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Figure Who Was a True Inspiration and a Rogue

Sunday Independent, 10 May 2009

With the loss of Sister John Scully, a huge gap has been left in the lives of many, writes Florence Horsman-Hogan

'THE old trout, she'd have loved this,' I thought, smiling through my tears at the funeral of my lifelong friend and 'mother figure' Sr John Scully (Mercy Sister), in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, last week. Sr John was magnificent, truly inspirational, and it has to be said -- at times, a sheer rogue.

The requiem mass, celebrated by Bishop John Kirby, 12 priests and a hauntingly beautiful choir, was also attended by a large number of the religious community and lay people. It was undeniably a 'grand' occasion -- but it was also spiritual and heartbreakingly sad. One wonders how the death of a woman almost 92 years old might be so, but such was the nature of Sr John, who died on May 1, having suffered a stroke the week before.

Although we were happy for her not to have suffered, there is no denying there will be a gap made in many lives.

Born Elizabeth Scully in Ballylinen, Co Laois, in July 1917, she was the eighth child in a family of 12. At the age of 19, she trained as a nurse in London. On December 8, 1940, the hospital she was working in on night duty was bombed. 'Lizzy', after seeing three porters being killed, went on to assist in the evacuation of 201 casualties. For this she was awarded a 'Commendation for Bravery' signed by Winston Churchill -- the first of five awards she earned. The others were for services in Calcutta, Burma, Gahuti and Goa. Some feat for a young nurse not yet 28.

On December 8, 1946, she entered the convent, at the age of 29. She had a strangely appropriate combination of an extrovert personality, an indefatigable nature, as well as a strong sense of justice, all laced with humility and a wicked sense of humour.

Many Sisters I know, like her, have their religion and service to God first and foremost, but certainly haven't left their personalities behind in the process.

She was asked to run St Joseph's Industrial School, Ballinasloe, in 1951. This was a poisoned chalice for Sr John, as it was for many of the religious people who ran these homes. With the capitation of 19 shillings a month per child when comparative funding for the homes in Britain was £5, money was always short, and the work brutally hard. Not only did Sr John keep up to five babies (of which I was one) for night feeding in her room, but she supervised, mentored and raised funds locally for food and clothing for her 50 charges. She also, hilariously, did most of the repairs and maintenance in the home. Often she could be found up ladders fixing drainpipes, or hammering away at broken furniture.

After the home closed in 1967, she worked in the convent infirmary, and was then asked to work with meals on wheels in 1970. Despite losing a leg -- supposedly due to cancer -- she amazingly went on to run the service in Ballinasloe, driving 107 miles a day to deliver the dinners. This continued until she was 82. The 'Heart of Gold' award in Ballinasloe followed.

In fact, nothing seemed to stop this character; she was driving to visit people in the locality right up to the morning of her stroke.

It was an honour and privilege to have known you, Sr John, and while I know you've travelled into the light and haven't really gone away, I'll miss you and the weekend chats. My thoughts are with the Sisters of Mercy of the Western Province, particularly those of your community in Ballinasloe. They have lost a Sister they very much loved. My thoughts are also with your family -- they have lost a loved sister too.


Death of Sister John Scully

Added to on May 1, 2009

For immediate release.

The death of Sister John Scully in the early hours of this morning is of historic relevance for Ireland as she is one of the last nuns to run the Irish Industrial Schools.The 92 years old ran St Josephs Industrial School in Ballinasloe Co. Galway, and was brought into the public eye by Florence Horsman Hogan, the vetern campaigner of childrens rights.

Florence was taken care of by Sr John when she was in the Industrial School, and when the home closed down, the Sister of Mercy kept a watchful eye over her.The charity, Let Our Voices Emerge (L.O.V.E.), was inspired by Sr John, this was populated by a group of Industrial School Inmates who surged forward in the late 90's to state that although there were acknowledged cases of abuse in the Industrial Schools, the Redress Board system was unjust in that it targeted all who worked in the schools, and all of us who were in them could claim compensation as being abused.
Florence Horsman Hogan. 086-8762148.