On the Journey home

Sister Eileen Airey OP

My name is Sister Eileen Airey. I’ve been a Dominican for a number of years and thank God I’ve always been happy in spite of ups and downs.   I grew up in Cork City, Ireland, and am one of eight children.   I often went to the Dominican Church of St Mary’s near the City Centre.  My friend Marie and I would sometimes call in for Benediction and Evening Prayer on a Sunday afternoon, and I loved those moments of prayer.   My Mam had great devotion to Blessed Martin de Porres (later he became Saint Martin), and one of my sisters was named  Martina after him.   I always wanted to be a Sister and I remember going to see The Nun’s Story when I was about 9-years old. When we came out of the cinema, I clearly remember my Mam asking, “Well, are you still going to be a nun?”

I went to North Presentation Primary and Secondary School in Gerald Griffin Street, Cork. We had various invited speakers who told us about their lives and careers.   One day we had two Dominican Sisters speaking to us. I had never met a Dominican Sister until then, yet I always wanted to be a Dominican. I started writing to Sister Maelisa Coffey  (one of the two Sisters who visited our school). I later met her a few times when she called at St Albert’s Convent in Blair’s Hill.   Sister Maelisa spent many years on the Mission in South Africa, and I felt attracted to the life-style and ministry she spoke about.  When I decided to enter the Noviciate in Bushey, Hertfordshire I realised that I would never live in Ireland again. In 1965 we did not go home on holiday, but my parents brought the family to see me each year.

Sister Eileen with Sister Helen Carroll OP (d. 2013) and Sister Teresa O’Donovan OP

I was a Postulant for a year, had a year’s Noviciate, and made my First Profession in 1967. The three women who were with me in the Noviciate have become some of my closest friends.   I spent four years studying Theology in Rome, and this was a wonderful experience for me. While I was there my parents came to visit me on two occasions and it was wonderful to be able to act as their tour-guide. They loved Rome, and they, and many other visitors received great hospitality from our Sisters in Villa Rosa. Pope Paul VI was Pope at the time, and he came each year to the Dominican Church of Santa Sabina where we met with him. I was in a Choir with the Seminarians in the English College and we sang at some of the Masses in St Peter’s.

In 1975 I was sent to our Dominican Comprehensive School, St Michael’s Catholic High School, in Garston, Watford, Hertfordshire. I taught Religious Education as my main subject, and English and History also. I thoroughly enjoyed my eleven years there. I was a First Year Tutor (11-year olds) and every year we brought over a hundred youngsters on a community-building holiday for a week, to Minehead and later to Edale in the Peak District in the North of England. It was most enjoyable – we got to know the pupils, and they got to know us, and each other. We handed over the trusteeship of the School to the Diocese of Westminster in 1986 and the School continues to have  a  strong Dominican ethos today, thanks to the dedicated Headteacher, Staff and Parents.

I had been Head of Department in Religious Education for three years at St Michael’s. I enjoyed my work there but felt called by God to Latin America from the time I had studied in Rome. If I was to go abroad it had to be while I was somewhat young, so in 1986 I asked to go to Argentina. We don’t have any convents in Latin America, but we contacted the Irish Dominicans of Cabra, (Dublin) and they agreed to accept me “on loan” for a few years.

I spent three months studying Spanish at the Latin American College in Louvain, Belgium.  Most of the people were French, but a few were from Belgium. I was the only English-speaking person there that year. I received great hospitality from lay people and Religious Communities, and we became very good friends. In the morning we studied Castellano (Spanish of Latin America), and in the afternoon we had orientation in the Religious customs, History, Geography etc. of the continent.

I went to Argentina on St Patrick’s Day 1987 and spent twelve very happy years there – four years in Entre Rios, the capital of Parana, and three years in the village of Solari in Corrientes. I was then back in England while on our Leadership Team and spent nine years as a Parish Sister in Hertfordshire, in both Stevenage and Harpenden.

I already knew but rediscovered that people’s needs are very much the same in any culture.   Our search for God and response to Him may lead us in different paths, but we are all His people. We need to share our faith with each other so that we see God in all our life, not just our “religious“ life.

I returned to Argentina after nursing my Father, and spent five years accompanying four communities in the countryside, outside the city of Victori (Entre Rios).  I returned to England in February 2009, and spent some times in Aberdare in South Wales.

My greatest joy over the years has been to see people growing in faith, and becoming more wholesome human beings. Our faith gives us hope, knowing that we are loved by God. Perhaps today more than ever people want to know and experience that they are loved by God and other people, and that their life has meaning. Thus, we promote the Roman Catholic Faith. Jesus is our lifelong friend, Our Redeemer, and we are never alone. With His help we can do so much for ourselves and for others. We are all called to spread His love, and to bring the values of His Kingdom to our society. Many people want to learn how to pray, and to live a good life, but they need people to whom they can speak. We no longer have time to stop and stare, to reflect and pray. Families and young people need to be supported and my hope is that we will continue to build up community in the Church and in society, so that we will share our talents and our lives. We are all on a journey home to Our Heavenly Father, who loves us with an infinite love, and He wants us to help one another to live life to the full.

Sister Teresa O’Donovan and Sister Eileen, companions from the Novitiate until now, celebrate the Golden Jubilee (50 years) of their Religious Profession at Rosary Priory, September 2018.

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