AN INTERVIEW WITH SR EILEEN McCARTHY O.P ABOUT HER VOCATION STORY
(Sr Eileen is a retired Dominican Sister living in St Dominic’s Priory, Port Elizabeth, South Africa).
Interviewer: Thank you Sr Eileen for giving of your time to this interview.
Tell us more about yourself, who your parents were and the name of your siblings.
Sr Eileen: I was born on the 11 November 1927 and my parents were Joseph McCarthy and Mary McCarthy and I am one of six children in the family; my brother Joe and my sister Kathleen, I am the third and three brothers, Morris, Hugh and Henry. Morris, Hugh and Henry are all gone to God but the three of us sisters are still alive.
Interviewer: Tell us more about your educational background. Where did you attend school?
Sr Eileen: I attended Primary School at St Mary’s in Beechmount Avenue, Belfast and from there I went to Dominican College, Fortwilliam, Belfast and did my matric.
Interviewer: When did you start thinking of a Vocation to Religious Life?
Sr Eileen: My Vocation started when I was still in the Primary School. A magazine that my mother (God have mercy on her) used to get and in it was an article about the missions and it was to the missions that I was definitely called. As time went on, Sr Isidore spoke to me about what I was thinking of doing when I completed my matric. At that stage I said I would like to go and train for nursing and then I would see about entering the Convent. She said: “why wait and go train? Can’t you go straight from school?” And I said I would have to think about it. And then at that stage I didn’t realise that there was mission work in South Africa with Dominican Sisters. So anyway, she kept speaking to me and then I had an interview the year I did my matric, with Sr Alberta Grant and Sr Colmcille Flynn (God have mercy on them). I entered Kerdiffstown Novitiate in 1946. I got great support from my mother and father about my vocation. My father on one occasion brought the whole family together and said I was going and said, “Well now Eileen don’t forget if you’re not happy, your home door will always be open for you.”
After final profession I was sent to the Dominican community in Cabra. I think they were thinking of training me maybe for the Deaf but it definitely was not my calling. And then after a year in Cabra, I came to South Africa with Sr Rose McLarnon. The two of us set out and that was the beginning.
Interviewer: How did you experience God’s love and how did you know that it was God’s love that attracted you to enter Religious Life?
Sr Eileen: This is difficult to answer. However, I felt a peace about my decision and felt God’s presence coming through the support of my family and friends. I felt the urge to try and experience the life and that somehow God would make things clearer to me as the days would pass.
Interviewer: What is the best thing for you about being a Dominican Sister?
Sr Eileen: I feel that there is great freedom and there is great openness and there is a great sense of family and also I was attracted by the lovely way that the Sisters in Fortwilliam encouraged us and spoke to us and gave us a good foundation.
Interviewer: What would you say is the hardest thing about being a Dominican Sister?
Sr Eileen: I suppose that it is like any Congregation, especially when you come out on the missions that you are separated from your biological family and that can be a problem and sometimes heart- break. But as time went on and we were allowed to go home, it made a big, big difference in our lives especially in mine, to be able to go home.
Interviewer: What are your favourite activities in your spare time?
Sr Eileen: I did read, but now with my eyes, it’s a problem. I do quite a lot of listening to the radio and I have taken up simple knitting of scarves now. And then of course we have this reading group with Sr Mairead, and that’s a great help to just sit and listen. We’ve had very interesting books that we’ve read.
Interviewer: Speak a bit about your ministry that you were involved in, in Swaziland.
Sr Eileen: Well in Swaziland, we were involved with the teachers helping them to upgrade their qualifications, because many of them didn’t have O Levels. They only had up to standard 8 and it was great to see them coming to the classes and doing one or two subjects each year and finally, they upgraded so that they got an increase in their salaries because now they had a matric certificate and also it helped them in their own home teaching. They learnt to do quite a lot in their studies that improved their teaching methods themselves and so the children gained from it as well.
Interviewer: What is your favourite Dominican Saint and how has that saint influenced your life?
Sr Eileen: I would say St Dominic and his methods of prayer. I find the booklet of St Dominic and his ways of praying helps me in my own private prayer.
Interviewer: What are your hopes for the future and for the Dominican Order?
Sr Eileen: Well, my hopes for the future are that I would hold on to the Lord and for the future of our Congregation particularly, I really don’t know what the Lord has in mind, because we are not getting Vocations and we almost feel that we’ll fade out and so I feel there is something new that will arise but what it could be only God knows. Noticing the Vocations from the contemplatives, it could be that we could become more a Contemplative Order. There are many things that we did that others did not do, but now there are opportunities for teaching and getting qualifications and still being a member or else being a contemplative, maybe… I think.
Interviewer: So your journey to Dominican Sisterhood was meaningful for you?
Sr Eileen: Yes it was very meaningful and it was good to be able to help others hopefully in their own journey to God and hopefully in their life’s journey.
Interviewer: What words of wisdom can you impart to young women who might aspire to the Dominican Call during the 800th Jubilee Year of the Order?
Sr Eileen: Well it would be a great act of faith I would say for a young person to enter looking at the age of the Sisters, but it would be a way of bringing in hopefully a new way of living Dominican life with their experience of the world and all the technology that goes on that it could be a way of bringing new life into our Congregation.
Interviewer: What kind of young woman would you say would fit into our Dominican charism and would you encourage her to give it a try?
Sr Eileen: Certainly not straight from school. Perhaps a young woman in her early 30’s who has already had experience in the world, has worked, has been active in parish work and will come with skills that would help to bring new life into the Congregation. Yes, I would definitely encourage a young woman to try her Vocation.
Interviewer: Thank you Sr Eileen for giving of your time and sharing your story with us.
Sr Eileen: It is a great pleasure. Thank you. God bless.