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Late Offaly-based nun praised for commitment to education

THE lifelong commitment of the late Offaly-based nun Sr Gemma Keegan to educating young people was praised at the Mercy sister’s funeral Mass by chief celebrant Fr Joe Gallagher.

Sr Gemma, a native of Kilbeggan who taught in the school in her home town, as well as Kilcormac and Tullamore, passed away on Wednesday, August 24 at Esker Ri Nursing Home, Clara.

She was in her 98th year at the time of her death and Fr Gallagher told the congregation gathered in the Church of the Assumption that she entered the convent in Tullamore in 1943, made her first profession in 1946 and then her final vows in 1949. She took as her motto “Heart of Jesus, in thee I trust”.

She studied to be a primary schoolteacher at Carysfort, Dublin from 1949 to 1951 and began her long teaching career in Kilcormac in 1951.

“She is so well remembered there and indeed she made a very deep impression on some of her former pupils who were inspired by her, and followed her example,” said the Tullamore parish priest.

He pointed out that she always prayed for vocations to the religious life and said some of her pupils from the early days of her career in education Kilcormac went on to become Mercy sisters “to continue the good work they saw Gemma and the other sisters do” .

Fr Gallagher said Sr Gemma always had good leadership qualities and served as a local leader in Kilcormac.

“The nuns were constantly trying to find ways of giving young people a better education and encouraging them,” he said.

In Kilcormac, the Mercy sisters saw that it was difficult for some of the young girls who had gone through primary school to access the secondary school system.

“So the sisters there decided they would set up a secondary top-up school as it was called in Kilcormac, and Sr. Gemma, along with Sr. Ita Deegan taught second level.”

Sr. Gemma and the others saw the need for education and so many people owe a great debt of gratitude to the work of those nuns.

“And they lived this in very different times than we are used to now, where there was little support available.”

In the early 1970s Sr. Gemma was based at St Joseph’s Convent of Mercy in Tullamore, where again she was a local leader and between 1979 and 1985 she taught in Kilbeggan.

She then returned to Kilcormac and in addition to teaching she established the Kilcormac parish choir, which Fr Gallagher said was a wonderful group of singers.

Her golden jubilee of joining the Mercy sisters was in 1996.

“When Kilcormac closed in 2018 she returned here to Tullamore for her final years. Gemma is remembered fondly for her commitment to her pupils while in school and she always maintained that interest in them and loved to hear about them.”

Apart from her work as a teacher and a woman of prayer, she was very fond of gardening and was committed to, and always remained very close to, her family, and they all loved meeting up.

Fr Gallagher added: “She was cherished by her nieces and nephews who were so attentive to her always and in particular during her final years.”

Concluding, he said she had been blessed with a long life. “All of us will remember her for her beautiful smile.”

Sr Gemma Keegan, Convent of Mercy, Tullamore, Kilcormac and Kilbeggan is sadly missed by her colleague Sisters of Mercy Tullamore and Northern Province, her sister-in-law Mary Keegan and her many nephews, nieces, grand-nephews, grand-nieces, cousins, relatives and friends.

She was predeceased by her brothers Sean, Fr Tom and Br Frank and her sisters, Nan Shine, Dill Ward, Ita Dunning, Bridie Lynam and Sr Teresa Keegan.

Her remains were in repose at the chapel, St Joseph’s Convent, on Thursday, August 25 where evening prayer took place and her remains were interred at Clonminch Cemetery after the funeral Mass last Friday.

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