Remembering Sr Xavier O’Dwyer RIP


“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

On the 4th April, 2017 Sr Xavier O’Dwyer of the Ursuline Convent in Thurles was called home by the Maker she served so diligently throughout her eighty five years of living. Her life’s toil at an end, Sr Xavier passed away happy in the knowledge that her many, many good deeds on earth had earned her a spot in the Heaven she looked forward to enjoying.
A native of Bansha, the former Principal of Scoil Angela, Ursuline Primary School in Thurles was laid to rest in the Ursuline Community Cemetery with the Cathedral Town coming to a standstill as she was conveyed through Liberty Square on her final journey.
In her forty years in Scoil Angela – 29 of those as Principal – she touched the lives of so many children, scores of whom returned to Thurles on a beautiful bright day to pay their respects and say a final farewell to a lady who was close to nature and would have appreciated the solemnity of the Requiem Mass and the touch of spring in the air,
The Cathedral of the Assumption reverberated to the glorious strains of the Ursuline Secondary School and Scoil Angela choirs as the congregation listened to Chief Celebrant Fr Roy Donovan speak about the kind, caring, gentle woman who had given so much in her life to anyone with whom she was associated. Indeed, the Responsorial Psalm – ‘Gentle woman, quiet light, Morning star so strong and bright. Gentle Mother, peaceful dove, teach us wisdom, teach us love’ – seemed utterly appropriate for a lady who devoted her life to people, the Ursuline community and the God she strived to serve each and every day of her life. Performed with such reverence by Katie Taylor and Cathy Keane, it left many a soul choked as the sentiments of the hymn struck just the right note.
Sr Xavier, born Mary O’Dwyer, just seven days before the birthday of Christ, in 1932 entered the Ursuline order on September 24th 1950. Her final profession came
six years later and she spent two years in Carysfort before arriving in Scoil Angela, Thurles in 1958 as a teacher. She was Principal of the school from 1969 – 1998 and her quiet, gentle guiding hand helped prepare thousands of children for the life they would face when they left Scoil Angela, and beyond. She would smile throughout the day – that was one of the many memories shared by past pupils on social media this week.
Indeed, many tributes have been paid to Sr Xavier since word of her death became known. Perhaps the words of one past pupil best summed up the general mood. “She was a second mother to us all. She cared for us, looked after us, educated us, and when we left her school, she still cared for us and asked after us. It was a pleasure to meet her in later life and her smiling face was always so welcoming.”
Sr Xavier, a lifelong member of the Thurles St Joseph’s Conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society, was accorded a Guard of Honour by members as her remains left the Cathedral of the Assumption en-route to her final resting place. Standing to attention too were the pupils of Scoil Angela and staff members as they lined the streets, leading her to her final resting place where the close-by River Suir waters gently flowed past – a lady who deeply appreciated nature and all its beauty, Xavier delighted in the beauty of the river through the seasons, with the changing contours reflecting life itself.
Her welcoming of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, was recalled by Fr Donovan at her Funeral Mass. Perhaps she appreciated the following quote from that encyclical more than any:
“The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”
Sr Xavier saw the wonder in the simple things – the many photographic images she captured through the years perfectly illustrated this. She also looked deeply into the face of the impoverished and tried with all her might, to stem the tide of poverty – physical, mental and spiritual.
The Deer’s Cry was perfomed at Sr. Xavier’s Requiem Mass by Joan Butler. It begins – “I arise today” and concludes with “I arise today”.
There were few, if any, days in Sr Xavier’s life, when she did not arise to do God’s will – to carry on the work of Saint Angela Merici, foundress of the Order. In her day, Angela envisaged a way to bring religious life out of the monastery and into the marketplace. Today the Ursuline Sisters continue to live her vision in the service of the Gospel – there was no greater advocate of that, than Sr Xavier O’Dwyer.
A lady who never stopped giving in her life, in death she received the finest of farewells as she journeyed to the Heavenly home well earned during her toil amongst us.
Not only did Sr Xavier carry the Gospel message in her heart each day, she also carried the Messenger magazine and endeavoured to ensure that more and more people got to enjoy the contents of the monthly publication. Throughout its evolution – it is now available online as well as in print – the Messenger magazine has retained its core message: that God loves his people. The devotion to the Sacred Heart highlighted this truth for years, and the magazine strives to continue to make Jesus Christ known and loved through the pages. It also strives to communicate an up-to-date and forward-looking approach to the Church, particularly in the parish and school – in truth the Messenger, which was first published in 1888, and Sr Xavier were the perfect fit. It reaches into the lives of 100,000 people per month – Sr Xavier was responsible for a fair chunk of those readers.
Predeceased by her brother Patrick and her sister Betty, Sr Xavier’s death is deeply regretted by her sisters Kathleen (Crotty) and Joan (O’Dwyer), her nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, her Ursuline Community and Congregation and her colleagues and pupils, past and present, in Scoil Angela.
May Heavens stars be the blanket to enshroud and comfort a lady who really did make a difference to Thurles town and its surrounds.