Sister Maura was born in Youghal, County Cork in 1938, the fourth of nine children. She joined MMM in 1956. After qualifying in medicine in University College Dublin she was assigned to Angola in 1967. In preparation, she first went to Lisbon, Portugal to learn the language and to study at the Lisbon School of Tropical Medicine.
She was to spend fourteen of the next twenty years in Angola, then known as Portuguese West Africa, mainly as medical director of the hospital at Chiulo. Situated in a remote area in the south of the country, at the time, the hospital was small, with limited resources. Maura contributed greatly to its development.
She was in the country during the Angolan war for independence from Portugal. This was followed by a civil war beginning in 1975. With this unrest the character of the hospital changed. It was the only one functioning in the area and received many war-wounded patients. Maura spent long hours in the operating theatre and MMMs and staff treated members on all sides of the conflict. Afterwards, the Sisters regaled listeners with stories of travelling over bombed-out bridges to reach distant outstations to provide medical care and diving for cover when they were spotted by planes overhead.
Maura obtained her fellowship in surgery in 1985 and after returning briefly to Angola, set off for her next assignment, this time to Kitovu, Uganda in 1987. En route she stopped in Anua, Nigeria to gain experience in the repair of obstetrical fistulae – a preventable condition still suffered by far too many women after childbirth. She gradually established a centre in Kitovu for women affected by fistula and for training medical personnel in the prevention and treatment of the condition. Over the years the programme received international recognition and Maura and the staff received a number of awards. The government of Uganda granted her an unprecedented certificate of residency for life.
In late 2017, still active in her eightieth year, Maura was deeply involved in her work in Kitovu. She organized fistula repair camps with training for medical professionals and was in touch with donors – while travelling around the world to receive awards. There were plans for her to hand over the fistula work to Sister Doctor Florence Nalubega, of the Daughters of Mary, who had specialized in obstetrics and gynaecology and was on the Kitovu Maternity Unit.
At the same time she was busy with plans to celebrate fifty years since her first arrival in Africa. Sister Geneviève van Waesberghe, on a visit to Kitovu after providing Capacitar sessions in South Sudan, accompanied Maura to Kampala to order the cakes for the festivities.
On 16 November, Maura fell while getting out of a vehicle and broke her hip, necessitating emergency surgery. Determined to mark her fifty years, Maura chose to have the operation in Uganda. There was a good hospital in Kampala, with qualified staff, some of them her former students! She discussed her wishes with her MMM Sisters and they were willing to take on the arrangements, especially following the surgery. They requested that Maura not go back to Kitovu after the operation but instead go to Kampala, to a house MMM had opened in November 2017 as a base for new ministries. It was close to the hospital where she had the operation. While Maura was willing to stay in the new MMM house, it meant that her time at Kitovu was at an end.
Despite this great loss, Maura felt happy about being part of the way forward for MMM. Her surgery went well and she started moving with the help of a walking aid. MMMs and friends helped with her care. With so little energy her main effort was directed towards her celebration in Africa. She talked to many people about it and made sure she invited them to come.
On 9 December we were stunned to receive an e-mail from our MMM Congregational Secretariat: ‘It is with great sadness that I bring you news of the unexpected death of Sr. Maura Lynch. She died at 11:35 pm (Uganda Time) in Kampala Hospital [Nsambya]. Srs. Maria Jose da Silva, Natalia Mashalo, Christine Nanyombi and Christine Natweta and three doctors from Kitovu Hospital were with her.’
On 7 December Maura had suddenly developed a high fever and other complications. She was re-admitted to hospital but did not recover. She was laid to rest on 12 December in Butende Monastery alongside Ugandan MMMs Sister Catharina Nakintu and Benedicta Nannyondo.
Maura was a deeply spiritual person, showing great fidelity to prayer in spite of a busy work schedule. She had a lovely singing voice and joined enthusiastically in local liturgies. She was also a great comedian and mimic and entertained with plays put on at a minute’s notice. This was especially appreciated in Angola, where the pressures of war, an oppressive regime and isolation presented many challenges.
Sister Maria José da Silva is on the MMM East/Central Area Leadership Team and was involved in Maura’s care. She reflected, ‘Maura’s life was a great witness to me of her courage. Her willingness to be treated and cared for in Uganda, and at the end to die in Africa, was a wonderful expression of love and the spirit of what missionary life is about….In her ultimate commitment to MMM, Maura was present in times of joy and of challenge, as well as in the programme she developed for women affected by fistula. She gave her life, body and soul for the poor of Uganda.’
She always found joy in empowering people, which earned her the name Nakimuli – Flower. At the end of the very day on which she was to celebrate her golden jubilee in Africa, surrounded by friends and by MMMs from Brazil, Tanzania, and Uganda, ‘she went to God’s arms with deep peace.’
Sister Maura’s funeral began in Nsambya Hospital. Her remains were taken to the Uganda Funeral Service Chapel, where there was Mass, followed by repose in the chapel. The following day, MMM Area Leader Sister Maria Gonzaga Namuyomba and other MMMs received Maura’s body. The funeral cortege proceeded to Masaka, to Kitovu Hospital, for the wake.
Nearing the hospital, there was a welcome by a convoy of Bodaboda men who were Maura’s friends. All went in procession to the hospital. This was exactly what Maura had wished for during her celebration of fifty years in Africa. At the hospital chapel, viewing of the body started amidst songs of meditation. Mass was at 3 pm, with His Lordship Bishop John Baptist Kagwa, Bishop of Masaka Diocese and a close friend of Maura, presiding. It was attended by many hospital staff, friends, relatives of MMM Sisters in Uganda, a representative of the Irish Ambassador, and others. Afterwards there were Masses every three hours. MMMs, staff members of Kitovu Hospital, and many friends sang and prayed throughout the night.
On Wednesday morning, Maura’s remains were brought to Butende Monastery for the requiem Mass, attended by the Cistercian nuns, AMMMs and many friends, particularly doctors that she mentored. There were also eighteen MMMs from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and members of various religious congregations. Bishop Kagwa and over fifty priests concelebrated. The bishop spoke of Maura as a devoted Medical Missionary of Mary who loved to serve with dedication, cherished the people of Uganda and devoted her life to raise the dignity of women with fistula. He said that he did not know which country Maura loved best – Ireland or Uganda. Many spoke of Maura as a mentor, a true religious, a feminist, and an advocator for women’s rights.
Sister Ursula Sharpe spent seventeen years in community with Maura in Kitovu and had spoken to her only a few days before she died. Ursula said that Maura sounded good, but perhaps with an intimation of what was to come, instead of discussing plans for the next training camp, Maura said, ‘I’m winding down. The wind has stopped. I’m going home.’