BISHOP Brendan Leahy has this week paid tribute to the “culture of care” fostered by an order of nuns who have tended to the sick and dying in Limerick for 125 years.
And while the sisters from the Little Company of Mary no longer patrol the wards of St John’s Hospital, a number are still actively involved at Milford Care Centre.
Bishop Leahy, who is chairman of the board of governors at St John’s, said Mass at the hospital on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the arrival of the Little Company of Mary in Limerick 125 years ago.
It was in that year that the order’s founder Mother Mary Potter came to the city to run St John’s, which had opened in 1780.
Count Arthur Moore, a Home Rule MP, was instrumental in bringing this about after a trip to Rome during which his wife became seriously ill. The nuns were the only English-speaking order to be found in Rome and the politician pledged that should they help his wife recover, he would do his utmost to bring the Little Company to Ireland. After the count’s wish was granted, this was arranged through the offices of the Bishop of Limerick Edward O’Dwyer.
Charles Moore, a great-grandson of the MP who still resides at the ancestral seat of Mooresfort, Lattin, was present at the Mass presided over by Bishop O’Dwyer’s successor - as were over 20 members of the order who had travelled from all over the country.
“This was a very moving occasion,” commented Bishop Leahy.
“It was touching to see so many recall many fond memories of what has gone into making the atmosphere of St John’s Hospital distinctive. This is yet another part of Limerick’s culture and there’s a nice symmetry in the fact that we celebrate this anniversary almost on the eve of the opening the year-long Limerick national culture celebration.
“As a diocese we are very committed to the overall City of Culture celebration and will be having a number of events ourselves to mark. If anything, the work of the sisters at St John’s is a reminder of that great culture of care in Limerick,” Bishop Leahy said.
Known locally as the “Blue Nuns” for their light blue veil, the sisters transformed St John’s from an institution primarily reserved for fever patients into an acute voluntary hospital that became known through Munster for the quality of care.
Historical records show how Mother Mary Potter and her company had to throw out mattresses that had been in continuous use in the hospital from the days of the famine and the cholera epidemic of 1832.
Director of nursing Kay Hogan said that while the sisters no longer worked at the hospital, their ethos lived on.
“We value their tradition and the legacy they have left behind. They were so good to care for patients, especially when times were so lean. They worked long hours not only caring for patients but also raising funds, a very dedicated group of people,” Ms Hogan said.
Sister Brigid Finucane, who trained and worked at St John’s before moving on to Milford, said the order was grateful to have been involved in running two institutions dear to the hearts of Limerick people. Recent changes at St John’s - including the downgrading of the emergency department - are viewed as part of an ongoing evolution.
“There would be a degree of sadness about that (reduced hours at A&E) because it is not as we knew it. But I feel it is development and we have to move forward. Generally we might complain for a while but I think the sisters are very open. What we were founded for was to pray for and care for the sick and dying and those in need. And that is still going on, always developing and in new ways. Once the sick and dying are cared for, even if not as originally intended, that is fine.”