Lives Remembered

Story of Tyrone woman who joined religious life in Australia

Mary Agnes Gormley, who joined religious life in Australia

THE poignant story of a Co Tyrone woman who left for Australia to become a nun is to form part of a new book about the Order of St Joseph’s of the Sacred Heart.

Letters written to family by Sr Mary Agnes Gormley have been described as a classic example of “living with your heart in two places”.

Mary Agnes was born in 1892, the second child of Peter and Bridget Gormley, on a farm in the townland of Cranlome near Cappagh. She was a sister to Mick, Barney, Peter and John.

She was an accomplished seamstress, her skills picked up from travelling tailors who sought board in the family home. While staying with relatives in Co Monaghan she also learned the crafts of crochet, lace making and sewing.

As a young woman, Mary Agnes was a member of Cumann na mBan and travelled to meetings in Dublin, where it is believed she became aware of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

It was from Dublin that in 1925 Fr Edward Carroll accompanied her and 51 other young Irish women he had recruited to Australia to become nuns.

Sr Mary Agnes worked at St Michael’s Hostel in Sydney, run by the sisters to support university students who travelled from rural areas.

She was remembered as tall and elegant, with a gentle, refined manner and rich speaking voice.

In letters to her brothers she longed for news of home, asking about family and friends, the farm, and if there were still dances in the hall during the war years.

She also maintained a keen interest in the political situation, and as her health declined she longed to see the country once more.

A moving telegraph after her death aged 50 in April 1943 conveyed her wish that her brother Peter make the Lough Derg pilgrimage for her.

A special Mass was held recently to celebrate Sr Mary Agnes’s life in St Patrick's Church, Aughnagar. A plaque was also unveiled in her honour on her parents’ grave.

Sr Clare Ahern spoke about her book 'The letter under the pillow' - the title chosen because many of the sisters kept precious letters from home under their pillows.

Ahead of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the order by Mary McKillop, canonised in 2010 as the first Australian saint, she is hoping to gather more information about the 26 sisters from the north of Ireland.

Information can be passed on through Marie Loughran on 02887 759701.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Lives Remembered