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Saturday, 25 November 2023 05:33

Eulogy: Sister Eileen Kennedy (2.09.1931 - 25.10.2023)

sreileenkennedy 250May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be Everywhere Loved!

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me’.

These words from the Gospel of John capture well the essence of our dear Sister Eileen’s life. She was a woman of deep faith with absolute trust in God.

The news of her unexpected death on Wednesday, 25th October, was met, understandably, with shock and sadness. Soon followed comments from Sisters and friends in various parts of Australia and, of course, Kiribati. The comments bore a remarkable similarity to each other: a beautiful woman, an inspirational Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a loving Sister, an extraordinary missionary giving 68 years to her much-loved people of Kiribati, quite simply an amazing person who never drew attention to herself or her achievements. Eileen was 92 years old and in her 72nd year of religious profession.

To Eileen’s sisters Clare and Rae, her brother-in-law John, her cousin Elaine and all her relatives, Sr Kateia and the Sisters of the Kiribati Province and all Eileen’s dear friends, we know you like us, are deeply saddened by her death, we offer our sympathy and love. You know well her love for you, her pride and joy in you, and her gratitude to you. We also offer sympathy to those who join us via live streaming from around Australia and the world, especially our Sisters from the Kiribati Province.

We also remember Eileen’s deceased sisters, our dear Marg, Nancy and Joan whom she loved so dearly.

Elieen Mary Kennedy, was born in Bentleigh Victoria, on the 2nd September, 1931, to Nance and Jim, the eldest of six children, all girls. Eileen’s father was a well-known and hard-working market gardener, and her mother was a wonderful homemaker. Her parents were generous ‘salt of the earth’, people. During the difficult depression and war years, the family enjoyed and benefited from living on the market garden, they had fresh vegetables, milk, butter during these years and they shared what they could with others, even supplying the Army with vegetables.

Eileen’s reference from her Parish Priest Fr O’Neill, in 1949, gives us a glimpse of the beautiful family Eileen belonged too. ‘Eileen has been surrounded from babyhood with all the influences that cooperate in building and molding a heart and character of a true child of God, dutiful, attentive listener, respectful, reverent and unselfish. These beautiful qualities of a ‘true child of God’ stayed with Eileen throughout her long life, she was no less than as our motto urges us to be ‘the heart of God of earth’.

It’s true to say that Eileen has always been an OLSH girl, born in Bentleigh, she attended primary school at St Peter’s, East Bentleigh and secondary at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart College, Bentleigh. The Kennedy’s, along with others, helped build up the College facilities by providing local produce, from their market garden, to be sold at the College Fete. The Sisters had a great influence on Eileen and from her earliest years she wanted to be a Sister. After leaving school she stayed at home assisting her mother who was not well at the time. Being the eldest she spent much time caring for her sister’s needs. I was told by her younger Sister that she was a great big sister, although at times she could be a bit bossy! How poignant in her final years it was her younger sister Rae, who cared for Eileen’s needs at Hartzer Park.

In 1949 Eileen entered the novitiate at Hartzer Park and made her first vows in January 1951. She was given the name, Sr St James. Thus, began Eileen ’s lifelong ministry and her epic journey as a passionate, enthusiastic educator, leader and missionary. In subsequent years she would be joined in Congregation by two of her sisters, Margaret and Rae.

After completing her Leaving certificate and Teaching training at Kensington and one year teaching in Kilburn, Eileen began a journey of the heart, a journey that took her to the shores of Kiribati, the place she called home for 68years with the people she loved. In 1954 aged 22, Eileen set off by boat with her good friend, Sr Margaret Sullivan and after 19 days they arrived in Kiribati. Despite the challenges of extreme heat, lack of resources, living in huts in a difficult isolated mission, Eileen felt a sense of deep peace as she realised her heart’s desire to be a Missionary as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart with the IKiribati people whom she loved deeply.

Sr Kateia, the Provincial of the Kiribati Province will now share some beautiful and moving memories of Eileen in Kiribati

Mission in Kiribati  1954 - 2021

‘’Sr Eileen was finally professed on 6.01.1954 and came to Kiribati in early 1954 and was sent to her first mission in September the same year. Sr Teneti and Sr Damiana were young boarders in the school at that time and they remembered singing a welcome song to Sr St James Kennedy and Sr Francis Xavier. They said they were beautiful young Sisters and we know she was the most beautiful in her family!!! Sr Eileen reminds us of our first Sisters who went straight after first profession to the missions.

Sr Eileen was mostly involved in the teaching apostolates in different islands and in 1970 - 1978 she became Regional Superior of Kiribati for 3 terms. It was in her time as leader that the first initial formation group started in 1977. She was Regional superior twice from 1991 – 1993. This says a lot about Sr Eileen.

Sr Eileen was a very good leader and she was a much loved person. She was also very kind, caring and just in her dealings with the Sisters and the workmen. The people in the village also respected her and so too her students. She was hard working and very good in mechanical works or carpentry. These days we call carpenters or mechanics even for little things but Eileen could fix many things. Sometimes she walked around with a spanner or screw drivers. Sr Margaret Kennedy, her sister, when she was in Kiribati was the same. Sr Eileen was our junior mistress and she taught us how to fix our bicycles.

We love and miss Sr Eileen very much. She was the last of our Australian Sisters and we know she wanted to go to Heaven from Kiribati but God’s ways and thoughts are so different from ours. She was an example of a very prayerful and dedicated sister. To have worked in a poor country for 68 years involved a lot of sacrifice. A love that counts no cost. The Australian Government recognized the dedication and long service, she, Sr Margaret Sullivan and Sr Aileen Crow gave to the people of Kiribati and they were awarded an Order of Australia medal. We are very grateful to Sr Eileen and our early Sisters for the strong shoulders they gave us to stand on, to carry on the mission of the Congregation.’’

Upon returning to Australia in 2021, Eileen’s final years were spent as a member of the community at Hartzer. These were very happy years living in a relaxed, loving, community, with her Sister Rae also the community leader, and the Sisters in her community, sharing faith, fun, friendship. She enjoyed sitting on the veranda, overlooking the garden, having a cuppa and a chat, sharing in conversation with her Sisters and with Cathy and Jim, playing Rumicub, enjoying the occasional beer and Baileys using her ipad to communicate with Sisters in Kiribati and talking daily on the phone with her sister Clare. Eileen’s day began and ended, with a little walk to and from the beautiful prayer room at Harter Park, overlooking the pond, alone with her God, the one in whom her heart delighted. I am deeply grateful to Rae and to the Sisters in her community for their loving care they showed Eileen.

In all that Eileen achieved in her long life, she was most proud that so many women in Kiribati had been educated and now held positions such as doctors, nurses, teachers, dentists and office administrators. She was proud to see many local OLSH sisters working at home in Kiribati and as missionaries overseas. It was Eileen’s simplicity, generous humble heart, love of the poor and missionary zeal that was an inspiration to the young women of Kiribati and indeed to all of us.

We will be ever grateful to Jim and Nance and the Kennedy family for the gift of Eileen to our Congregation! And what a gift God gave us in her! Eileen died as she had lived – simply, peacefully, quietly and without fuss, surrendering her life into the hands of the God whom she loved and had served so well.

Thank you, Eileen, for your peaceful, prayerful presence, kindness, graciousness, and for your beautiful smile that lit up our hearts.

Philippa Murphy fdnsc and Sr Kateia Teanako fdnsc Provincial Leaders Australia and Kiribati

Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 8th November 2023