Sister Philomena was born Bridget Philomena Rooney in Banbridge, Co. Down in 1927. She was one of a family of eight children, two of whom died in infancy. She was Phil to most MMMs and Auntie Mena to her nieces and nephews.
Phil was from a farming community. When she was only about six years old, her father went into hospital for removal of his appendix and died on the operating table. She got the news in school, overhearing a neighbour telling the teacher what had happened. Phil helped out at home for a number of years before joining MMM. She got a scholarship for further education but gave it up when an older sister who was supporting her mother on the farm got married.
She joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1954. After profession she studied commerce, cookery and household management. She worked in the hospital kitchen and laundry in Drogheda for nine years. In 1965 she was assigned to Leon, Spain, where MMM was staffing a nurses’ training hospital. She spent ten years there, supervising the kitchen, laundry and stores, before doing further training in dressmaking at Grafton Academy in Dublin, and in community development. She was very gifted with her hands and was an excellent seamstress. She worked hard but enjoyed being close to the land and nature.
In 1976 Phil was assigned to Kenya, where she spent most of the next twenty-seven years. After language school she went to Kipsaraman. She taught nutrition with a mobile unit and did gardening and handcrafts with women’s groups. The women learned skills to improve the lives of their families and to earn an income. Phil also taught religion and worked with OXFAM in a project for two hundred farmers. In 1988 she went to Aror, where she did community development with women’s groups.
In 1990 she went to Nairobi for two years. There she provided hospitality, taught catechism in the Consolata School, and did pastoral work in a hospital. She then spent time in Ireland because of illness and did some updating. In 1993 she was back in Kenya and spent three years in Kakuma teaching home craft. In 1996 she returned to Nairobi, where she was again involved in hospitality and pastoral care for almost three years. She also served in MMM leadership. She spent another two years in Sports Road in Nairobi before returning to Ireland In 2003.
Phil first lived in the Ashleigh Heights community in Drogheda. In 2005 she moved to the Motherhouse, where she helped in the stamp department and the refectory. Her health began to deteriorate in 2010 and she moved to the nursing facility in Áras Mhuire for additional care. She died there peacefully on 29 June 2015.
Throughout her five years in Áras Mhuire Sister Philomena maintained contact with prayer groups, such as the Sacred Heart Group in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. In her latter years she was quite ill and suffered a lot, but her thoughts and prayers were never far from Kenya and the people she loved. When she received donations from her family and friends she asked if they could be sent to the neediest mission in Kenya. We feel sure she will continue to pray for them, her family and all of us, now that she is in her eternal home.