordinator of the nutrition programmes and of famine relief at the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat. In 1987 she was in Sudan for an evaluation of church-related health services.
In 1988 she joined CAFOD in London as AIDS programmes co-ordinator in developing countries, a position she held for nine years. This was followed by three years as director of programming and deputy director for the Catholic Medical Mission Board in New York. She returned to CAFOD in 2000 as health and nutrition advisor for two and a half years.
In 2003 Maura ‘retired’ to Ireland, where she did part-time consultancy work for CAFOD and was assigned by MMM to work on human trafficking issues. The latter was done in conjunction with Caritas Europe. She also worked with the National Board for Safeguarding Children.
Sister Maura became ill in September 2014 and moved to the nursing facility, Áras Mhuire, for further care. She died peacefully there on 3 May 2015.
Maura’s missionary work brought her to eighty-three countries. This required great dedication, energy and availability. At the same time, we will remember her concern and compassion for others, her passion for justice, her sense of humour, her gifts in teaching and ability to affirm others.
Sister JoAnn Mullen spent many years with Maura in Ethiopia. She said, ‘I found Maura to be a very compassionate and understanding friend. She was a woman of integrity and fully respected confidentiality. She really never complained about anything. She was ready for any challenges that faced us on fieldwork. She was a wonderful mentor, so anxious to teach, even minor surgeries. She was a confidence builder, placing so much trust in me to do “whatever” – always much affirmation for a job well done and very understanding about any mistakes.’
In Maura’s final illness she was noted for her graciousness and gratitude. She continued to be interested in family and friends and events in MMM.
When Maura received her diagnosis, she said ‘This was all part of the blank cheque I signed when I entered MMM.’
Read the CAFOD tribute to Sr. Maura here.