Lives Remembered

West Belfast principal encouraged her girls to 'think big and be all they could be'

Sr Rosaleen MacMahon was the last religious principal of St Louise's Comprehensive College in west Belfast

Sister Rosaleen MacMahon, former principal of St Louise's Comprehensive College in west Belfast, was a teacher, a missionary, a catechist, a spiritual director, a chaplain and a bereavement counsellor.

Whether in community as a Daughter of Charity or in her ministry she gave her all.

She saw possibilities for growth in all circumstances and was utterly focused on befriending, supporting and enabling those in need to achieve the best possible outcome in their lives.

From Blackrock in Dublin, Sr Rosaleen was educated with the Loreto Sisters and joined the Daughters of Charity in 1958, completing her religious formation in Paris.

She graduated as a teacher from Colomo College and taught in St Leonards-on-Sea in England and St Vincent's, Dunlewey Street in Belfast, before volunteering for the Ethiopian mission where she would spend the next 17 years.

In Addis Ababa she joined a community of Dutch, Australian, French and English Daughters of Charity. She taught in St Mary's school and to improve her effectiveness she learned Amharic.

Her special interest was religious education and as part of this work she studied in Uganda and Kenya. One of her students was the present Cardinal Archbishop of Addis Ababa.

However, the work and the famine in Ethiopia in the 1970s took a toll on her health and Sr Rosaleen came home to Europe for a break.

In 1988, having completed a doctorate in educational change at the University of Nottingham, she became principal of St Louise's Comprehensive College on Belfast's Falls Road, then home to 2,000 girls.

It was a time of change and her studies were ideal preparation for the task ahead.

The common curriculum was rolled out in Northern Ireland and the school was brought into a new phase and went from strength to strength.

She encouraged her girls to dream and think big, to be all that they could be and see a positive future.

Sr Rosaleen was interested in how students learn and this was developed in the school action plan. A general inspection in 1994 pronounced that “this is an impressive school led by an able, caring and perceptive principal”.

She supported many students and staff who had been bereaved through the Troubles and was known for her compassion and integrity.

Sr Rosaleen also involved the school in cross-community peace initiatives which brought pupils from different faith backgrounds together to work on common projects.

For this and for her overall contribution to education she was awarded the CBE.

On her retirement in 2005, one of Sr Rosaleen's greatest joys was becoming part-time chaplain in HMP Maghaberry, the high-security prison for over 800 men. In this ministry she was part of an ecumenical team which offered pastoral and spiritual support to inmates - a work that was dear to her heart.

She also established a retreat centre on the St Louise's site and continued to play a key role in the faith journey of senior students.

The programme she developed was in keeping with the Catholic Vincentian value system which defines the school.

In this work and in her role as principal she bore witness to values of excellence for all –service, inclusiveness, and equality of opportunity, social justice and the pursuit of the common good.

Sr Rosaleen died aged 76 on January 26 and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin following funeral Eucharist in St Gerard's Church on Belfast's Antrim Road.

She is survived by two sisters, Evelyn and Sr Bernadette, and a brother, Fr Hugh.

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Lives Remembered