Sister Roch Kissane died peacefully at St John of God Convent, Ballymote, Co Sligo on the 8th September 2009. Ballymote was her home for more than 50 years. With family and friends she had celebrated her 90th birthday in May. Summing up her giftedness, Sr Pauline O’Connor wrote:
‘She was the essence of kindness’
‘She had great compassion for people – attentive in very practical ways’
‘She had a heart as large as an ocean’
‘A wonderful nurse – knowledgeable and dedicated’
‘She was blessed with great common sense’
Recalling a verse from the Opening Hymn at her funeral Mass, Fr James McDonagh, said, ‘…I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord , if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart….and how often Sister Roch heard the Lord calling in the night; calling her to go and attend to the people of Ballymote and the surrounding districts…. Her gifts were at the service of all people; and evident in a special way at the beginning and end of life, ‘welcoming new born babies and farwelling the departing souls…’. He went on to say that, ‘anything good that happened in Ballymote over the past 50 years, Sr Roch was part of it’.
In a brief Eulogy, Sister Vitalis, spoke of Roch’s dedication as a faithful member of the John of God community and of the Ballymote community – generous with her caring spirit, and a companion to all in need. At her Funeral Mass a number of gifts were carred in the Offertory Procession symbolising Roch’s life and ministry. Among them a young mother carried her new born baby symbolising Roch’s great care for families especially Mothers and babies. (Baby Rachael below with Mum & Sr Maria).
Following is the HOMILY delivered by Father Jame McDonagh at the Funeral Mass. Fr McDonagh is Curate of the Parish of Ballymote.
‘… On behalf of all of us we offer our sincere sympathy to the St John of God Sisters here in Ballymote – Srs Vitalis, Rosalie, Anna, Maria, Alma, Julia, Baptiste, Therese and Ita and to those who have travelled from other parts of the country to be with us today and also to Sister Roch’s family – her nieces Bridget and Marguerite, and her nephews Rob, Michael and Paddy who are present and to her sister in law and other nieces and nephews and family members who are not with us today but are in our thoughts and prayers at this time. I also acknowledge many others who have travelled to be here at this Mass of the Resurrection and all the people of Ballymote who knew and loved Sr Roch. I want to also sympathise with the management and staff of the community nursing unit and with Mary, Minnie, Patricia, Bernie and Josephine who were very important to Sr Roch and were very much part of her family here in Ballymote.
The Sisters of St John of God came into existence on 7th October 1871, their motto, ‘Caritas Christi Urget Nos’ means. ‘The Love of Christ Moves Us’ and for all who knew Sr Roch they can certainly say that it did. It was definitely something very powerful that moved her as keeping up with her was often the problem. She was a woman of remarkable energy and character and was part of everything good that was happening in Ballymote. She was an ever present member of the St John of God Convent and Nursing Home since its foundation in 1953 apart from a period of about six years when she returned to Australia. She worked at the extremities of life – bringing so many people into this world safely in the maternity hospital and then in latter years escorting people to the shore of eternity with dignity and the very best of practical and spiritual care. However her work was in no way confined to just the nursing home as she reached out in every way possible to people in this community and beyond. I was speaking to a friend of mine who told me that his mother often recalled how Sr Roch brought him into the world and when he was seven weeks old his grandfather died. Sr Roch and another of the sisters came to his home to lay out his grandfather and when they had that job completed they took the newborn baby back with them to the nursing home and minded him there until the funeral was over. If we were to tell all the stories associated with Sr Roch that have been recounted these last few days we’d be here a very long time.
Reading a bit about the patron of Sr Roch’s congregation St John of God, One couldn’t but admire how closely Sr Roch followed his vision and example. John, after he was discharged from hospital himself, started attending to sick people in a rented house. He met their needs and his own by gathering and selling firewood and by seeking alms from wealthy patrons. Later St John of God moved to larger premises where he set up a hospital. In his hospital John set standards of hygiene and order that were unusual for the time; he saw to the sweeping, dusting and general tidying as well as the personal hygiene of the patients. Sr Roch did the same; she worked hard and taught others to do likewise.
Last Sunday the Gospel recounted how Jesus took a deaf and dumb man aside and putting his fingers in his ears and spittle on his tongue brought him healing. This sounds like messy business doesn’t it, but maybe Jesus wanted to show us that in order to bring his healing and help to people we need to be prepared to roll up our sleeves and be involved in what can at times be messy business. Sr Roch understood this very well and I’m told she would never ask anyone to do anything that she herself wasn’t prepared to do. I’m also told that if there was ever a quiet period in the nursing home there was always plenty of windows to be washed and she had great faith in newspapers and washing up liquid long before window-lene was ever heard of. Yes, Sr Roch brought light into so many situations. I also heard yesterday that some time ago people came to visit Sr Roch and they found her and another of the sisters with a wheelbarrow full of gravel – filling holes in the road. We might need to find that wheelbarrow again?
Getting back to the link with the vision of St John of God – Although John’s concern was primarily for the poor and sick people he had compassion for all. He recognised that everyone has needs of one kind or another. He had a particular concern and capacity to reach people who suffered mental or psychological disorders. With extraordinary hospitality he ministered to each person according to his or her needs. John was a person without regard for social class, respecting each individual in his or her special circumstances and providing a bridge between rich and poor. We can certainly say that Sr Roch had cooked this message on her own stove. She was a woman of prayer and vision, of great courage, kindness, strength of character and dedication to her role. She was not the kind to seek publicity, least of all for herself. In this her life was typical of her own community and congregation, and of the quiet, wholehearted and faithful service given so generously by countless women religious of her generation.
Over the past fifty six years or so the Sisters of St John of God have become an integral part of Ballymote. Some of them, like Sister Roch, hailed from as far away as Co Kerry, but in time they have come to belong to Ballymote. They have always been and continue to be warm, homely people, women with a ready smile and an open door and for this we express our sincere thanks today.
I think it should also be said today that Sr Roch’s departure for heaven won’t leave it any easier for Cork to win the All Ireland as she will be putting in a word for the Green and Gold upstairs. Of course she was also aware that Kerry were very lucky to beat Sligo in the Championship!!
You may have noticed from the Funeral Mass Booklet that Sr Roch entered the St John of God Congregation on the 8th September 1938 and that she passed to her eternal reward on the same date 8th September (2009) – the Feast of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How appropriate it was that Our Lady should be so central at the last hurdle for Sr Roch who had such devotion to Our Lady in this life and on whom she so often turned to for help and strength. And so we turn to our Heavenly Father and thank Him for giving us such a wonderful teacher, witness and friend to walk this way of life with us and for serving this community in so many wonderful ways. Dear Lord, keep Sister Roch safe forever in the palm of your hand and may her soul rest in peace. Amen…’.
Concluding the tributes to our dear Roch, Sister Emilian Doyle was moved to offer the final reassuring words of a poem from her own compositions:
Today you have gathered in this church to pray,
To remember me tenderly, bear my body away,
And lay it to rest ‘neath a soft mossy sod
But it is only my body – my soul is with God
For me, life is changed – not taken away,
My spirit is free and time has no day.
My vision is broadened, I hear clearly, I see
And I rejoice in the love of my Creator for me.
Though my physical presence is absent from view,
In spirit, my loved ones, I am right here with you.
I see you weeping, I know of your pain
And the shattering blow my departure has been.
I longed to reach out and comfort you so
Ere my hour glass ran out and my life flame grew low,
But the shock of the outcome of my illness and pain
Sapped all of my energy and I struggled in vain
I longed to tell you I was keenly aware
Of your loving concern, of your tenderest care,
And the hours of vigil you kept by my bed
The prayers of petition and aspirations you said.
I did not want to leave you or fold up my tent.
Life was so sweet and my energy unspent,
By my mountain was climbed – my life’s work was done
And my God and Creator said, ‘Come home to Me, come.’
So don’t sorrow, my loved ones, that I have left you so soon,
Life is a God given gift to each one
And it is not the length of the time that is given
That matters at all, no, it’s the quality of our living.
So go now, my dear ones, live your life to the full
Proclaiming God’s love until your life’s work is done.
God’s peace be with you, my love and affection,
Mourn not my death – rejoice my resurrection.
Sr Emilian Doyle SJG