Sister Eucharia Burke OP

Sister Eucharia Burke OP

I was the first postulant received into the Congregation after the death of Mother Rose. The date was 26 April 1947. However, the story began some months earlier, in January 1947.

Mother Bruno O’Grady had been elected on 8 January 1947 as Superior General of the Congregation. I was introduced to this Congregation by Fr Terrence O’Donoghue OP. I was invited to meet Mother Bruno and an arrangement was made to meet her in St Albert’s, Cork, where she was visiting the sisters.

On Mother Bruno’s return to England, I received a personal letter from Mother Rose Niland, welcoming me into the Congregation and saying that she was very pleased that I was joining the Dominicans, and that I was most welcome. The letter was dated 20 January 1947. Sadly, I no longer have that letter. Little did I realise that what I had received was probably one of her last letters. She died, as you know, on 8 March 1947. My reception  as a postulant was delayed as a result of her illness and death.

In the April, when I was received, the Sisters of the Congregation were in deep mourning for the loss of this vibrant woman. From the Sisters in Rosary Priory I heard that before Mother Rose died her appearance had become very feeble. She was small in stature and very slim. This frailty, however, did not deter her from having a very high expectation of each Sister. They knew she expected them to live out their commitment to the Dominican way of life. As postulants, we were constantly reminded of her expectations. We would hear phrases such as, ‘Mother Rose would want you to …’

The prayer life of the Sisters was the great focus of our day. It began with meditation, led by the new Mother General. I believe that Mother Rose always began the day wherever she was by leading the Sisters in meditative readings and prayers.

From the letters Mother Rose wrote, I felt she had a regard and respect for each individual Sister. She always brought into her letters a text from the Gospel of the day. She gave encouragement to the Sisters to go out from where they were and to take God to the people.

Though Mother Rose was now dead, her spirit lived on in the Sisters. Her zeal for the mission continued in the energy and leadership of the Congregation. This was evident, as I recall, in the numbers of Sisters who were ‘missioned’, sent out, and who left England in the months following her death, to establish communities abroad and to join other communities.

In July 1947, the new Mother General, Mother Bruno, sent out twelve Sisters to South Africa. Some weeks later, a group of Sisters formed a new community in Holland. Then later another group of Sisters went to Rome. In fact, there were so few Sisters left in Rosary Priory that the care of areas of the convent were given to the postulants, and that is how I, newly entered, with little understanding of the life around me, ended up as the Sacristan!

Every time when I hear about St Dominic’s sense of mission and how he sent his friars out, even though there were only sixteen in number, I think of Mother Rose Niland.

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