The members of Our Lady’s Nurses of the Poor say they are “delighted” by the news that the official process for the beatification of their founder, Eileen O’Connor, has begun.
Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP announced he has begun the process which could lead to the proclamation of Australia’s next saint.
“I am very pleased to announce this next step in the cause of Eileen O’Connor,” said Archbishop Fisher. “Eileen was a young woman who received the love of God, multiplied it in her heart, and passed it on to others. It is my hope that the heroic and saintly example of Eileen O’Connor will inspire everyone to live faithful lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Former congregational leader of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor and Eileen O’Connor Centenary Project Leader, Sr Margaret Mary Birgan oln, said that the congregation had been praying for the news ever since Eileen’s death in 1921, and said that many already considered her to be a ‘saint-in-waiting’.
“We welcome this joyful news with great gratitude to God,” she said in a statement from the Sydney Archdiocese.
Later, speaking on Radio New Zealand, Sr Margaret Mary said Eileen’s holiness was evident to those who knew her.
“I believe that Eileen was a very holy lady,” she said.
“There are stories of when she went to Polynesia and she came back with a mallet that was supposed to have been the weapon that martyred St Peter Chanel.
“Now that was given to her because she was a holy lady and the chieftan at the time believed that it was through her intervention that his daughter at the time was healed, so that’s one thing during her life.
“Then if you follow her short journey and if you look at the incessant suffering she endured, and if you look at the reasons why she endured that suffering and if you look at the graces and the blessings, that that suffering gained for the people around her, there was certainly sanctity in her suffering.”
Born in Richmond, Victoria on 19 February 1892, Eileen Rosaline O’Connor was the eldest of the four children of Irish-born Charles and Annie O’Connor.
She suffered a crippling break in her spine at age three and lived her short life in constant nerve pain from what was later diagnosed as tuberculous osteomyelitis.
The O’Connor family moved to Sydney and settled in Waterloo when Eileen was aged 10, as Charles found higher-paying work to support the family and fund Eileen’s medical care.
Despite her poor health and immense suffering, O’Connor co-founded the religious order of Our Lady’s Nurses of the Poor with local priest Father Edward McGrath MSC in April 1913. At a time when no publicly-funded health care was available, and influenced by Eileen’s own family’s financial struggles following her father’s untimely death, the order was dedicated to caring for the sick and dying poor in their homes.
More commonly known as the Brown Nurses because of their distinctive brown cloaks and bonnets, the order’s work continues to this day. Unable to undertake the work herself, Eileen supported the nurses with prayers and counsel, and at one point used the only part of her body not paralysed with disease and pain – her left arm – to make phone calls arranging the order’s works. At just 115cm tall, the nurses lovingly referred to Eileen as “Little Mother.”
Eileen died on 10 January, 1921 – a month short of her 29th birthday.
1n 1936, 15 years after her death, Eileen’s coffin was moved from Randwick Cemetery to the chapel at Our Lady’s Home in Coogee, where the order currently resides. At the time, her body was found to be incorrupt. It has not been verified since.
On 1 July 2017, the Congregation of Our Lady’s Nurses of the Poor came under the governance of the Congregational Leader and Council of the Sisters of Charity of Australia, thereby ensuring the charism of Eileen O’Connor and the legacy of the Brown Nurses is carried into the future.
Click here for the full statement from the Sydney Archdiocese.
Listen here to the Radio NZ interview featuring Sr Mary Margaret Birgan and historian Mary O'Connell.