Mother Attracta Devlin: Co Down nun who helped shape hearts and minds of generations
MOTHER Attracta Devlin was 15 years old when she decided to answer God's call and observe for her whole life the rule of the Poor Clare Sisters to live in poverty, chastity and obedience.
One of a family of six girls from Rathfriland, Co Down, the then Bridget Devlin entered the convent in Newry in 1950 and for the next 10 years served in Ireland, England and Wales before arriving in Mayobridge, which would become her home.
"I was immediately drawn to the people," she said.
"They were warm. Their deep faith in God and their dedication to the sisters was evident and I knew that however long I was to be in the community of Mayobridge, I would be happy and fulfilled there."
Sixty years later, the people of the area came out onto their doorsteps in their hundreds to clap and pay their respects to a woman who helped to shape the hearts and minds of generations of people.
Thousands tuned into the webcam to watch her Requiem Mass and silently pray for a treasured friend.
A member of the GAA club said that in normal times, it would have been like a state funeral.
"But, we will get our chance to come out in force and give thanks for the life, dedication and selflessness of Mother Attracta who built us up, gave us courage and supported us when times were rough. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to her. She was a legend."
Mother Attracta began ministering in the parish as a teacher in St Patrick's Primary School.
She was renowned for her kindness, enthusiasm and ability to see the giftedness of each and every child.
In her 34 years in the school, as teacher and then as principal, she dedicated herself to passing on the faith to the children and encouraging them to develop their gifts and talents for the greater glory of God.
Small in stature, she was huge in personality and charisma and exuded Franciscan joy.
Mother Attracta had a great gift for meeting people where they were at. She was an excellent listener and had a huge telephone ministry, counselling people far and wide.
Every generation was able to connect with her and she had a great capacity for fun, life and laughter.
She embodied everything that the founders of her order, Saints Francis and Clare, stood for - simplicity, hospitality, generosity of spirit, humility and love of God.
Following her retirement as principal, Sr Attracta worked in the parish of Ballymacnab. She made many great friends and enjoyed the busyness of parish life.
Shortly afterwards she was appointed diocesan advisor to the Archdiocese of Armagh and then Dromore.
For 15 years she travelled around schools supporting teachers in their privileged task of passing on the faith.
But primarily, Sr Attracta dedicated her life to building up the parish of Mayobridge.
She was instrumental in founding many of the groups in the parish, including initiating the Mayobridge Youth Choir which is thriving today.
She served on the pastoral council right up until her death and was greatly encouraged by the work of the Diocesan Strategic Working Group in Dromore, who are working to ensure that we have vibrant and vital faith communities for future generations.
She was visionary in each project she undertook, identifying needs quickly and doing her best to address the gaps.
For example, in recent years she saw the need to support young parents in their faith formation and set about developing an adult sacramental programme.
She saw the need for the Church to move on and was training people to lead Eucharistic services.
Mother Attracta was a woman ahead of her time. She challenged injustice, she pushed boundaries and she promoted always the role of women in the Church.
The GAA was special to her - she was a true Gael and a fervent supporter of Mayobridge GAA club and her county team.
Sr Attracta was also a person steeped in history, love of her country and its culture.
She hungered after knowledge and she strove daily to become more holy and simple.
"They broke the mould when they made Mother Attracta" is a sentence I have heard over and over again in recent times.
Yes, they did break the mould but we take great comfort from the fact that her example, her teachings, her wisdom and her life will serve as a blueprint for many as we journey on without her.
Mother Attracta Devlin died aged 85 on March 26.
She was always dedicated to her family and will be sadly missed by them, by her congregation, her community and her many friends.
As her good friend Fr Charlie Byrne said at her funeral Mass, we give thanks for a "life well lived".
"We pray that she has been welcomed into her eternal home with the words, Well done, good and faithful servant."
May her gentle, generous, humble and fun-loving soul rest in God's peace.