ON a wet day in September 1949, Sr Margaret Mary Jordan was among the Sisters of Mercy to welcome the very first pupils to the newly opened Mary Immaculate Secondary School in Lisdoonvarna.
Sixty-three years later, Sr Margaret Mary’s tireless dedication to the education of generations of North Clare children has been rewarded. She was recently awarded the Papal Gold Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the highest papal honour the pope can confer.
She humbly told The Clare Champion, “I just didn’t expect it. I have begun examining my conscience to know why I got it. I felt I didn’t deserve it any more than anyone else. I was only doing my duty by being here on the first day the school opened.”
Sr Margaret Mary, who will turn 89 in the coming weeks, recalled the day when the school first opened. “There was no secondary school in Lisdoonvarna until 1949, when the three of us came from Ennistymon. It was a very wet day when myself and two other sisters, who have since gone to their eternal reward, opened the school. There were seven pupils that day, then 12 the next and before the end of the month we had 20. It just grew after that.”
A member of the teaching staff for 40 years, she said, “I always tried to treat the children with respect. They loved school and they are all very nice children around here.” Now retired, Sr Margaret Mary still keeps herself very busy teaching speech and drama.
Sr Margaret Mary was born on August 28, 1924 and was baptised Brigid Philomena Jordan in Our Lady Help of Christian’s Parish Church in Swinford, County Mayo. She was educated at the local primary school and St Mary’s Mercy Secondary School, both in Swinford.
After her Leaving Certificate examinations in 1943, she entered the Mercy Convent in Ennistymon and was received into the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy on September 29, 1944. Her Profession of Temporary Vows took place on October 2, 1946 and her name in religion became Margaret Mary. That same year she began her studies at University College Galway and graduated with a B Comm degree in 1949. She also took her final solemn vows in 1949.
She began her teaching ministry in September 1949 by being an original founder of the secondary school in Lisdoonvarna. As well as serving as a teacher, Sr Margaret Mary was also school principal for many years. She officially retired in 1990 but remained very active in the school as an auxiliary chaplain and assistant teacher and catechist.
His Excellency Archbishop Charles J Brown Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland awarded the Papal Gold Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice to Sister Margaret Mary recently at a mass in the parish of Church of Corpus Christi, Lisdoonvarna.
The papal nuncio presided and preached at the mass and after Holy Communion he presented, on behalf of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, the rare and prestigious honour to Sr Margaret Mary.
The award was given in recognition of the outstanding service she has given to the Church, the Catholic faith and the Holy Father. Founded by Pope Leo XIII on July 17, 1888, the award was intended as a rare honour to those who have served Christ and his people in a truly exceptional way.
The Gold Cross is accompanied by a scroll from the Holy See detailing the honour in Latin. In English translation, the inscription read, “The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has deemed it fitting to decree the granting of the venerable Gold Cross Pro Ecclesiae et Pontifice to Sister Margaret Mary Jordan RSM in recognition of her distinguished service and illustrious zeal and to grant her likewise the right to receive and bear this decoration”.
Archbishop Brown expressed the Pope’s deep gratitude and esteem to Sr Margaret Mary “for her lifetime of cheerful witness to the Catholic faith and her illustrious zeal in serving God’s people in the field of education”.
He also highlighted the huge contribution of the courageous, strong and loving women of the Sisters of Mercy at home and abroad in serving Christ to the poor and the humble. “Most of these sisters have devoted their entire lives to the service of others, often in unimaginably poor conditions and without any thought for their own comfort or profit,” he said.
About 800 people gathered for the presentation. Parish priest, the Very Reverend Conor Cunningham remarked, “Sr Margaret Mary is deeply loved and admired by the whole community for her kindness, her hard-working nature, her humility and, above all, for her striking example of living faith, prayerfulness and service. It is this example of everyday holiness and joy that above all has brought her life’s witness to the attention of the Holy Father so that all may benefit.”
Addressing Sr Margaret Mary directly, Fr Cunningham said, “I know it is mortifying for you personally to find yourself the centre of the Church’s attention this morning. It is an awesome thing to feel something of St Peter himself point you out to us afresh, as he taps you on the shoulder to say thanks – thanks for your lifetime’s companionship of Christ and your unstinting humble ministry to his people.”
In a short but gracious reply at the time, Sr Margaret Mary said, “It has been a joy to me to live among you here in North Clare for most of my life and to serve God and to serve you as best I can. I never expected any notice or reward for my modest contribution. The joy of serving God and serving you was reward enough for me.
“I want very much to associate all my dear friends in the Sisters of Mercy with this honour. Today, I am thinking especially of our beloved departed sisters and friends,” she said. She concluded by paying tribute to everyone who attended the celebration, especially Archbishop Brown.