The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Much-loved Irish Sister resilient to the end


Sr Bernadette Wogan OP (born August 18 1934, died May 6 2024)

Print article

There’s a story Bernadette would relate when she recounted the circumstances that led to her leaving Ireland to join Adelaide’s Dominican community in 1952.

Her sister Kathleen was nursing in London when she heard that Bernadette was about to take that momentous step. The matron would not let Kathleen go home to say goodbye, so the family sent a telegram saying that Kathleen’s mother was ill and needed her at home. Seemingly, the matron was impressed by a mother’s illness even if she wasn’t impressed by the impending departure of a sibling, presumably forever.

So Kathy was given permission to go and was able to be with the family when they said goodbye to Bernadette on October 8 1952. It would be 17 years before regulations changed and Bernadette was able to make her first trip back to Ireland to reconnect with her family.

It seems that Bernadette’s entire family has been blessed with the resilience and strength of spirit (not to mention a certain shrewdness) that marked Bernadette’s life – and, indeed, that marked the last days of her life.

Up until that afternoon when a massive stroke would take her from us, she lived independently, cooked and gardened, joined in community life and kept in constant contact with her family. She reveled in her ability to cope and would look askance at any suggestion that in time she might need some help to manage at home.

In her years of active ministry, Bernadette was a teacher, spending most of that time teaching Early Years children. She delighted in a role which saw her welcoming children to the world of learning, and settling them in to what might’ve seemed an alien land.

She was much loved by her students, and at her farewell at Semaphore school in 1994, Bernadette was described by her colleagues as a ‘…gentle, gracious human being, hard working, well prepared and deeply caring of children’.

Tellingly, they said: ‘Bernadette is not an educator who is up-front, vocal, radical and restless. In fact, she is quite the opposite of these things. What Bernadette does is enter into a relationship with each student in her class. They love her, they respect her, they belong to her and she belongs to them and nothing else matters’.

Bernadette worked in 12 Dominican schools, at various times also caring for boarders and preparing State school children for First Communion. After finishing full-time teaching, she worked as a volunteer teacher at Semaphore and Glengowrie and as a welfare officer for Meals on Wheels before finally retiring in 2005.

At her unit in Columba Place at Cabra, Bernadette’s home from late 1994, she created a wonderful garden, shared its produce with many, delighted in attending daily Eucharist when it was celebrated on the campus, and became a warm and welcoming presence among our community.

All of us witnessed her great love for her family, and theirs for her.

Her home visits to Ireland and visits from Jim and Eileen, and also from nieces and nephews, were a source of absolute joy for her. In between visits, phone calls and letters kept the Wogan clan connected.

Bernadette was born at Slane, County Meath. Legend has it that St Patrick chose Slane to announce his arrival in the Boyne Valley. As the Druids prepared to celebrate their Feast of Tara nearby, St Patrick celebrating Easter, lit the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane in defiance of their ritual.

The Paschal Candle was lit at her funeral, not in defiance of anyone, but to remind ourselves that for Bernadette, and for us, death does not have the final word.  Bernadette’s new life is now with the Risen Christ.

May she know this life in all its beauty, all its richness and in its deepest peace.

– Sr Bernadette Kiley OP


More Obituaries stories

Loading next article