Sr. Cecily was born in Zambia (previously Northern Rhodesia) and brought up in
Zimbabwe (previously Southern Rhodesia). Her father, Victor Bourdillon, worked for the British Civil Service in Northern Rhodesia where he met her mother who went to Northern Rhodesia from England as a missionary doctor. She was the eldest in the family of two girls and six boys. When she was young, the family moved to Zimbabwe and Cecily was educated in Salisbury (now Harare). Bourdillon is a French name, but their branch of the family had lived in England since the early part of the 18th Century.
Influenced by St. Therese of Lisieux, Cecily wanted to be a religious and a missionary and do medical work in the footsteps of her mother. Her father had met Mother Mary Martin when searching for sisters to do medical work in N. Rhodesia around 1939. Having only just founded the Congregation, there were as yet no sisters to send. However, Mother Mary obviously impressed Victor Bourdillon for he had no hesitation in suggesting the Medical Missionaries of Mary to Cecily. He communicated with Mother Mary, and she broke a trip to South Africa to visit the family in Zimbabwe. Mother Mary invited Cecily to come to Drogheda when she finished secondary school. Sr. Cecily arrived in Ireland in 1960 and began the MMM journey.
She studied medicine at University College Dublin in 1961 and graduated in 1967. The MMM students lived together in Rosemount, Booterstown, and cycled to college each day. In 1969 she was asked to go to Nigeria to relieve a sister doctor, for 6 months but that turned into 20 years!
Sr. Cecily worked in hospitals – Eleta in Ibadan, St. Luke’s in Anua, St.Joseph’s in Ekot Ene, Mile Four in Abakalilki, Monaya in Ogoja – and Zungeru health centre in Minna Diocese. At Mile Four and Monaya, she supervised the Leprosy and TB programme and did the three-month course in Leprosy and TB control in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, she worked for three months in one of the refugee camps for people devastated by the famine in 1985.
In 1990, she was asked to go to Chiulo Hospital in Angola. The civil war was coming to an end and people voted for their leaders for the first time. She cared for the children and the Leprosy and TB patients.
From 2001 to 2020 she worked in Malawi – first, in Chipini Health Centre and then in Kasina Health Centre. The HIV/AIDS pandemic was rearing its head and the Sisters gradually developed a good programme of testing, care, and treatment within the Malawi National HIV/AIDS Programme. Before treatment was available, they began a Home-Based Care Programme to provide care for the many dying patients which developed into the Home Based Palliative Care programme run by nurses trained in Palliative Care.
Sr. Cecily returned to Ireland in 2020 and was an active member of the Beechgrove community. She had a gift for music and played the piano and the organ in the chapel for the Sisters. She loved to crochet and enjoyed swimming. Her last illness began in 2022 and she was aware of her own serious condition.
Once she summed up her attitude to life as:
“I am filled with gratitude for my life. In being an MMM my life’s dreams to dedicate my life to God and to serve the sick poor were fulfilled. In ministering among the poor, I have learned much about suffering, courage, endurance and generosity from them. It has been a humbling experience to care for the sick and dying and I feel greatly privileged and blessed to have been able to accompany them and alleviate their pain and suffering in some small way.”
Sr. Cecily died peacefully on 8th June 2023, and her wish to donate her body for medical research was honoured.