Just a few weeks short of her ninety fourth birthday, Ursula died, 8 May 2014, in Marian House, the congregational nursing home in the convent grounds in Glasnevin. Although Ursula served the congregation in many roles including that of congregational leader, she is best remembered for her long stint of almost 20 years as mistress of novices or formator.
Ursula was one of a rare species who could accommodate change with equanimity; a disposition which stemmed from her great trust in God. Once out of office herself, she was a great encourager of those who succeeded her and encouraged them to embrace change and the uncertainty which is part of it. The two images chosen to accompany these words illustrate that aspect of Ursula’s character.
The photo of a sister welcoming a guest to the new Margaret Aylward Centre for Faith and Dialogue in Glasnevin is testimony to Ursula’s immediate and unwavering enthusiasm for the Centre, a project which she felt would serve the people of God in a new way and in a new time. With some determination she set about converting any doubters to her way of thinking!
The second photo is of a school meeting in Riwoto, South Sudan, the school we opened in 2012 in collaboration with the Kiltegan Fathers. Ursula was fully behind this new venture of Holy Faith and spent many hours praying that it would flourish, not for the sisters, but for the people of the newest country in the world and, according to United Nations criteria, the poorest of the poor.
Ursula’s last words to me were ‘ get something else new to do now’. No surprise then that Fr John, her priest- brother opened his homily with the words from Isaiah, ‘Do not dwell on the past, see I am doing a new thing’. On this Vocation Sunday when vocations to women religious orders of apostolic life are drying up, we await the ‘new thing’ of the Lord, we prepare ourselves spiritually to co-operate with it, and as far as lies in our power, we gather ourselves to help fashion it.