Sr. Helen O’Brien was born in Fermoy, Co. Cork in 1938. She was the eldest in a family of four and the only girl. She attended her early education at the Presentation Sisters in Crosshaven, Cork. She then worked as a clerical officer for two years with the Land Commission in the Civil Service in Dublin.
Helen experienced tragedy at a young age. Her father died when she was nine years old and her brother Jody was killed in a road traffic accident just weeks after his graduation from university. These two events affected her deeply.
She joined MMM in 1958, and after profession studied medicine in University College Dublin. Her first assignment was to Nigeria in September 1967, which coincided with a time of great upheaval in the country. She served for three years in Ibadan and then helped for several months in Abakaliki and Ondo. She returned to Ibadan in January 1972 and spent more four years there. Helen then worked for several years in Obudu, Urua Akpan and Ogoja. She was good at many aspects of medical work and especially loved paediatrics.
Sr. Helen briefly joined the Cistercian community in Glencairn, Co. Waterford, in 1984, but later returned to MMM. She was assigned to the Motherhouse in 1990 and helped with various duties. During the next few years she also cared for her elderly mother. In 1997 she moved to Dublin, where she studied theology and anthropology in Kimmage, obtaining a bachelor’s degree, and helped with research projects. She was also involved with pro-life work.
Helen was a deeply spiritual woman and was involved in the charismatic movement. She was a free spirit and was highly gifted, enjoying music, gardening, cooking, calligraphy and flower arranging. When she was in Ibadan the Sisters loved when it was Helen’s turn to cook Sunday dinner because she always produced a delicious meal. She was warm and welcoming and had a good sense of humour. Helen was greatly loved.
Sr. Helen had ill health for a number of years and in July 2018 she was admitted Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. In August she transferred to Áras Mhuire, where she was cared for with great love and attention by the staff. She was undemanding in her needs and always thanked those who visited her or helped in any way. Her condition gradually deteriorated and she died peacefully on 29 November 2018.
Helen’s funeral Mass was a great remembrance of her life and was concelebrated by five priests from St. Patrick’s Missionary Society. Fr. Michael Browne was the main celebrant and spoke with gratitude of Helen’s great care for the sick in Nigeria. He was joined by Frs. Billy Fulton, Tommy Greenan, Pat Kelly and Séamus Whitney. Members of her family participated fully in the liturgy with singing, playing instruments, and doing Scripture readings and prayers of the faithful.
We are happy for Helen that her earthly journey is at an end. We pray that she is united with the members of her family who have gone before her, especially her parents, Jody and her other siblings.