Sister Dympna was born Eithne Hannelly in Castlerea, Co. Roscommon in 1922. Enna was a twin to her brother, Padraig, in a family of eight children. When she told her parents that she was going to join the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Mother Mary had to go to Castlerea to convince Enna’s father, that the congregation, then only four years old, was an appropriate choice for his daughter.
That was in 1941, when Padraig went to Kiltegan to begin his studies for the priesthood. Soon after her profession in 1944, Sister Dympna went to Nigeria to help in an emergency. She spent two years in Ogoja before returning to Ireland to complete training in nursing and midwifery. She then spent eight years in charge of the theatres and outpatients’ departments in the hospital in Drogheda.
In 1960 Sister Dympna was assigned to Tanzania and spent five years as a nurse in different hospitals. She was then assigned to Kenya and studied public health. She worked first in the Turkana Desert and then in Kitale where she was matron at Mount Elgon Hospital.
Sister Dympna was assigned in Uganda In 1975 and worked at Kitovu Hospital, Masaka. Returning to Uganda after home leave in 1985, she found the road to Masaka blocked by the war. She then spent five months working with the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa at Nsambya Hospital in Kampala before returning to Masaka in February 1986. Dympna was part of the recovery activities, spending the next seven years as the diocesan coordinator of Masaka Community-Based Health Care and coordinator of the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau. She was also training officer in the Uganda Community-based Health Care Association.
When MMM opened a new house and health centre at Makondo, she moved there and used her skills for the next eleven years in community-based health care and primary health care.
Dympna’s life was not all work. She played golf when it was unheard of for a Sister to do so and enjoyed a game of bridge. Also interested in gardening, she stole slips of plants wherever she went.
In 2002, at the age of 80, Sister Dympna returned to Ireland. For seven years she served part-time in the MMM Motherhouse Guest Department, where she loved meeting the visitors. “Retirement” was not a word to describe her. For any family occasion – and there were plenty with her ninety plus family members – Dympna took the train to the West to celebrate with them. She kept in touch with nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews by mobile phone. She followed Facebook and was learning Twitter. She started an Irish language group in the Motherhouse and did The Irish Times crossword until November 2013, when she could no longer manage it.
Sister Dympna died in Aras Mhuire on 9 January 2014 after a short illness.