Inspirational life that changed girls at Muckross forever
Below is article from The Irish Times by Breda O’Brien on Sr. Barnabas Kett OP who died on 1st February 2015.
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that you worked closely with thousands of people, and your phenomenal memory allowed you not only to remember the vast majority of them, but also their families, spouses and children.
Imagine that you also had a unique ability to make and maintain vibrant connections with dozens of friends and family of all ages. Imagine possessing highly honed intuition of a kind that prompted contact with people when they most needed words of encouragement.
Finally, imagine that, although you suffered from poor health for much of your life, you retained all your faculties and were as sharp as a tack right up to the age of 98.
Until last Sunday, when she closed her eyes for the last time, those of us privileged to be connected with the Dominican Sisters in Muckross Park, Donnybrook, did not have to use our imaginations.
We simply looked in awe at the human dynamo that was Sr Barnabas Kett OP, known to everyone as Barnie. The convent in Muckross is full of exceptional women, but none of them would begrudge praise given to her, as they grieve for her just as much as her beloved family of origin do.
Barnie was the beating heart of the Muckross Past Pupils’ Union. The current newsletter, Muckross Mail, features a tribute full of affection and grief – emotions mirrored at her huge funeral last Wednesday.
As many people reminded me at her removal and funeral, when Barnie had a plan that involved you, it was best to capitulate immediately. Resistance was always futile.
Her brain teemed with schemes, which fell into two rough categories – things that she believed would be good for Muckross Park, or for one of the people she cared about.
How was she to achieve these two goals unless she managed to persuade someone to make use of the talents God had given them?
She worked her phone in a way that made American political activists look like rank amateurs. At nine or ten o’clock at night, the call would come. Often, there was no preamble, just a simple command or announcement.
Her immense personal warmth, and a smile that could have melted polar icecaps, meant that capitulation usually happened with good grace. It probably helped, too, that the person she phoned was just as often a recipient of care, and not merely always a conscripted accomplice.
Barnie was a person of deep feeling, yet utterly devoid of sentimentality. And sometimes she could be too tough. If you were a young teacher, and she felt you were failing to communicate a topic to a pupil, you might get the rough edge of her tongue.
Pupils who were acting up would receive the same treatment. And yet, one past pupil now in her 30s told me that Barnie was the first adult who ever apologised to her.
Barnie had walked into a classroom where there was a row, and jumped to conclusions about who was guilty.
The past pupil tried to point out that Barnie had not got the full picture, and got a tongue lashing. But later, Barnie returned to apologise, an event that left a deep impression.
Born in Clare in 1917, Barnie’s connection with Muckross Park began at eight, when she came to the school as a boarder. She made her religious vows with the Dominicans in 1941. At the time, the Dominican Sisters were fully enclosed, not even allowed out for family funerals. Then came the late 1960s. Enclosure ended, and those feisty women adapted gracefully and, perhaps in some cases, gleefully to a wider world.
The Dominicans have always had a profound commitment to educating women. When the primary and secondary schools opened in Muckross Park in 1900, they also ran lectures for women undergraduates, who in a classic catch 22 had been allowed to sit university exams, but not to attend lectures. If you can’t join them, outmaneuver them, seems to have been the philosophy.
Like all the sisters who taught, Barnie believed that education was the key to a good life, one where you could be useful. For example, she organised driving lessons in the 1960s for sixth years, all part of her grand plan to make those young women independent, participating citizens. She also promoted sex education long before it was mandatory.
She organised exchanges with French schools, and instituted Muckross’s involvement with Lourdes. The pilgrimages where teenagers worked selflessly with the elderly and the sick proved life-changing for many, and some return every year.
She would have been so proud of the current pupils ranged along the railings in a guard of honour at her funeral, immaculate in their green and black. Her dearest wish for them, and for all whom she loved, would have been that they continue the tradition of veritas , the school motto, and that they would find their way to the truth that sets all human beings free.
The final lines of an eloquent poem written for Barnie by Valerie Cox, RTÉ reporter and past pupil, speak for many of us: “Your work is done/Go, with our love.”
From Irish Times 7th February 2015 . See more at www.irishtimes.com