Sr Leontia Smyth: Pint-sized nun was an inspiration to everyone
SISTER Leontia Smyth lived her life in quiet humility but "oozed energy and enthusiasm for everything and everyone".
The missionary nun, who died a day short of her 95th birthday, spent more than three decades caring for the sick and poor in Africa before returning to her native Co Down.
At her funeral Mass in Ballynahinch, Fr Desmond Loughran said she made a deep impression wherever she went.
"She never complained, or moaned, she beavered away at building up God's kingdom in her own special and unique way," he said.
"Her faith was enriched daily by the sacraments she treasured. They were the guarantees she looked for of the presence of God in her life.
"In short this pint-sized woman was an inspiration."
Sr Leontia was born Mary Bridget Smyth in 1922, the seventh child of James Smyth and his wife Mary (nee Trainor), and spent her childhood in the townlands of Ballykinler and Lisnamaul, near Downpatrick.
She attended the parish school at Bonecastle where she was taught by Miss Margaret Kilroy and right up to her last days she could recite poems and recall lessons from those days.
Having qualified as a nurse in Birch Hill Hospital in Rochdale and as a midwife in Glasgow, Bridget was working as a Night Sister in Belfast's Mater Hospital when she became acquainted with Sr Ancilla Doran of the Missionary Sisters of the Assumption and her life took a new direction.
She felt a call to religious life and, over the next 35 years or so, worked in various parts of Africa - Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa
She was in Nigeria with a team of Assumption Sisters, who ran a hospital in Owerri, when the Biafran War broke out in 1967.
For more than two and a half years they experienced the horrors of war and famine before being forced to flee the country.
Sr Leontia returned to Ireland in the late 1990s, where she continued to serve the sick and poor.
She always had a special concern for those who were in any way disadvantaged and was a familiar sight in Ballynahinch, ‘racing' through the town as she visited families and brought Holy Communion to patients in care homes.
She walked so quickly that some of the sisters nicknamed her Zola Budd.
When she reached the age of 90, ill health began to slow her down but, even in sickness, Sr Leontia continued to be an inspiration to her community and those who looked after her.
Her ready smile and friendly disposition made their task so much easier.
After a long and dedicated life, Sr Leontia died on May 29, the feast day of St Leontia.
Her month's mind Mass will be celebrated in St Patrick's Church, Ballynahinch at 10am on Thursday June 29.
She will be sadly missed by her sisters in religion and by her many nieces and nephews who were devoted to her.