Tribute To Late Sister Gabriel Mary Gleeson

Late Sister Gabriel Mary Gleeson. R.I.P.

Sister Gabriel Mary Gleeson passed away in her 90th year, at 10.00pm on June 5th last 2019, surrounded by her loving family and community members, at Temple Road in Dublin.

Possibly better known by her Christian name initials,GM, to all that she came into contact with during her life; she was born on November 8th 1929 in the picturesque, rural townsland area of Clogher, Clonoulty, Co. Tipperary.

Educated at the Presentation School, Cashel, Sister GM went on to complete her training as a nurse and later as a Midwife, in the Mater Hospital Dublin.
She entered the congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary in 1951; making her First Profession in Killeshandra, Co. Cavan on August 26th 1954.

During a working life, spanning in all some 62 years, from 1946 until her retirement 11 years ago in 2008; Sister GM ministered as a Nurse; Ward sister; Matron; Hospital Administrator; Relief Worker; Regional Councillor; and as a fund-raiser for numerous projects undertaken in various missions, e.g. in the towns of Emekuku and Amaimo in Imo State, South Eastern Nigeria; the village of Adazi, Nigeria; in Thika, Kiambu County and Ortum in Kenya; in Philadelphia, U. S. A. and back here in Ireland.

During that tragic period of the Nigerian Civil War, (also known as the Biafran War and the Nigerian-Biafran War), fought back then between the government of Nigeria and the state of Biafra; Sister GM and her colleagues threw themselves into relief work at huge personal cost. Indeed, her family here in Tipperary were hardly able to recognise her on her return to Ireland, following her experiences which saw (following the blockade of the city of Port Harcourt) mass starvation. Indeed, during the two and half years of that war, there were overall about 100,000 military casualties, while between 500,000 and 2 million Biafran civilians died of starvation.

Following recuperation, Sister GM returned again to Africa to a new mission, this time in Kenya as an administrator in Thika Maternity Hospital. Over the next 30 years she continued to build and strength the hospital’s services, with emphases on establishing and improving a Midwifery Training school.

During this period also, Sister GM worked through and experienced the worst drought and famine in some 50 years in Africa in 1985; to be repeated again 1997. An unpublished poet, it is perhaps through one of Sister GM’s many expressed elegies that we can begin to understand her great sacrifice on behalf of those she had fully committed to giving support and guidance.

Days of Drought and Famine
I saw drought
On the face of the earth,
Or red raw dust.
No cloud in the blue sky,
Unrelenting sun, scorching sun,
Scorching sun.

I saw famine on the famished herd;
Weary herd, licking the ground,
Glad to find a twig, a leaf, a weed
Dumb beasts, ‘neath the sun,
Unrelenting sun, scorching sun,
Scorching sun.

I saw hunger
In the silent stare of the thin man.
No words between us.
Words are not food, ‘neath the sun,
Unrelenting sun, scorching sun,
Scorching sun.

I saw my heart dried too; helpless.
“God” I cry, “Do not forget
This earth You made,
Now in pain, ‘neath the sun,
Unrelenting sun, scorching sun,
Scorching sun.

I saw hope in the rainbow span;
God’s promise for everyman.
Joy of clouds, tears of rain watered earth
To yield again, ‘neath the sun,
Gentle sun, sobered sun,
Sobered sun.

Sister Gabriel Mary Gleeson ( © 1985)

The first image in the observers minds eye, gotten of Sister GM was that of an “open door”. Regardless of her location, or indeed any persons own personal rank or status in society; you, the visitor, would have been embraced and then fed with whatever food was found to be available in the kitchen fridge.

This hospitality was especially evident in Ortum, Kenya. Because of the remoteness of the area and the dire state of the existing road surfaces, those visiting Turkana or Sudan would, most often, break their journey in Ortum, in the secure knowledge that Sister GM could and would provide a warm Clonoulty, Co. Tipperary style community welcome to all or any traveller.

Initially sleeping accommodation was provided on five large couches in the convent garage. Same hospitality offerings would later lead to 2 hospitality bungalows being built, thus ensuring comfort and space for all.

Through her entire lifetime Sister GM displayed a lust for life and later displayed true faithfulness to her missionary commitments. Amongst her many talents; she exhibited an abundance of empathy; artistic creativity, latter through the very strokes of her artists brush and through the verses she penned in her many poems.

She at all times displayed a love, not just of nature; through her love of flowers and animals, but also through her care of hospital patients; her outreach public health patients; her Mother & Baby Clinics and especially amongst her Student Nurses and staff; many of whom travelled from abroad, to say a last farewell.

A Funeral Mass was held for Sister GM at 12.00 noon on June 10th 2019 last, in the Church of the Holy Name, Beechwood, followed by interment in Shanganagh Cemetry, Dublin Rd, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Co. Dublin.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.


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