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Monday, 07 February 2022 20:46

Eulogy: Sr Eileen van der Lee fdnsc (5.3.1930 - 21.1.2022)

sreileenvanderlee 250I have loved you with an everlasting love.  I am constant in my affection for you.

These words from the prophet Jeremiah capture well the driving force behind our dear Sister,  Eileen as she had  absolute confidence in the one who called her into life and loved her unconditionally. At approximately 8 pm on  Friday 21st January she  gently slipped into the loving embrace of the one who had loved her with an everlasting love, throughout her 91 years ago.

Today we come together to celebrate the life of Eileen van der Lee, a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart whose ministry in health showed care, concern and compassion for all who came to her especially the people of Papua New Guinea.  Her dedication  as a nurse came from her closeness to Jesus to whom she dedicated her life for 71 years.

To Eileens’s brother Joseph, and all her relatives and friends who loved her so much and are deeply saddened by her death, we offer our deep sympathy and love.  We also offer sympathy to those who join us from around the world, especially, our Sisters.

 Eileen, as we called her, was born Aldagonda Eileen van der Lee, in Ceduna, South Australia on 5th March 1930 to Petrus and Suzannah.  Her parents grew up in Europe through the war, after they were married, they migrated to Australia from the Netherlands. Eileen’s father was a labourer and in the 1920’s he helped build the jetty at Cape Thevenard in Ceduna. It was in Cape Thevenard, an isolated coastal village that Eileen attended school. The family had a strong Catholic faith, it was this faith in God that supported them during the difficult years of the Depression. Eileen recalls attending Mass with the family every two months when a priest was able to travel. Eileen had no formal religious instruction, the example of her parents and the many holy pictures on the walls of her home, educated her in her faith.

The Annals was one publication the family received and here Eileen delighted to read about the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. No doubt at this time she started to dream about being a missionary Sister. I’m sure Eileen’s early years living in an isolated town prepared her for life as a missionary. In 1946 Eileen moved to Adelaide for work as a telephonist and it was here that she met Fr Cuthbert Hoy MSC and the sisters at Kilburn. Eileen had a deep sense God was calling her to be a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and our determined Eileen was ready to enter the Novitiate. Eileen’s mother did not agree to her entering the Convent and found it very hard and even took Eileen to the police to try to prevent her from entering.  As she was eighteen years old, the police said they could not prevent her from going but she could not take any permanent vows until she was 21.  Eileen’s father was agreeable for her to go and told her that if she wanted to come back, there was always a home for her. In1948, she entered the novitiate at Hartzer Park and made her first vows in July 1950. She was given the name, Sr Cuthbert; thus, began Eileen’s lifelong ministry and her epic journey as a passionate, enthusiastic nurse and missionary Sister.

Eileen did her general nurse training at St Vincent’s Hospital from 1951 to 1954. From 1954 to 1956 she worked at the leprosarium at Chanel Island and East Arm in the Northern Territory. This was followed by four years nursing at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Hospital, Randwick. During this time she studied as an Operating Theatre Sister at Lewisham Hospital and with Sr Constance Daley, started the theatre at Randwick. She also trained as a midwife at Calvary Hospital.

In 1964 her dream of going to the missions was realised and with joy and enthusiasm she accepted a move to Papua New Guinea. After a year at Paparatava, Rabaul, she was appointed to the newly opened Mission Station of St. Paul’s Boregaina in the Rigo District east of Port Moresby.  Sr M Paul had started a small clinic for the people but with the arrival of Eileen a very good general clinic was established and provided prenatal care for the women.  Eileen began going to nearby villages to provide health care for the people and trained a young woman to be her helper.  She showed herself to be an excellent nurse and had a special skill in diagnosing illnesses.

In 1969 Eileen commenced her many years of community health nursing and maternal child health at various mission stations on New Britain Island – including Kilenge, Vunapope, Paparatava, Uvol and Napapar.  Many of these were very isolated with no doctors nearby and when necessary she would seek advice from a doctor over the mission radio sched.  Usually there were two or three sisters in the community. Eileen was often called upon to care for the needs of the German MSC priests and brothers, including preparing meals for them.  Some of the sisters were Dutch and with her Dutch heritage she would have felt a special bonding with them.

Eileen was an excellent nurse, compassionate, resilent and hardworking, she endured many difficulties with living in isolated missions with her reliance on the Grace of God.

When she was at Kilenge, a station at the very tip of the west end of the island, she was in charge of the mission hospital with any medical help many days by boat away.  But she had an interesting “sideline”.  Kilenge has a very active volcano, not very far from the Mission, and Eileen was the one who reported its activity daily to the Vulcanologist in Rabaul via the two-way radio. 

In 1990, after 37 years and since Independence in PNG and with many trained local people in Papua New Guinea, Eileen transferred to the Australian Province. She said that in many ways she found this move quite difficult after working a number of years in the conservative Archdiocese of Rabaul.  From then until 2008 she nursed at St Joseph’s Aged Care Facility.

Eileen was a good friend to many, she enjoyed walking, knitting, reading and swimming. When it was becoming apparent that Eileen’s health was failing  she asked to transfer to St Joseph’s Aged Care Facility, she accepted her aging with her typical resignation. It was here that she was beautifully cared for until her death.

We will be ever grateful to Petrus, Suzannah and the van der Lee family for the gift of Eileen to our Congregation!

Go in peace dear Eileen, united with the one who says ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ 

Thank you for your faith filled witness, generosity, diligence and humility.

May your courageous soul rest in peace.