Homily of Bishop Christopher Jones to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Religious Life of Sister Jacinta Cullinane

11 Aug 2010

10 August 2010

Homily of Bishop Christopher Jones to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Religious Life of Sister Jacinta Cullinane

The Call of the Lord
The Words of Jeremiah in this first Reading today spell out very beautifully the origin and nature of every vocation to the Religious Life. They make it quite clear that although Jacinta Cullinane heard the call as a young girl that choice that call of Jacinta was in the heart of the Lord from all eternity. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. This is why the call is so sacred, why it should be welcomed with great warmth and responded to with the surrender of one’s heart and life.    The Lord goes on to say “what I require of you I will enable you to accomplish on my behalf, I will put my words in your mouth, my thoughts in your mind, my gifts in your hands, my courage in your heart.  I will instruct you and guide you in the way you are to go.  Do not be afraid”.  In all of this God is telling all who are called to the Religious life that they should have no fear for the future, that they must put their trust not in their own power and strength but in the presence and strength of the God who calls.

Celebrating the Response
Today we are not only celebrating the Call of the Lord but also and in a special way the response of a young girl who grew up in this village back in the forties and fifties.   

Family and Faith
Where did Jacinta get the Faith, the generosity and the courage to say yes to the Call of the Lord.  It was the Faith and the prayer life of her parents and family that fostered in her young heart an abiding love for God and a ready willingness to respond when she heard the Call.

The Cullinane Family
Jacinta was born the fourth child of Michael and Catherine Cullinane in 1935.  They are both with the Lord now.  Her oldest brother died at birth and her brother Mike died at the age of twelve.  Her sister Gretta died four years ago.  Jacinta has two brothers and two sisters living – Frank who is married with five children outside of Castlerea – Bartley married with five children living here at the home place in Ballinagare – Teresa married with four children in Castleplunket – Carmel married with five children whose loving husband died only two weeks ago.  May he rest in peace.

I am assured that Sr Jacinta has been a tower of strength for her sisters and brothers, her nieces and nephews and indeed for her grandnieces and grandnephews.

Response to the Call
Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s young people usually entered Religious Life at seventeen or eighteen years of age after leaving secondary school.  Jacinta suffered much illness as a young girl growing up and she tells us that it was as a patient in Cappagh Hospital that she began to hear in her heart the Call of the Lord to Religious Life.  The witness of the Sisters and staff had a profound influence on her.

Jacinta studied as a boarder at Saint Peter’s Secondary School Athlone.  After her Leaving Certificate in 1953, though still contemplating Religious Life, she was offered a job as receptionist in Carrick-on-Shannon.  I believe she is still remembered in the areas around Carrick-on-Shannon where she danced at Maypoles, Carnivals and in dance halls to the music of Mick Delahunty and the Clipper Carlton.  From Carrick-on-Shannon Jacinta went to work for a short time in Limerick but at this stage the Call to Religious Life became very strong and loud and so, on  the 8 December 1957, at the age of twenty two, Jacinta Cullinane became a postulant in the Mercy Community.  And as we say the rest is history.

Sister Jacinta’s Ministry as a Sister of Mercy
In 1961 Sister Jacinta qualified as a primary teacher in Carysfort College and came back to Sligo for her final profession in 1963.

It was at this time that I first came to know Sister Jacinta personally.  She was always so welcoming to meet – always full of energy and warmth.  Her first appointment was as primary teacher in the Convent of Mercy School, Pearse Road, Sligo.  During her years teaching there she worked at night at St Anne’s Youth Centre which is owned and funded by the Mercy Community.  Sister is still remembered in Sligo for her magnificent ministry among the poorest of the poor each night in that Youth Club.  Young boys and girls very often deprived of love and care in their own homes experienced a sense of being wanted, being valued, being loved – a sense of their own self esteem and self-worth because of the care of Sr Jacinta and her staff.   She was a first class primary teacher but I would say her greatest work was in that Youth Centre.

A Story
Let me illustrate what I am saying by a little story.  One day down town in Sligo I met Jacinta walking.  Beside her was this big gangly fellow who could find himself in any company or on any road of life.  He wanted to play a guitar and Jacinta was bringing him down town to buy one.  I never heard how the music went after that but I was at the going away party for Sr Jacinta on the night before she left Sligo.  I remember being deeply moved when in the midst of the sing song, the big tall guy for whom she bought the guitar stood up and with a deep and beautiful voice sang  for Jacinta “Swing low, sweet chariot” to the music of his own guitar.  A symbol of Youth Club success!

Ministry in Castlerea
Sister Jacinta went from Sligo to teach in the primary school in Elphin and then to my amazement I heard one day that she was appointed to work with children with special needs.   How versatile can any one person be – a primary school teacher, a youth worker in a rough urban Youth Club, and finally a ministry to children with special needs.  I remember when I heard of her change to Castlerea to special needs saying to myself – what a Religious, what obedience and what generosity with such a variety of gifts.

Ministry with Special Needs
I believe that Sister Jacinta enjoyed every ministry that she  exercised in the diocese as a Sister of Mercy.  But I am absolutely certain that she experienced her greatest joy of all in Saint Michael’s Castlerea when she ministered with the young people with special needs.  She received many prestigious awards from her ministry in Castlerea and indeed throughout the county but nothing gave her greater joy than the achievements and awards of the children themselves because that gave  them confidence to make greater progress with their own lives.

Awards to Sister Jacinta
For the record I would just like to refer briefly to the awards that have been conferred on Sister Jacinta for her magnificent ministry.  I know Jacinta that this may annoy you but it may also inspire others to reach for the stars.

While Sister Jacinta is concerned only with the achievements and the awards received by people with special needs I believe that we should end our reflection on her life by remembering the awards conferred on herself over the years:

  • In the late 1990’s she received in Strokestown the Star Award for her project on behalf of children with autism.
  • In 2002 she received the Roscommon Herald People of the Year Award outright.
  • In 2002 she also received the Roscommon Association Dublin Golden Jubilee Award because of the votes of readers of the Roscommon Champion and Roscommon Herald.
  • In 2008 Sister Jacinta received the Hall of Fame Sports’ Star of the Year Award for her work on behalf of the Special Olympics.

I love the Gospel which Jacinta has chosen for today.  It is the scene at the Jordan where the disciples asked Jesus the question “Rabbi where do you live” and Jesus replied “come and see”.   It is so obvious that Sister Jacinta has found Jesus very much in the children whom she served through the last fifty years and especially in all the children with special needs.  I believe that in choosing this Gospel she is saying to all of us: “If you want to find Jesus come and see Him in the children for whom we care”.

As we celebrate the life of one Sister we celebrate and thank God for all the good Sisters who have surrendered their lives in love to the Lord.  We celebrate and thank God for their faith, their generosity, their love of God and of people.

For you Sister Jacinta and for all of your Sisters in the Mercy Community we pray the prayer of Saint Paul in the second reading today: “We pray that you all may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breath and length, the height and the depth – until knowing the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge you are filled with the fullness of God”.  That is indeed our prayer for you today on this your fiftieth year as a Sister of Mercy in the diocese of Elphin and it is our prayer for all your Mercy Sisters wherever they are.  May the God who loves you bless you with many more years of health, happiness, joy and peace. Amen


This homily was delivered by Bishop Christopher Jones, Bishop of Elphin, in the Sacred Heart Church, Ballinagare, Co Roscommon on Sunday 8 August 2010.

Further information:
Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, 086 172 7678