Sr Eileen McNicholl dedicated her life to God and improving lives of others
SR Eileen McNicholl was a sainted person who dedicated her life to God and improving the lives of others.
Her caring and compassionate personality was honed in Co Derry in a loving family of eight children with her parents Robert and Caroline.
Born in 1933 in the townland of Lisnascreagh in the district of Glenullin, her early education was in the small local school built in 1827 on an old Danish fort.
All of the pupils were taught from the centre of a single classroom by two teachers, with one facing the seniors and the other the infants.
Lack of transport meant Eileen became a boarder at Loreto College in Coleraine with older sister Margaret Mary. She studied hard and passed all her exams.
Outside of school she was always thoughtful, caring and wanting to help others.
During her holidays she helped on the family farm, gathering potatoes and pulling flax. Her father said she could do the work of two men.
She loved her family, cousins, neighbours and life itself, but above all else she loved God where she put all her trust.
Eileen entered the Convent of Mercy on Belfast's Crumlin Road in 1951 and trained to be a teacher. She taught in several schools, finishing in St Gemma's on the Oldpark Road.
She had a very high regard and deep respect for the pupils. She was totally committed to their welfare and when children were reluctant to attend she would personally call at their homes and bring them back to class.
Known as Sr Pius, she taught subjects including art and drama and Irish and had a great love for Irish culture.
However, her ambition had always been to work with those less fortunate overseas and she was posted to Nigeria in 1984, where she spent the next 23 years.
As well as teaching children she visited hospitals, jails and leprosy centres. She witnessed executions, floggings and other atrocities which caused her deep distress.
But her warm personality led to a great affinity with the Nigerian people and a number of local children were christened Eileen Teresa - something which greatly amused the local bishop.
Even in adversity Eileen's love of people and God came shining through. On the eve of returning to Ireland she was robbed at gunpoint and the thieves took her money and her Walkman music device.
They asked her to say a prayer for them and despite the trauma they had put her through, Eileen saw a positive.
Sadly on her return to Belfast in 2007 Eileen was struck down with breast cancer.
Typically she showed great fortitude and suffered in silence, reflecting on her good life. She kept herself busy until she passed away very peacefully on November 7 last year.
Sr Eileen McNicholl's first anniversary Mass will be celebrated on Saturday November 5 in St John's Church on the Falls Road at 6.30pm.