Sister Sheila was born Julia Cotter in Cork City in 1934. Called ‘Judy’ at home, she came from a family of three girls and two boys. Her mother died when she was a teenager and her father’s sister looked after the family. She completed her secondary education with the Presentation Sisters in Cork and then did a commercial course.
Sheila worked as a cashier, bookkeeper and medical secretary in various sections of Cork County Council before joining MMM in 1962. After profession she trained in laboratory technology in Ireland and England.
She was assigned to Nigeria in 1973 and first worked for two years in Eleta, Ibadan as laboratory superintendent. After about a year on promotion work in the USA, she returned to Nigeria, this time to Urua Akpan, where she spent three years, followed by a few months in Ondo.
In 1987 she did mission awareness in the USA and worked in the laboratory in the International Missionary Training Hospital (now Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital) in Ireland. After a few months on mission awareness in Kerry, she spent four more years as principal laboratory technician in Ibadan. During Sheila’s time in Nigeria she developed the laboratories to high standards and trained many young students in this vital work.
In 1993 Sister Sheila again helped with mission awareness in the USA, finally returning to Ireland later that year. She was based in Crumlin in Dublin for twenty-one years, where she served as a home nursing aid, worked in the MMM Communications Department, and was a volunteer in Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross, Dublin.
In 2015 she moved to our Motherhouse in Drogheda and in August 2016 to Áras Mhuire nursing facility for further care. She died there peacefully, if rather suddenly, on 1 February 2020, the feast of St. Brigid.
Sheila was deeply spiritual and had great devotion to Our Blessed Lady. She regularly visited the Marian House of Prayer on Achill Island and Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock. She was versatile, energetic, interested in everything and could expound without hesitation on any topic. She admitted that she loved talking about ‘anything’ and her beautiful brown eyes would sparkle with excitement. She had a great gift of multi-tasking: she could be eating her breakfast, reading The Irish Times, doing the accounts and engaging in serious conversation with anyone passing by!
Sheila’s funeral Mass was celebrated by Father John McAlinden, parish priest of Mell; Fr. Pat Kelly, SPS, chaplain of Áras Mhuire; and Canon Eugene Sweeney, our parish priest. Along with MMMs, many family members and neighbours from Cork attended, as well as Franciscan Sisters from Mt. Oliver, Dundalk, where Sheila’s two sisters are members. It was a wonderful celebration of her life.