Sister Asia, the nun who closed an Irish pub
Little Sister Asia is likely to be the only nun ever to have closed an Irish pub.
A member of the small Co Down community of the Little Sisters of Jesus, who live humble lives hidden among ordinary people around the world, she had been working in Paddy's Barn in Saul outside Downpatrick at the time of her death aged 50.
A hugely loving person, who lit up a room when she entered, she had a passion for people and wanted to engage closely with them, with no barriers of education or status.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she joyously pursued her ministry of Christ-centred friendship, love and reconciliation, welcoming and forging connections between people of all faiths and of none.
Asia was born Joanna-Beata Misiak in Osweicim - in German, Auschwitz - in southern Poland in 1964. Her surname means 'teddy bear' in Polish, an appropriate reflection of such a loveable personality.
As a teenager she excelled at sport, first as a shot-putter, then as a member of the Polish national swimming team, competing in the 1984 Olympics.
She also graduated in food technology at Krakow University, and gained post-graduate qualifications in philosophy, human development and leadership.
Asia was 25 when she joined the Little Sisters, a religious community inspired by the life and writings of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and founded in 1939 by Madeleine Hutin.
There are about 1,400 Little Sisters of Jesus scattered around the world and she worked in Poland, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Algeria and the USA before coming to Bishopcourt eight years ago. There she developed a love for Ireland and a passion for peace and reconciliation.
Living in small groups, the nuns seek to lead a contemplative life in the midst of people. They are inspired by the 30 years Jesus spent in Nazareth, and by his humble birth in Bethlehem. Little Sisters understand Nazareth not as a particular place, but as the ordinariness of people's lives.
In that tradition, for more than five years Asia worked joyfully as a cleaner and kitchen/restaurant assistant in Paddy’s Barn. She also enjoyed happy relationships with the Mustard Seed Group, Glebe House and all who came in contact with her.
She and her Little Sisters Helene, Claire and Emiko brought something special to those who know them. Living together in a tiny terrace house, hailing from Poland, France, Belgium and Japan, they see themselves as witnesses to the divine project of peace for all nations. Day by day they have surmounted personality and cultural differences.
Thinking big, acting small, in the words of the poet Patrick Kavanagh they fill “the bits and pieces of everyday” with God’s gentle presence. Their lives have been “a pearl necklace around the neck of poverty”.
In recent months Asia had been seeking a new job, to continue to be a worker among workers. She applied without success to Tesco, Lidl, Sports Direct, Home Bargains and to Translink. She had an ambition to work as a postman, and got a call for interview during her brief final illness. But God had other work for Asia.
She was devastated by an aggressive cancer and her tragic death on May 5 made the whole local community keenly aware of the depth at which Asia and the Little Sisters had touched them.
Her funeral was concelebrated by seven priests at St Nicholas' Church in Ardglass, including Bishop Tony Farquhar, Fr Gerry McCloskey PP and Fr Gerry Reynolds of Clonard Monastery. It was a joyful celebration in English and Polish, and Paddy's Barn closed as a mark of respect.
At Asia’s request, she was buried in nearby Dunsfort cemetery. After the burial her sister Gosia asked people not to forget to visit her grave, to keep that Polish custom alive.
Asia’s month’s mind will be held in St Mary’s Church, Dunsfort at 10am on Tuesday June 2.