Sister Marita was born in Macroom, Co. Cork, Ireland on the feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December 1932. Her parents christened her Brigid Mary Innocent and she was known to her family as ‘Inny’. She was the second child in a large family and received her early education at the Mercy Convent, Macroom. After qualifying as a pharmacist in the College of Pharmacy in Dublin in 1957, she worked in retail pharmacy in various towns in Ireland and assisted her father in the pharmacy at home before joining MMM in 1960.
Marita always felt called to missionary life and was a deeply spiritual person. She realised that this call could be combined with her professional life in the Medical Missionaries of Mary. While her father gave her his blessing he missed her keenly. The night before she joined she discovered she had won a Hillman Lux car in the Irish Press Fashion Competition and gave it to her father.
Before profession Marita worked for a year in the pharmacy in the International Missionary Training Hospital, now Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, in Drogheda. Her first overseas assignment was to Nigeria in 1963. She was the first hospital pharmacist in Saint Mary’s Hospital in Urua Akpan.
At that time Nigeria was experiencing a lot of tension during its first years of independence. The Biafran War started and life was difficult. Marita returned to Ireland in 1968 and helped in various duties in the convent. She also worked for three more years in the pharmacy in Drogheda.
In 1974 Marita was again assigned to Nigeria. She worked in Anua for four years before moving to Urua Akpan, the place she loved most, in 1978. She served there for the next fifteen years. She cycled to the hospital, employed and trained local people, and knew all their families by name. After some study leave, she spent a year helping in Abakaliki, Nigeria.
In 1995 she returned to the MMM Motherhouse because of illness. She later helped in various duties there and in Áras Mhuire. From 2000 to 2004 she ran a lending library in the hospital, which gave her great satisfaction. The patients loved her gentle presence and interest.
Sister Marita moved to Áras Mhuire in September 2015 for nursing care. Rheumatoid arthritis was a lifelong companion and she suffered greatly in her last years. She died peacefully on 4 February 2018.
Marita was a gracious woman who accomplished so much in the midst of her personal pain and suffering. The compassionate and understanding staff in Áras Mhuire looked after her with great love and her family, MMMs and friends visited her frequently.
Father Noel, her Columban brother who works in Peru, was the principal celebrant at her funeral Mass, assisted by five concelebrants. He spoke with great affection of his sibling missionary. Her brother Ted gave a moving and entertaining eulogy.
After the burial, family, friends and Sisters shared stories of good and not so good times of life in Nigeria and Ireland. All spoke of Marita’s gentle presence and beautiful smile.