Leading sister leaves our shores

2 Sr Bridget Donnelly

In 1960, a young Bridget Anne Donnelly left her home in Coventry to join the Little Sisters of the Poor in London.

While her father was supportive of her decision, her mother wasn’t too happy.

“I suppose, we do what we want and we forget we leave a big hole in the life of those we left behind,” she reflected.

NZ Catholic caught up with Sr Bridget at St Joseph’s Home and Hospital in Ponsonby on March 29. The Mother Superior was preparing to travel to Sydney to take up a new role within the congregation.

Sr Bridget said that at the time that she was discerning her vocation, she felt a call that she had to follow.

“It’s hard to explain. No one can explain. You felt a call to give yourself to the Lord,” she said. “And you follow that call to where Our Lord is calling us, right down here. I would never have thought of that, would I?”

She went to the congregation’s Mother House in Brittany, France, for her novitiate, went back to London for her nursing training and then went back to France for her final vows in 1968.

After her final vows, she was asked to come to the Oceania province which consisted of New Zealand, Australia, Samoa and New Caledonia.

Sr Bridget oversaw the building of various homes of the congregation in Oceania but she said those weren’t the important part of her mission.

“Over and above all that, we had the elderly who we looked after and that was more major than building,” she said. “Our main mission is the care of the elderly through the loving and compassionate heart of Christ.”

Sr Bridget said the elderly are looked after by nursing them, cooking for them and doing the laundry for them. The sisters also make sure they (elderly) are kept occupied mentally through various activities.

“In the old days, we didn’t need activities because they are probably only 65 years of age. They come and they do the garden. They help in the laundry. They help peeling the vegetables in the kitchen,” she said. “The wonderful thing was they were needed and they took pride in their jobs.”

“Today, they come in at 80, 90, 98. They are frail. And so you have activities and try to encourage them [to participate],” she added.

Sr Bridget said the Little Sisters accept lay people of any race or religion who are “of modest means”.

She noted that while there might be people who are destitute in the Philippines or in India, the term destitute does not really apply to people in New Zealand.

“Here they [have] got the pension, so they have a little bit of money. But we endeavour to take those who don’t have much more than their pension. We’ve had to refuse quite a few because they had too much money,” she said.

Sr Bridget also said the elderly should be willing to come.

“That’s very important that they have chosen [to live here]. And then, it’s their home,” she said.

The sisters accompany the elderly through the last phase of their life journey.

“One of our hospital works is to be with the dying day and night. We take it in turns to be with them. We make sure they are free of pain, through the doctor and the nurses and that they are comfortable,” she said.

Sr Bridget hoped that more young women are encouraged to enter this vocation, even as she noted there are too many distractions in the world today.

She said young women are welcome to come and experience their apostolate.

“If they can, [they should] experience Mass every day. Go to Mass, receiving our Lord, having an intimate union with him. If they have an intimate union with him, they might hear the call, whatever that might be,” she said.

She said they can take inspiration from Isaiah 50:4, “The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue. So that I may know how to reply to the weary. He provides me with speech. Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord has opened my ear.”

“We need to be attuned to the Lord so that we can listen to him, like a disciple. In this way we will be open to follow his call in whatever path he asks of us,” Sr Bridget said.

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Rowena Orejana

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