Sr Deirdre O'Hanlon: 'I will be forever grateful that she was my school principal'
SR Deirdre O'Hanlon, from Mullaghbawn in south Armagh, devoted her life to the education of young people at the spiritual home of the Sisters of St Louis in France.
She spent more than 60 years as a teacher, principal and board member of the famous Cours Bautain school in Juilly, near Paris, where she sought to ensure that every pupil was supported by the faith and love she experienced in her own family and that of the religious life she decided to follow.
Deirdre was born in 1935 in Dublin, the daughter of an Irish army medical officer from Mullaghbawn who had fought in the War of Independence, but her family moved north to the village when her father Michael was sent to Cork at the start of the Second World War.
She was the third of four children and one of two who would become a St Louis sister - Fionnuala followed her lead and would serve in Kiltimagh, Ballymena, Dublin and Middletown.
Another sister, Maeve, would become a GP in Ballybay, Co Monaghan and her brother Rory would be a GP in Carrickmacross, before a distinguished political career as a Fianna Fáil TD, government minister and ceann comhairle of the Dáil.
The wider O'Hanlon family owned a pub in the village and would produce another high-profile politician, SDLP co-founder Paddy O'Hanlon, while among Rory's children is the comedian Ardal O'Hanlon of Fr Ted fame.
Deirdre enjoyed a happy childhood and went to Mullaghbawn National School and St Louis' in Carrickmacross, where all three sisters were boarders.
She then transferred straight to the order's novitiate in Monaghan, one of 24 postulants in Ireland that year, taking the religious name Sœur Thérèse Marie.
It was in 1956 that she was sent to France to begin a life-long mission of education at Cours Bautain, with studies at UCD and the Sorbonne supporting her roles as teacher and then principal.
Sr Anne Murray, who worked with Sr Deirdre in recent years, said her love for the school and vision for its future inspired and strengthened her to meet every challenge during her 61 years of service.
"During those years, Cours Bautain, the ‘doyenne’ of all St Louis schools worldwide, expanded as a modern school, meeting the needs of its growing student body while preserving the family spirit inherited from the ancestors," she said.
"A past pupil of Deirdre’s said: 'I felt going to Cours Bautain every morning that I was going to my second home where I was known and loved. I will be forever grateful that she was my school principal.'
"A former parent said: 'Her pedagogy, based on faith and love, was extraordinary – every pupil was enabled to be her/his best self.'
"Deirdre was unassuming and always attributed the growth and development of Cours Bautain to others, although her own organisational and leadership abilities were formidable."
Sr Deirdre's achievements were recognised by church and state in 2007 when she received the Palmes Académiques, presented by Cardinal Paul Poupar.
She finally returned to Ireland two years ago, when she was reunited with Fionnuala in Monaghan.
Her brother Rory said she always remained close to her family despite her many years away from home.
"She was always terribly considerate of people around her, always putting other people ahead of herself," he said.
"She never complained, never pushed herself to the front. That was a lifelong trait."
Sr Anne also recalled Deirdre's love of family, as well as Irish culture and language and a passion for art.
"One of her favourite artists was the French sacred artist Arcabas. She kept his ‘Visitation’ in her office, and loved the image of Mary and Elizabeth embracing each other as they shared the joy of new life. May that joy and new life be yours now Deirdre, for ever."
Sr Deirdre O'Hanlon died on September 3 and was buried in Monaghan. She is survived by her sister Fionnuala, brother Rory, sister-in-law Teresa, nieces, nephews and family circle.