Homily for the Funeral Mass of Sister Imelda. May 2nd. 2011.
As we find ourselves together today, I cannot help but remember June 1983
and June 2008 when many of us came here to join with Sister Imelda in giving thanks
for 25 and 50 years of faithful commitment to her life as a Religious. And today, in
spite of our sadness and profound sense of loss, we come together to do exactly the
same. Since last Wednesday, when the news of her death became known, I’ve no
doubt that all of us will have found ourselves recalling uniquely personal and
treasured memories of her friendship, her support and encouragement. That was
Imelda. No-one was a number – everyone, special. And today, as we lovingly
remember her, we’d do well to ask ourselves, in so far as we can, what it was that
made her so special.
We don’t need to be a Jesuit or psycho-analyst to know the truth of the saying
that ‘the child is father of the man’. Our earliest life experiences have a major
influence on the sort of people we become. And in Imelda’s case, there can be little
doubt that those early years prepared the way for so much we came to admire. It’s
there that the roots are to be found of her instinct for the importance of approval and
affirmation in human relationships. There, too, that the ground was prepared for her
unassuming presence, her straightforward conviction that all are important, and her
understanding – born of experience – for those who found themselves troubled. In
Imelda there was an unshakable belief – even in the face of evidence to the contrary –
of the total goodness of others. For Imelda, there were no geese, only swans!
Perhaps, too, in the mysterious ways of God, it was those early years that
sowed the seeds of a vocation to the Religious Life – a life in which she could give
herself totally to God and to others, especially those in most need. Already, at the age
of seven, she had sat at the bedside of a six-year-old friend dying of leukaemia. And
so it was to here that she came – initially with a view to living out her Call in Africa,
but after experiencing the many needs of people here in our own Country - and
fortunately for us - it was to Boarbank that she made her commitment – a
commitment – the faithful carrying out of which – explains more than anything else
the person we came to know and love.
At the heart of the vocation to the Religious Life is Prayer - both personal
and communal. Early in the morning, if you happened to be passing by the Oratory
she so dearly loved, you’d be likely to see Imelda making sure that time with the Lord
preceded time with others. In Lourdes last summer, long before breakfast, she was
daily down at the Grotto – her devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes – both there and here
– central to her spirituality. So, too, her regular presence at the daily Liturgy and
Offices of the Community. Such constancy in prayer only persists where Faith and
Hope, though perhaps often difficult, nevertheless remain alive – and to such Faith
and Hope she gives eloquent testimony in the Readings she chose for this Mass:
‘Then He said to me ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omerga, the beginning and
the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God, and they will be
my children’, (Rev.21/6f)
Faith and Hope – but also Charity. For a Religious, Charity expressed first
and foremost in and to the Community. When asked about her approaching death,
Imelda expressed no fear, only a deep reluctance and sadness at having to leave those
she loved. No doubt memories will linger of celebrations and good times together; of
watching Wimbledon and shouts of delight when the one and only Team scored.
Imelda was most certainly a Community person – a true disciple of Augustine. But as
we’ve already seen her love – her concern for others – extended in all directions, and
her resolve, whether in or out of office, to make Boarbank in every way a place of
welcome, of healing and hospitality was her constant concern.
There’s much more that could, and probably should be said, but as I speak I
hear the echo of her last conversation with me: ‘Don’t be telling them how wonderful
you think I am – things aren’t always what they seem’ – Imelda, for ever the down-to-
earth, self-critical, practical realist; and, of course, she was right to draw attention to a
further reason, other than thanksgiving, for our being here. None of us are perfect, and
so it’s ‘a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed
from their sins’ (2Mach.12/46) We do so, but still very much with gratitude in our
hearts for all that she was. So, to you her relatives, and to you, Sisters, and to all of
you who make Boarbank all that it is, our sympathy and prayers in your loss; and may
you, Imelda, at this time of Resurrection be ‘set free’ and ‘rest in peace’.
+ Brian M. Noble.