McKernan, Sr. Majella

McKernan, Sr. Majella

Sr. Majella was born in Belfast on 31st July, 1921, but grew up in Dundalk from the age of one when her family moved there.  She attended the local primary school and later went to nearby Carrickmacross for her secondary education.
When she entered MMM in 1946, she was already a qualified Pharmacist.  The Congregation was still in its infancy, just seven years old, and great expansion was taking place with new communities, health care initiatives and recruitment of new members in different countries of the world.

Majella was not only an excellent Pharmacist but was highly gifted in many ways, as the saying goes “she could put her hand to anything”.   As a young Sister she was remembered among other things for making stuffed toys of all sorts, beautiful rabbits, cuddly teddy bears and baby dolls which were sold at our annual Dublin Sale of Work. These were very popular with young children and sold well.

She has had an exciting and varied life.  Her first assignment after Profession was to Anua, Nigeria, an already established hospital where she built up the pharmaceutical department. Unfortunately she became ill there and had to return to Ireland prematurely.  One day, while working in the hospital pharmacy, she met our Foundress, Mother Mary Martin, who was showing visitors around the hospital.  Mother smiled at her and said that she had “a lovely job for her in a lovely climate.”  It turned out to be Angola, or Portuguese West Africa as it was known in colonial times.  In 1953, she and another Sister were the first to go there, to a remote area in the south of the country, called Chiulo, to provide much needed health care.  This was at the invitation of Irish-born Fr. Bernard Keane C.S.Sp who was working there for a number of years and was distraught at the poor facilities.  He persuaded Mother Mary to send Sisters there and had already built a small mud hospital and a Sisters’ house in anticipation of their arrival.

Sr. Majella set up the Pharmacy and the Laboratory while learning Portuguese and the native language at the same time.  She did trojan work for ten years in the country, developing both the Pharmacy and Laboratory and training girls and boys in the skills necessary.  She also helped in many different ways to develop the compound.  From there she was assigned back to Nigeria, to Eleta, Ibadan, again a busy, fast-growing hospital where the needs were huge.  Sr. Majella thrived on it all, running an efficient service and always training young recruits in the intricacies of Pharmacy.

Her next appointment was back to Ireland as Senior Pharmacist in the I.M.T.H. (now Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital) for 12 years.  In between times she did Promotion Work in Ireland, visiting parishes and schools, seeking help for the great MMM work that was underway.  She was the editor of the MMM Magazine for two years, producing it on a monthly basis and keeping our readers up to date on the growth of the Congregation throughout the world.  The magazine also encouraged young people to consider their vocations and also invited material support to help us in our endeavours.

Sr. Majella retired ‘officially’ in 1990, but this did not mean that she stopped work.  She was in charge of the Stamp Department in the Motherhouse for ten years, an important area of the Congregation where used stamps are received and prepared for sale to interested Philatelists.  The money acquired from this work is used with great effect to fund the many small projects being carried out by our Sisters throughout the world.  The Stamp Department continues to be a valuable source of income right up to the present day.  During this time also, there was an emergency call for a Pharmacist in war-torn Liberia and Majella answered the call and spent two happy but challenging years there.

She was always interested in gardening and during this time of retirement set up a greenhouse in one area of the Motherhouse where she grew all kinds of flowers and vegetables including a vine which produced edible grapes.  She was a talented woman, an artist in her own right with beautiful paintings to her credit which she gave as gifts to friends and contacts.

Gradually her health deteriorated and in 2011 she transferred to Áras Mhuire to avail of the wonderful care there.  She celebrated her 100th birthday last year and she equally enjoyed her 101st birthday just a few weeks before she died.  Gradually her health disimproved and on 22nd September 2022, she died peacefully. Her funeral was on 26th September, and she is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Drogheda.

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