Sister M. Dolorosa Waldron
A biography written by Patricia Moran rsm
Sister Dolorosa Waldron, baptised Anna Eliza, called Elsie, and later Dolo, by her family, was born in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, on 2 July 1898. She had two brothers and two sisters. Her mother died soon after her birth. Her father, the Principal in Dalkey National School, married again and had a further four children, three sons and one daughter.
Dolorosa went to the Sisters of Mercy school in Glasthule for her primary education, and to the Loreto Sisters in Dalkey for her secondary education. After school, at the age of seventeen, in 1915, she joined the Civil Service as a clerk in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. She was on duty in the G.P.O., Dublin, on the Easter Monday morning of the 1916 Rising, one of the Irish efforts in their struggle for Independence. She was ordered out of the building and told "Will you run home, child, to your mother!" She had to walk the ten miles home to Dalkey.
At the age of twenty-three, on 15 August 1921, she entered the Sisters of Mercy, Carysfort Park, Blackrock, Co. Dublin. She was received into the congregation on 27 February 1922, took triennial vows on 28 February 1924, and perpetual vows as a Sister of Mercy on 28 February 1927. She spent three years at the Dublin Union Hospital, later St. Kevin's, and now St. James' Hospital. In 1930 she commenced her nurse training at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin, where she qualified in 1935. She remained on the staff at the Mater, Dublin, until 1942, when she was transferred to Jervis St. Hospital, also in Dublin, now Jervis Shopping Centre. In 1947 she was appointed Superior or Leader in Jervis St. until 1953 when she was appointed Superior of St. Michael's Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, formerly Kingstown, one of Catherine McAuley's own foundations.
While in the Mater and Jervis St. Hospitals, she was also in charge of the university medical students. She had great stories to tell about those days. She had a tough time trying to placate famous consultants and equally famous ward Sisters especially when young energetic students kept Sisters awake at 1.00 a.m. in the morning! She had a great sense of humour. One night, when she paid a surprise visit to one of the wards when students had come to see their girl friends, one student hid under a sofa; when she asked where " Mr. - - " was, the nurse said that he wasn't there; "Well," said Dolorosa, “it's a pity he didn't take his feet with him!" This sense of humour helped her and her companions in Kenya when times were rough.
In 1955 Dolorosa was the leader among the four pioneer Sisters of Mercy, Dublin, 'carefully chosen' and 'our very best', for the Kenyan mission. Her other three companions were Gerard Stack, a nurse, and Therese Noel Gallagher and Consolata O'Keeffe, both teachers. The then Archbishop J.J. McCarthy CSSp. of Nairobi was looking for Sisters to set up a Catholic hospital in Nairobi city in order to "break down prejudice and enhance the prestige of the Church in the colony". Kenya was then a British colony. There were other racial hospitals in Nairobi, but no Catholic interracial one. Archbishop McCarthy discussed his wish with Archbishop J .K. Knox, Apostolic Delegate to Africa, who in turn discussed it on a visit to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid CSSp., Dublin. Archbishop McQuaid had a few years previously helped the Carysfort Sisters of Mercy update their Constitutions as a pontifical congregation, so he knew the Dublin Superior General, Mother M. Imelda Collins very well. He also felt that the Dublin Sisters of Mercy had wide experience in hospital administration in the four Dublin city hospitals, Mater Misericordiae, Jervis St., St. Kevin's and St. Michael's Hospitals. He approached Mother Imelda on the matter: "she welcomed the idea, asked many questions, and then said: “I will do it. I am 86 years of age, but Our Divine Lord will help me'. "An answer to prayer!" Archbishop McCarthy exclaimed when he heard the good news. The fact that the Mercies were approached, caused a bit of tension and disappointment at first among the other Irish medical missionary groups already in Kenya.
In October 1955, Mother Reginald McHugh, Vicaress General, and Mother Gabriel O'Leary, Superior, Mater Hospital, Dublin, visited Kenya to see the situation for themselves. They brought a morsel of clay from Catherine's grave at Baggot St. to place on the site where the Sisters of Mercy "will build a school for native Africans and an interracial hospital".
In November 1955, Archbishop McCarthy received an offer of a clinic and a school for girls in one of the African locations of Nairobi, so he next requested Carysfort for two nurses and two teachers. His request was granted. For Mother Imelda this was "a gift from God to the community".
The Sisters Set Sail
Eventually on the dark cold night of 6 March 1956, the first four Sisters of Mercy to East Africa set sail in 'The Princess Maudl' from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, then by train to London. Dolorosa's eldest brother, Jim, who worked in the Customs and Excise Department in Dublin in Dublin, and his wife, accompanied them as far as London, to see them safely aboard 'The Warwick Castle' which was bound for Capetown, South Africa via Mombasa, with their forty- six crates of luggage which had gone to London ahead of them. They brought with them almost everything that was needed to set up a home and a hospital - blankets, sheets, crockery, light hospital equipment, medicines, fifty First Communion dresses from Goldenbridge, even a harmonium and records among many other things. They also had their personal luggage with them.
They were accompanied on the journey by returning missionary, Fr. Bill Roche, CSSp. The journey to Mombasa via the Suez Canal, took twenty - four days with short stops at Gibraltar, Marseilles, Genoa and Port Said. Dolorosa has left very vivid accounts of the trip; she wrote back to Carysfort from each port of call. This was in pre - Vatican II days when Sisters of Mercy were dressed in full length black twelve pleated habits, complete with black veil, white starched dimity across the forehead, coif around the face and starched guimp across the chest. However, they changed from their black into full white habits at Genoa.
After leaving Genoa, their Kiswahili lessons began. No time wasted! They had a two-hour session each morning on deck with Fr. Roche as their tutor. Like good Sisters of Mercy of those days, they attended both 7.00 a.m. and 7.30 a.m. Masses before breakfast in the Smoke Room. They also said their Rosaries up on deck and had Confession on board. Dolorosa was at this stage a woman of fifty - eight years of age, but she entered wholeheartedly into everything, even to playing kites on deck. The Sisters celebrated St. Patrick's Day 1956 at sea, finishing their proudly with 'Hail Glorious St. Patrick!', but because they were on a British ship, it was followed by 'God Save the Queen'!! Dolorosa found the latter amusing. She was so sick one night that she wanted to die and be buried at sea! There was some excitement to be crossing the Equator for the first time: "we are roasted alive !", she wrote back to Carysfort.
Arrival In Kenya
Eventually they got into Mombasa harbour at 11.00 a.m. on Holy Thursday, 30 March 1956, in sweltering heat, a day before schedule. They were not allowed to disembark until 2.00 p.m., and then they could only take their hand luggage with them. They were met by many Holy Ghost Fathers and Irish Loreto Sisters. Dr. Keating, a past Mater medical student of Dolorosa's, was also there. They attended Holy Thursday ceremonies at Mombasa Cathedral. They stayed overnight in Mombasa with the Loreto Sisters.
Early on Good Friday morning, "a fitting day to offer themselves anew to our suffering Redeemer", they went back to the ship to claim their luggage. Dolorosa mentioned to the custom's officer, Mr. Brennan, that her brother was a custom's officer in Dublin. Mr. Brennan asked a few questions, immediately took his chalk and marked their forty-six crates 'OK'. However, he advised them to declare something; Dolorosa declared the harmonium and records for Church and educational purposes for which she paid a refundable L12 duty, and their crates were released. Surgeon, Dr. Keating took them on a quick visit to Mombasa General Hospital; he was hoping to get Sisters of Mercy for a new hospital which was being built, but unfortunately the Dublin Sisters of Mercy were unable to take on that commitment.
At approximately 4.30 p.m. on Good Friday, 31 March 1956, Dolorosa and her three companions boarded the train at Mombasa for the 18-hour overnight trip to Nairobi, approximately 500 kilometres inland and upland. The Sisters shared a carriage. It was extremely hot on the train, so in order to let in some air, in their naiveté, they let down the window and opened the wire meshing. Soon the carriage was alive with flying insects of varying shapes and sizes. They thought everything was a mosquito and that 'they were waiting for us!' Dolorosa took off her shoe, possibly a size 7 or 8, to ward off the insects while literally carrying on a conversation with them. They eventually decided they might ''as well be smothered, as eaten by these creeping things", so they closed the window and turned off the light. They laughed the following morning "over the night we had". They got into Nairobi Railway Station, at an approximate altitude of 5000 ft. above sea level, at 11.00 a.m. on Holy Saturday morning, 1 April, April Fools' Day 1956. Archbishop McCarthy, many Holy Ghost Fathers and their future pupils of Our Lady of Mercy Primary School, Shauri Moyo, Nairobi, were there to meet them. Dolorosa wrote: " we alighted from the train; my heart was nearly in my mouth; it was thumping; we made for His Grace; he gave us a great welcome". Archbishop McCarthy later sent a telegram to Mother Imelda: Thank you, Mother, for your Easter gift.
They were brought to their first temporary home, a storeroom converted into a convent for them, at St. Mary's School, Westlands, Nairobi. This was during Kenya's struggle for Independence; the Sisters were shocked to see Mau Mau, Kenya's freedom fighters, sitting in rows on the ground outside the Railway Station, with armed police guarding them.
Dolorosa was delighted with her new home. She remarked to Mother Imelda "I wish you were here to see it. It is really beautiful." There was some concern earlier back in Ireland about it. However, later when the rains came, Dolorosa had to sit under an umbrella while taking her supper one evening, to protect herself from the leaking roof. The day they arrived in their new home, Archbishop McCarthy handed the keys to Dolorosa; he came back later that evening to bless it. Fr. Joe Lynch CSSp., their Guardian Angel, arrived that evening with a new car, handed the keys to Dolorosa, a gift from the Archbishop! Only Consolata could then drive, but it was not long before Dolorosa was also behind the wheel. Dolorosa proudly reports that the car was registered under the 'Sisters of Mercy, Nairobi'. Later, Dolorosa, Gerard and Therese Noel were 'duly and properly' appointed The Registered Trustees of the Sisters of Mercy (Kenya) in the 'Colony and Protectorate of Kenya'. Consolata was kept as a reserve in case of necessity. Their temporary home was very near where the Irish Loreto and Carmelite convents are. Dolorosa, as well as the other Sisters, became great friends with both the Loreto’s and the Carmelites. The Carmelite Monastery was founded from Hampton Road, Dublin. Dolorosa and Gerard nursed the Carmelites in their illnesses; they were allowed beyond the 'grille', even in those pre-Vatican II days! Dolorosa also took the Carmelites to the doctor and dentist.
The Sisters settled very quickly into their new surroundings in a foreign country. Dolorosa was a very independent woman: she insisted on giving a monthly rent to the Holy Ghost Fathers for their temporary accommodation. The Holy Ghost Fathers, all Irish at that time, were most kind to the Sisters.
Dolorosa was a very good administrator; she wasted no time. Within four days of her arrival in Kenya, she very proudly had opened the first bank account in Kenya under the title 'Sisters of Mercy' with a deposit of £600 at the National Bank of India. She gave her signature as 'M.D. Waldron'. Her missionary zeal was aglow with enthusiasm. She wrote on 9 April 1956: "there is an amount of work here waiting to be done; we could easily have 4 or 5 convents - we would not have enough. The hospital is in very bad need,"
Down To Work
Even though the Sisters took the month of April 1956 to get a bit acclimatised to their new environment, Dolorosa and the Sisters were not idle. The school Sisters, Therese and Consolata, got the already built boys' school cleaned and ready to admit their first girls, 300 of them, on 5 May; 1956,into what became known as Our Lady of Mercy School, Shauri Moyo. 'Shauri Moyo' means 'a matter of the heart'. The boys moved out to other schools to allow the Sisters of Mercy to pioneer the first all girls' African primary school in the whole of Nairobi City.
There were European and Asian girls' schools but no African girls' school. Shauri Moyo was at the centre of Mau Mau activity. But the Sisters were never at risk; the Irish Holy Ghost Fathers were held in high regard by the African people. The location was surrounded by a double barbed wire fence where a British soldier monitored everyone who went in and out. All Africans had then to have a pass or kipande with them at all times. Consolata became the Headmistress in the school, with Therese and four barefooted African women teachers, who had themselves not gone to no higher than fourth grade in primary school, on staff with her. Most of the girls who first, came were the daughters of upcountry fathers who were working in Nairobi; the local people were at first very wary of white faces. But very soon, prejudice was broken down and the local, girls came to the school in numbers. Consolata, many times, had to go to the local police station to get some of her senior girls who had lost or forgotten their kipandes, released. There was no sewerage system in that area at that time, so buckets had to be emptied each day. One of the teachers sometimes taught her class with her sick baby wrapped in a kitenge or shawl, on her back.
Consolata was very musical. The first time the school entered the Kenya Music Festival, they won a cup! She also taught the girls, with the help of the teachers, different Latin Masses. One of the early pupils, now Mrs. Wilbroda Juma, is currently Matron in the Mater Hospital, Nairobi. There has been a Sister of Mercy on the staff of Shauri Moyo up to 1994, Sister Dominica Downing being the last Sister there for the present. It was at Our Lady of Mercy, Shauri Moyo, where the Silver Jubilee of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Kenya, was celebrated in April 1981.
Medical Work Begins
Within two weeks of setting foot in Kenya, Dolorosa and Gerard had begun treating the sick staff at St. Mary's School. Even though Dolorosa and Gerard had gone to Kenya to set up a Catholic hospital, Archbishop McCarthy advised them to first open clinics where "the sick poor could be treated. Dolorosa and Gerard got ready a previously unsuccessful ' City Council Welfare Centre, also at Shauri Moyo, 'the African Town Centre'. The Sisters of Mercy were the first religious Sisters ever to work in those crowded locations.
Dolorosa and Gerard, too, had to overcome the suspicion and distrust of the local people. It took great courage and faith on their part to open their clinic on 1 May 1956. First the people kept at a distance, but gradually the prejudice was broken down when they saw sick babies being cured. They also had the same experience when they went, a short while later, on mobile clinics to Bibironi, Kereita, Ngarariga in Kikuyuland about 40 kilometres north-west of the city. The Elphin Sisters of Mercy were later to come to Ngarariga in 1967. At Shauri Moyo centre, Dolorosa and Gerard also held sewing classes for mothers on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Dolorosa even held a clinic on Empire Day, 24 May 1956 : "we did not want to miss the money !'. The Sisters respected the dignity of the people, so patients and school children contributed towards expenses. Dolorosa was greatly amused by the women bringing "all kinds of queer notes from their husbands telling us what to do for (the women) and what is wrong with them "! This was in pre-Independence days when mostly only boys were sent to school; the women were destined for marriage and the bearing of children, so they did not need schooling for that! Dolorosa could be tough at times. When the City Council wanted her to pay a monthly rent for the clinic premises, she said she had "no notion of paying any rent; they should give it to us as a present, and we doing all the hard work in the clinic for them!" However, her conscience must have pricked her; she later paid the monthly rent of KShs. 250. She vacated the building in 1957. She also held a clinic at Eastleigh, Nairobi, 'in the room where the great legionary, Edel Quinn, died. "The Goans are well off and will give anything for medicine", wrote Archbishop McCarthy. She went with Gerard once weekly, on Saturdays, on a mobile clinic to Kiserian, Ngong, approximately 40 kilometres north-west of Nairobi, to treat the seminarians in the Junior Seminary there. Among them was the current Archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Mwana 'Nzeki. They also treated the local nomadic Maasai people who came flocking to see and be treated by 'the two white women'. Often they had to go into the hinterland when the sick were unable to come to their centre. They had few idle moments. At first, they had interpreters to help them communicate with the people but they soon learned Kiswahili, the national language. Later in March 1959, when the Sisters moved to their permanent home at Makadara, Eastlands, Nairobi, Dolorosa opened a clinic behind the convent garage. By this time Dolorosa and Gerard had parted company - Gerard having gone to the 'bush' area of Mbooni to start a clinic and mobiles there. Sisters of Mercy Dispensary, Makadara, as it is called, flourished from the beginning.
It remained behind the garage up to 1988, when the present day dispensary was opened. It still treats an average of 350 patients daily, as well as a similar number in its outreach, Kayole, another developing African area of Nairobi.
Spreading Wings: Our Lady of Mercy School, Nairobi South 1958
In 1957, the colonial Government gave a grant of £5,500 towards construction of what first was called, a Goan School, in Nairobi South. Again, Archbishop McCarthy turned to Carysfort for Sisters. Carysfort did not refuse. "Apart from the good done to souls, it will be a financial help to the Sisters", so wrote Sister Dominic, Secretary General, Carysfort. However, the Sisters of Mercy were asked to contribute £8,000. Carysfort at that time was deeply in debt, being involved in expansion of ministries in Dublin. The Dublin houses owing funds to Carysfort, were asked to clear some of their debts, and a Sale of Work was held in Carysfort National School, to find some of the required amount. Two more teaching Sisters, Albertus McHugh and Joseph of the Sacred Heart Dunne, arrived in Kenya by boat: on 6 December 1957. Dolorosa went all the way to Mombasa to meet them. Weren't they relieved to see her! Joseph went with Therese Noel in January 1958, to open the 'Goan' school, called Our Lady of Mercy School, Nairobi South. Albertus was destined to go further afield to Mbooni. The school started off as a Goan school, but very soon it became interracial and Interdenominational which it is to today. There was no secondary school for girls in that area, so a secondary section was added in January 1962. More classrooms were needed; these were funded by savings from the teaching sisters' salaries, such as they were.
The school Sisters commuted daily the approximately twelve, later six kilometres from St. Mary's, and then Makadara convent to Nairobi South, until 1968. Both schools became separate entities in 1966. They have both expanded since. Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School moved to a separate site in April 1989. Both schools are well known for their excellence over the years. Presently Agnes Kariuki, a Kenyan Sister of Mercy is on the staff of the Primary School; the Secondary School was handed over to lay principalship in December 1999.
Farther Afield: Mbooni 1958
Mercy was called to go much further afield in 1957 to the top of Mbooni Hill, about 120 kilometres south east of Nairobi. This was a very staunch Protestant, African Inland Church, stronghold which had refused to allow Catholic missionaries far within its borders. However, when Archbishop McCarthy again approached Dolorosa for Sisters to set up a women's Primary Teacher Training College there, Dolorosa rose to the challenge. The Sisters of Mercy, like Catherine before them, did a lot towards pioneering the education of women in Dolorosa's days. At the prospect of a women's training college coming to Mbooni, opposition eased. Shopping had to be done to equip another foundation. Dolorosa accompanied Gerard Stack and Albertus McHugh, on 5 February 1958, up the long winding stony dusty dangerous climb to the top of Mbooni hill. There was no convent there, only a partly completed priest's house. That was to become their temporary convent until their own convent was built across on 'Mercy Hill' in 1961 when Dolorosa was able to contribute £3,000. Dolorosa remained with Gerard and Albertus for two weeks, cooking, cleaning, and helping them get settled into their new temporary home. Gerard set about treating the sick on the verandah, while Albertus set about getting the two mud and wattle huts ready to admit her first teacher trainee students, some already mothers.
Many great achievements have very humble beginnings; so it was with Mbooni. The Government later gave funds to put up permanent buildings, and paid the Sisters' salaries. Other Sisters joined Albertus on the staff of the Training College. After Independence in 1963, the new Kenya Government centralised many of the teacher training colleges in Machakos, Mbooni being among them. However, Mbooni Teacher Training College produced many fine teachers, both Catholic and Protestant. The training college was phased out to become a girls' secondary boarding school. Mbooni Girls' Secondary School continues to excel to this day. The Sisters of Mercy withdrew from there in December 1979 due to shortage of personnel. Mbooni was one of the places, which did not give Dolorosa too many financial headaches, but it may have caused her travel anxieties for the Sisters. Monica Flaherty relates how she and her driver were one day during the rainy season, swept downstream in a swollen river. Fortunately. they were rescued in time.
The First Convent of Mercy In East Africa Makadara 1959
While all the other activities were taking place, Dolorosa was also looking for a place to call her own. She and her companions spent almost three years in the renovated accommodation at St. Mary's School, Westlands, approximately twelve kilometres from their places of work in Nairobi. She had first to find a site. She chose the heart of one of the African locations in Eastlands, Makadara, near Shauri Moyo school and clinic. After much negotiation and perseverance, she was granted in 1958 leasehold for 99 years of a 1.70 acre site, ‘for religious purposes,’ on which she was allowed to build ‘a chapel, a clinic’ and a residence for twenty sisters.’ She did not receive the Letter of Allotment until June 1963. Construction of the Sisters’ residence cost KSHs. 250,000.
It is not clear where she got the funds, but there is reference to a KShs. 75,000 loan from Archbishop McCarthy. Dolorosa was involved in more plans and buildings; they were never far away from her. The Sisters very gladly moved into their own home in Kenya on 12 March 1959. The chapel was and still is, attached to the convent; the Sisters fell short of the permitted twenty, the clinic opened in a small building behind the garage.
Coming Nearer Home - Miguta 1959
Archbishop McCarthy must have thought that Carysfort had an endless supply of Sisters waiting to come to his Archdiocese. Carysfort was most generous in giving so many Sisters, sometimes, at quite short notice, to Kenya. Archbishop McCarthy now asked for nursing Sisters for a small maternity hospital not yet built, at Miguta. Miguta is approximately 30 kilometres north-east of Nairobi. Two nursing Sisters, Therese Martin Crowley and De La Salle Lawton went there on 3 January 1959. Again, there was no convent, only a large priest's house on the compound. This time the priest's house became a permanent Convent of Mercy. The maternity hospital was not ready, but that did not prevent Therese Martin from setting to work. Therese started a clinic in the house. The first delivery took place in the back room of the present day Pre-Postulancy. There was a boys' primary school of mud and wattle buildings in a comer of the compound. De La Salle, a nursing Sister, went to teach there for a term, until Sister Maire Ryan, a teaching Sister, could replace her. Again the Sisters promoted the education of women. It was only after much negotiation with the education authorities that Maire Ryan got ten girls into the school. The maternity hospital was built in 1959 by local labour. At first the Sisters had no car. Dolorosa succeeded in getting them a gift of a black VW Beatle from Volkwagon Co. Cork. It was very welcome and was used by Therese Martin and subsequent Sisters, as a mobile clinic, enabling them to reach many sick people who were too sick to come to the hospital. Sometimes the Sisters were called out at night to deliveries; mothers in labour were often brought to the hospital in wheelbarrows. The maternity hospital closed in 1969, as many mothers needed more specialized treatment than the Sisters could provide; the out clinics continued until 1974 when they too had to be discontinued due to unavailability of personnel.
Different Sisters taught in the now mixed primary school. There were plans to build a secondary school in Miguta, but politics entered in, and the secondary school was built elsewhere. The Sisters, as early as 1965, felt that a commercial or secretarial school would give the girls who did not qualify to get into high school some marketable skills; the concept of Sisters of Mercy Commercial College, Miguta, was born. 'There were no funds available for the college. Sisters had to go begging for funds at home and abroad.
CAFOD, England and the Sisters of Mercy helped build the college. The College admitted its first students in January 1969. The Sisters withdrew from the primary school in October 1968. The Commercial College still flourishes with many of its past students holding key positions both in the public and private sectors in the country.
Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Nairobi 1962
While setting up the other foundations, both near and far, Dolorosa was also engaged in other rather frustrating business. She had to wait six years before she could see the fulfilment of the original purpose of her coming to Kenya, namely, to set up a Catholic hospital in Nairobi City. In the beginning, Dolorosa and the Sisters were under the impression that the hospital would be built for them. They soon realized that they were to build it. It was widely assumed in those days that Carysfort had a few hidden crocks of gold! In fact at that time Carysfort was £120, 000 in debt; the 1950s were a time of ministry expansion, especially in education, in Ireland. “Everyone of our houses carries a huge debt”, Mother Imelda wrote in 1955. There was no way Carysfort could finance the proposed hospital whose early estimated cost was £275, 000, a colossal amount of money in the 1950s. However, Dolorosa was undaunted.
Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Nairobi, was one of the tasks for which Dolorosa, herself, took full responsibility. It proved no easy task. She had many obstacles, frustrations, delays, disappointments to cope with along the way, but she was a woman of great courage, vision and faith: she forged ahead. Within two months of her arrival in Kenya, she attended a meeting with government officials regarding the hospital, where it was proposed that she apply to the then colonial government for a grant on £ 3: £1 basis. The European hospital, present day The Nairobi Hospital, had received such a grant. Pressures mounted immediately. She had to have her application for a grant in to the Ministry by 14 June 1956 in order to be considered for any grant up to 1960. Plans and estimates for the hospital had to be got ready in less than three weeks! But she got them done in time. She was also torn between conflicting reports regarding the architectural firm, which got the job. Archbishop McCarthy gave her a beautifully situated 25-acre plot in Westlands, area, Nairobi, near where present-day Strathmore Secondary School is. When she applied for planning permission to build a multi-racial hospital in that European area, she was refused. It was since c. 1860, and still is, the policy of the Sisters of Mercy ‘not to discriminate on the grounds of race, creed or colour.” There was a site for a proposed sub-hospital in the African Town Centre, present-day, Makadara, Eastlands, Nairobi, but it had not then got the vital infrastructure of water or sewerage. With determination and persistence, she applied to the government for an alternative site. Eventually she was given a most uninviting 2.69 acres in a swampy black cotton soil area, near the Ngong River in Nairobi South.
Then unexpectedly, on 3 July 1959, confirmation was received that the government was giving a grant of £30, 000 on £1: £1 basis towards ‘the Catholic Mission Nursing Home’, £15,000 in each of the financial years 1959/60 and 1960/61. She made another effort to get a more suitable site. The Commissioner of Lands curtly wrote in March 1960: “the conclusion reached that the approved site is satisfactory. I should be grateful, therefore, if you would proceed with the development as agreed”. Also, at this stage, time was running out for her. She had only until 30 June 1960 to spend the first half of the government grant. If she still wanted to press for a better site, she would run the risk of losing the government grant, for which if lost, she could never apply again, and she very badly needed the grant. She had not much of a choice but to proceed with her unsuitable site. It was also discovered that there were sewer lines running through the site. Plans had to be reduced and resisted to avoid crossing the main sewer lines. At this stage, Dolorosa had a promise of £15,000 from the government; Archbishop McCarthy had collected £12,500 on a trip to the U.S.A. That was not enough to build and equip a hospital. However, she took the plunge. The lowest construction tender for a reduced 60-bed hospital was £49,000. Dolorosa had the consolation of having Ideal Builders take possession of the site on 1 May 1960 though she was not physically present for the occasion. In April 1960, she had left Nairobi for Dublin to attend General Chapter 1960, at which Sister Gabriel O’Leary was elected Superior General in place of Mother Imelda.
Dolorosa did not forget Kenya while in Ireland, but she now had to deal with a new Superior General. She persuaded the new Superior General, Mother Gabriel, to authorise her to look for a loan of £20,000 from the Hibernian Bank, O’Connell St., Dublin, which later amalgamated to form present day Bank of Ireland. With special permission from Rome, the amount was increased to £30,000. The Bank Manager later remarked: What an amazing woman ! She walked in here completely unknown with a plea for a loan of £30,000 and we granted it to her without much research as to her credentials, so persuasive was her argument! She, however, now had money, but it had to be repaid over ten years with an interest of £2,000.
The government duly paid its two instalments of its grant. Construction work progressed satisfactorily. There were unexpected frustrations on the way. The foundation was almost complete, when a letter arrived from Carysfort to say the building was to stop! Dolorosa at first could not believe that this was an order from Carysfort. With recourse to prayer to accept this Cross, Dolorosa felt consultation was necessary. The choice of consultant was between Archbishop McCarthy of Nairobi, or Archbishop Del Mestri, the Pro Nuncio to Kenya. There was a possibility of Archbishop McCarthy saying: Mother, you must do as the Mother General says! She opted to take the letter to the Pro Nuncio. He immediately took his pen, wrote to the Superior General stating that the hospital must go on, and this was from Rome! It was later explained that Carysfort had been misinformed by someone outside the congregation, who thought that there were enough hospitals in Nairobi without another multi-racial one. At that time there were three distinct racial hospitals in Nairobi – European, Asian and African, but no multi-racial one to cross the barriers. When the truth became known, Mother Gabriel gave her blessing for the building to continue.
When the second storey was almost up to roofing level, it was realized that there was no convent included in the plans. Work had to stop while plans were drawn up and approved for a third storey. There were no funds for a separate building; also the site was too small. Since the foundation was only for a two-storey building, special light materials had to be imported from Italy for the third storey. Construction cost increased to £74,000. The architect seemed to have the idea that Catholic Sisters should not be disturbed by the distractions of the outside world. He made the windows in the convent so high; it was impossible to look out! They are still the same to this day, but the Sisters have moved out to a separate building on the hospital compound.
Back to Dolorosa’s financial worries - how to repay her bank loan. Divine Providence and the Infant of Prague came to her aid. One day when wrapping her 6-yard black pleated habit in an old copy of the Universe newspaper, her eye caught an article about the German Bishops’ Campaign Against Hunger and Disease in the World, Misereor. She, also, was trying also to ease hunger and disease! She wrote to Misereor, explained her situation and appealed for help. At least, she did not receive a polite regret; there was no assurance of help: it would depend on their 1962 Lenten Campaign, yet to be held. A very detailed complicated 11-page questionnaire had to be completed – the first one sent never reached Dolorosa. These were pre-DHL, pre-email days! She requested Misereor to repay the loan for her so as to get that burden off her shoulders. Misereor advised her to seek funds elsewhere, which she did. She got a loan of USD 5, 000 from The Bentz Foundation, New York., as well as some smaller donations.
A lot of correspondence went back and forth between Dolorosa and Misereor. However, by August 1962, Misereor had promised to give her a loan of DM 500,000, interest free, to repay some of the Irish bank loan. “I cannot tell you how very thankful I am for the good news”, she wrote to Misereor on 22 August 1962. But a few more hurdles had to be crossed! Misereor required security for their loan since the Registered Trustees of the Sisters of Mercy (Kenya), were not a European entity. Del Mestri again came to the rescue and got the security issue sorted out for her. The Hibernian Bank in Dublin was, by this time, pressing for payment of at least the overdue interest on their loan, which she did not have. She pleaded again with Misereor to advance some payment of their loan. The hospital was almost ready for occupation “even to the making of beds’, but she could not open it without at least £30,000 in the bank to meet running expenses. She had no other money. She had already put about £20,000 into the building, which she got, from friends and savings from Sisters’ allowances. She had requested exemption from payment of duty on necessary imported items of equipment not then available in Kenya, but she was refused since they were not strictly for surgical or medical purposes.
However, Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Nairobi, a 60-bed equipped hospital, was blessed and opened by Archbishop McCarthy on 5 May 1962.
Some more trials were awaiting Dolorosa. The day the Mater was opened, the full centre page of the then only English daily newspaper, The East African Standard, carried two pages of reasons why the Mater was doomed to failure! At first most of the European doctors shunned or ‘boycotted’ the hospital because it was multi-racial and also because they were trying to build up the European hospital and they did not want the Mater to take business away from them. Also the Mater was situated in a less prestigious area on the fringe of Industrial Area. However, surgeon Mr. Pat O’Donoghue, a New Zealander by birth and a staunch Catholic, stood by the Mater from the beginning. Two other Goan doctors, Dr. C. Paes and Dr. Maisie Fernandes, supported the hospital from the start. But a turning point came when the European hospital needed some specialised equipment which the Mater had; they sent a vehicle down to the Mater to get a loan of the equipment; Dolorosa’s reply was, to the effect : send down the patient to us and we will treat him. Opposition was broken. The Mater flourished, admitting African, Asian and European patients. Dolorosa’s multi-racial hospital had become a reality. The garage at the end of the building was turned into an outpatient department. Very soon the 60-bed capacity was unable to cope with demand. But Dolorosa still had the £30,000 loan around her neck. She again pleaded with Misereor; Misereor heard her cry this time and eventually agreed to pay off approximately half of the Irish loan together with the interest on the full loan. Payments were to be done directly by Misereor to the Hibernian Bank in Dublin. This necessitated a lot of correspondence and clarifications.
In the meantime, the Mater grew in popularity especially the maternity area. A maternity unit was not included in the original plan: surgical beds had to be shared with maternity cases, which was far from ideal. Trusting again in Divine Providence, Dolorosa had the courage, in 1963, to approach Misereor again about extending the hospital to include a maternity wing, x-ray department and a school of midwifery. Fortunately, Misereor showed interest in her extensions but could not guarantee anything until budgetary year 1966. Dolorosa did not remain idle in the intervening years. Her original 2.69 acre site was too small to allow extension of the hospital. She applied for an adjoining piece of land, which she duly received as a leasehold grant, free of charge except for an annual rent of a ‘peppercorn’, as also happened in the case of the first 2.69 acres. Such grants do not happen overnight. As Eileen Byrne very aptly remarks : everything was going to happen ‘tomorrow’, but mostly many ‘tomorrows’ passed before they did! More plans, revisions and other formalities had to take place again.
By April 1963, a year after opening, Dolorosa could write to the Hibernian Bank, Dublin: “the hospital is showing a steady profit margin”. She regretted that she could not ‘slip in’ more poor patients but “the financial state of the hospital forbids it”. There were always beds available for sick missionaries. For the first few years, the nursing staff consisted of Sisters of Mercy doing both day and night duty. Dolorosa herself tripled up as Superior, Administrator and Matron. If Carysfort was unable to give finances, it was most generous in giving personnel. In 1962 there were thirteen Sisters of Mercy ministering in the hospital, which, of course, indirectly helped the hospital financially. The Sisters were not paid salaries; they were maintained by the hospital; every possible cent was ploughed back into the hospital. Cora Ferriter, a teaching Sister in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School, Nairobi South, very near to the Mater, remembers bringing down to the Mater whatever savings could be spared from Makadara clinic.
Dolorosa was also at this time trying to pay off her portion of the Hibernian Bank debt. One day she was summoned to the Treasury regarding her payments out of the country. While she was in the Treasury office, a European Treasury official came in, greeted her by name and jokingly asked what she had done to be taken to task. He had been a patient earlier in the Mater. But by May 1966, Dolorosa could write, “I have paid off the remainder of the debt”. She had cleared her debt four years ahead of time! No wonder the Bank Manager paid a courtesy call to Carysfort to express his thanks, and probably relief, and commented that he wished “the Irish convents could pay off their debts so promptly.”
Despite her financial constraints, Dolorosa opened in 1966 a free 14-bed orthopaedic ward for poor physically disabled children. This was a service dear to her heart. She arranged with surgeons to give free services to these children. She also built ancillary staff quarters and two resident doctors’ houses, where the current Sisters’ convent is today. Individual Sisters and houses in Ireland were very generous in supporting the Kenya mission even in those pre-Vatican II days.
Negotiations were still going on with Misereor regarding the hospital extensions. In September 1965, Dolorosa herself went to Germany to visit Misereor. Her trip was not in vain. By August 1967, Misereor had negotiated a grant of DM 950,000 from the German Government on her behalf. She received news of the grant in the official German language; she did not have to wait for the English translation to come to know what it was about! The German grant through Misereor, comprised approximately 73% of the cost of the extensions, Dolorosa herself had to find the remaining 27%. November 1967 found Dolorosa in the U.S. soliciting for funds. She made history as the first woman to address Church congregations from the pulpit in the U.S. She must have been successful. The contract for the extensions was signed in December 1967.
Divine Providence and the Infant of Prague were particularly active in those latter years. One day, when the maternity wing was nearing completion, Mr. Abrahamson, the Danish Ambassador, was visiting a patient at the Mater. He asked about the new building. When it was explained to him that equipment was needed for it, he asked which was preferred, equipment or money? Dolorosa opted for the equipment. Later, when she received confirmation of the equipment donation to the value of DM 475,000, she wrote: “Your letter of 12 June 1968 has been one of the most pleasant surprises I have ever had . . . . I can assure you a great financial burden has been lifted by your extraordinary generous offer”. All that was required were lists of the equipment and furniture needed. Everything listed from baby cots, beds, mattresses, monitors, to tables and chairs, the lot, duly arrived by ship, with all charges paid. Both Misereor and the Danish Government were most generous friends to Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Nairobi. Later, but not in Dolorosa’s lifetime, Misereor wrote off repayment of their original loan.
God had other plans for Dolorosa. She was appointed the first Regional Superior in Kenya in July 1968. She handed over the administration of the hospital and the completion of the extensions to her successor, Sister Aquin Joseph O’Connell, but she still had the overall responsibility for it. The new maternity wing and the other extensions were blessed and opened by Archbishop McCarthy on 2 February 1971. Dolorosa was not physically but spiritually present. She got very seriously ill from cancer in June 1970 and had to return to her alma mater, Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin, for treatment, where she passed to her eternal reward on 14 August 1970. Her health had not been that robust. She got a severe bout of malaria in early 1960; she had major surgery in December 1961.
One day, Archbishop McCarthy remarked to Fr. Gerry Ellis CSSp.: “one of the best things I did in the twenty-five years of my office here, was to get the Mercies; that’s the best hospital in the country!”. The Mater School of Midwifery, Nairobi, admitted its first set of students in June 1972. The current Principal in the school is a Kenyan Sister of Mercy, Sister Maria Ngui. Over 1300 Kenya Registered Midwives have graduated from the school over the years. The Mater Hospital, Nairobi, has been the first hospital in East Africa to receive ISO (International Standardisation Organisation) certification. It will always be a monument to Dolorosa’s hard work, endless patience, great determination, and like Catherine McAuley, unfailing trust in Divine Providence.
St. Anne’s Primary School - 1960
Simultaneously with the building of the Mater Hospital, other buildings were also being undertaken by the Sisters of Mercy. Our Lady of Mercy Primary School, Shauri Moyo, was very soon unable to accommodate all the girls who wanted to get into it. So, in 1960, less than a kilometre away from O.L.M. Shauri Moyo in the very densely populated Eastlands area, St. Anne’s Primary School, built by the Sisters of Mercy, opened its doors to the education of more young, and not so young, African girls in those pre-Independence days. Very soon the Sisters of Mercy were educating more than a thousand girls in the heart of African Eastlands, Nairobi. Sister Eileen Byrne took responsibility in St. Anne’s Primary School.
Girls’ Secondary School, Lioki 1961
In 1961, Dolorosa was asked for Sisters to run a girls’ secondary school at Lioki, in Kikuyuland, towards Miguta area. She was considering it when the Precious Blood Sisters agreed to staff the school. She was ready to help if at all possible.
St. Mary’s School, Nairobi 1963 – 1967
For a brief four years, two Sisters taught in the primary section, at the then mainly European St. Mary’s School, Nairobi, run by the Holy Ghost Fathers, when they were experiencing staff shortages. However, they withdrew from there in 1967.
Huruma High School 1964
Many of the girls who finished their primary education in St. Anne’s and Shauri Moyo Primary schools got places in the very few prestigious girls’ secondary schools like Loreto, Limuru. There were and still are, not enough secondary schools to accommodate those who finish in primary schools, only about 30% get into secondary school, even today, 2003. However, the unsuccessful persistent trek of the unlucky girls of Our Lady of Mercy, Shauri Moyo, reached the Mercy heart of Sister Stella Maris McCormack, the then Headmistress at Shauri Moyo. “I got an idea,” she writes in her Memoirs, “Why not start a secondary school for them ourselves!”
Huruma High School admitted its first girl students in 1964, into a classroom at Shauri Moyo Primary. A few months later, the school moved to part of the Sisters’ Convent plot at Makadara. ‘Huruma’ is the Kiswahili word for ‘Mercy’.
Stella became the first Headmistress. Dolorosa advanced her some funds to get started. Stella then held a fundraising event. The late Tom Mboya, Minister for Planning and Economic Development in the new Kenya Government, insisted that the Sisters be reimbursed the funds already spent. The current President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, also helped to get funds for the school; he was then the local Member of Parliament. Stella was lucky; she met good people. There is still a Sister of Mercy, Scholasticah Nganda, on the staff of the school.
Machakos Teacher Training College 1968
Kenya got its Uhuru, Independence, in December 1963. The new Kenya Government decided to phase out the smaller teacher training colleges and expand the existing government ones. Mbooni was among those, which were phased out. Students from Mbooni area then had to go to the predominantly Protestant Machakos Teacher Training College. However, the first African Principal in Machakos College, Mr. Benjamin Kin’gori, requested that some of the Mbooni personnel be transferred to his college to look after the Catholic students there. On 8 September 1968, Sister Jacinta Galvin was posted by the Teachers Service Commission to Machakos College. Sister Magdalen de Pazzi Chandley went with her from Mbooni to form a Mercy community in a college staff house. Later, Sister Regina Murphy, who also served many years in Machakos college, reports that one of the Protestant missionary staff members “actually fainted with shock when Mr. Kin’gori announced a Catholic Sister’s pending arrival on the staff”; such bigotry then existed in Kenya in those days.
Jacinta remained on the staff there until her retirement in December 1991 when her long time companion, Regina Murphy, died suddenly there on 6 May 1991. However, Machakos was one of the places which was not a financial headache to Dolorosa.
First Regional Superior in Kenya 1968
The Dublin Mercy Region was formally set up in Kenya on 1 July 1968 when Dolorosa was appointed the first Regional Superior. Up to that she was the informal regional leader, coping with more or less direct rule from Carysfort over four thousand miles away. It was decided that the regional office should be in a separate location to other activities.
Dolorosa had the onerous task of finding a suitable place. Eventually she negotiated the purchase of Villa Maria property, Westlands in 1968, the current location of the provincial office.
Delegation was a strong feature of her system of operation. She left the responsibility for the development of their ministries to the Sisters involved, but gave them freedom, moral and financial support whenever and wherever she could. She was very much involved in overall decision-making and was the channel of communication between Dublin and Kenya. The Kenya mission was the first missionary endeavour of the Carysfort Sisters of Mercy. The success of that responsibility fell largely to Dolorosa. Sister Anna Mescal observes: she always consulted her small community about new ideas and proposals for the improvement of their mission. Yet, she never burdened the Sisters with her financial responsibilities. From 1969 onwards, she was helped in her role as regional leader by a regional council.
Her Last Foundation: Makueni 1970
Her last foundation was to be in the interior of Ukambani, in Makueni, approximately 140 kilometres south-east of Nairobi. Makueni was once rhino, leopard, buffalo country; it still is snake country. It is a very dry hot area, a famine prone area, when the rains fail. When the Bishop of Machakos, Raphael Ndingi Mwana ‘Nzeki, current Archbishop of Nairobi, approached Mother Gabriel on visitation in Kenya in October 1969, for two teaching Sisters to help re-organise a girls’ self-help secondary school, Dolorosa did not turn away. She and the two appointed teaching Sisters, Therese Noel Gallagher and Redempta O’Riordan, visited Makueni mission, two months later, having travelled about 90 kilometres of rough dry dusty twisting road, only to find a Church and a partly completed priest’s house on the compound. There was no sign of a convent or a secondary school. The infant school had been in a classroom of a Catholic sponsored primary school in a more inaccessible place about 12 kilometres away. It was decided that the school would transfer to the mission compound, and that again, the Sisters would stay in the priest’s house until Our Lady of Victories Convent was built. Over Christmas ‘a round of shopping was done by Dolorosa and the Sisters, and the house was equipped’. By then, Dolorosa’s health was failing. On the 11 January 1970, when the Sisters left Nairobi to go to their new home, Dolorosa was unable to accompany them. This was most unusual for her, as she always accompanied the Sisters to new foundations. There was no formal opening. The two Sisters simply came and settled down. Makueni Girls’ Secondary School opened the Church doors on 24 January 1970 to admit twenty-seven students, having only ten desks. More finances had to be got, and got they were. Like Mbooni, Makueni was another very staunch Protestant area. The older local A.I.C. pastor never greeted the Sisters when he passed up by the Convent on his way to his own house. However, with the success of the school, local antagonism got soon broken down. The school is now a very successful double stream girls’ boarding school, a leader in the heart of Ukambani. From 2002, a tarmac road passes quite near the school and convent gate. Unfortunately the Sisters of Mercy had to withdraw from Makueni in May 1998 due to shortage of personnel.
The Woman Dolorosa
Dolorosa was a big woman, not only physically; she also had a big heart, great vision and courage. Nothing daunted her. On first acquaintance some people, even Sisters, were a little in awe of her. She had a gruff exterior, but when people got to know her, they found her to be very kind and thoughtful.
She had a great love for her family, and was very sympathetic to anyone who had family anxieties. Sister Cecelia Hall notes that when she came to Kenya from newly amalgamated Athy in 1969, to where she knew nobody, Dolorosa many times picked her up from school in the evenings ‘just for a chat and to know how I was getting on”. Sister Dolorita Burke writes: one of greatest traits was that she didn’t send messages or messengers – she came in person, in joy and in grief. . . you left her feeling you were a valuable person, and you didn’t leave empty-handed! She often had to break sad news to Sisters when family members died. She dropped what she was doing, and had the Sister on the plane that night, having gone from office to office to get the required travel clearances of those days. In those pre-Vatican II days, when most Sisters went on the missions for life, Dolorosa arranged for the Sisters to have a holiday and rest back in Ireland, initially every five years. She also insisted that the Sisters went down to Mombasa to sea-level for a holiday each year. She often took the Sisters on picnics and outings away from the city.
She considered mission work and missionaries dear to God, to be helped in every way. She was especially kind to sick missionaries; not only did she send priests back better, but very often with enough money to keep them in good food for a few months. Makadara Convent and all the other Mercy convents were and still are, open houses to all missionaries. Her hospitality knew no bounds. When the Elphin Sisters of Mercy came to Kenya in 1962 to set up Mutomo Hospital, they first stayed at Makadara.
Dolorosa was a great cook. ‘The comfortable cup of tea’ was one of the highlights of the day, very often accompanied by her homemade scones, brown bread, or apple tart, a favourite with the priests. On Sisters’ feast days and other occasions, she often sent down cakes and goodies to where they worked – she anticipated people’s needs. Eileen Byrne remembers that she made a lovely trifle for the opening of Visitation Church. Unfortunately, one of the kitchen windows was left open the night before, so the trifle was sampled by a visiting cat; history does not relate what replaced it, but something did.
Even though she gave herself fully to Kenya, she remained an Irish woman at heart. She loved to hear news of her native country. She ‘devoured’ every word of the very often months’ old Irish newspapers that she could lay her hands on. Up to very recently a copy of the Sunday Independent, sometimes months later, came in her name to Villa Maria.
She had great devotion, as already noted, to Divine Providence, the Infant of Prague whose statue she had in her room, Our Lady and her Guardian Angel. In April 1956, shortly after her arrival in a strange country, she wrote: “we have all choir observances, but we had no lecture or chapter (of Faults !!), what shall I do about these?”
‘She didn’t suffer fools gladly’, writes Maire Ryan. Stella McCormack writes: ‘she took no nonsense’. Mary Lavelle observes: “she always enjoyed good fun, stories, entertainment especially on Feast days . . . (was) single-minded and was blessed with a wholesome spirituality”. She could be quite firm at times. When Stella wanted to publish a hymnbook to raise money for Mbooni Teacher Training College, Dolorosa would not allow her attach her name to it: “ the Holy Ghost Fathers would think that we didn’t appreciate their goodness to us!”
Under Dolorosa’s wise stewardship and direction, it became the tradition of the Dublin Sisters of Mercy to become self-supporting in Kenya. The teaching Sisters worked mainly in government schools where they could reach the poor, and also got government salaries, low as they were. The clinics and Mater Hospital gave allowances to support the Sisters working in them. Account books were kept in each house and ministry from the beginning. “Dolorosa did not like pots of tea thrown out!”, reports Cora Ferriter.
Dolorosa demanded and got great commitment from people. She was not popular with anyone who failed in this regard. She got on very well with people. She was known in Kenya as ‘Mama Mkubwa’, ‘Mother’, and ‘The Mother’. The clinic and later hospital staff, held her in high regard. She was very generous to the staff, even though some of them caused her trade union headaches.
She was a very competent administrator. Sisters had great admiration for her. Sister Magdalen Rafferty, who was also responsible for extensive additions to the Mater hospital, Nairobi in the early 1990s, recalls that “in perplexing and difficult situations, my instinct was to ask myself : ‘What would Dolorosa do in this case?’ - unfailingly, a broad kindly and practical solution came to mind”.
Dolorosa, as well as all her other responsibilities, was a very active member of the Executive Committee of the Association of the Sisterhoods of Kenya, A.O.S.K., which was just trying to get on its feet in her days. She was responsible for its Medical Services Committee.
She was a great pioneer. At 58 years of age, she left a comfortable hospital in Dublin to came to Kenya where she knew neither language nor terrain, where she did not have a home of her home for nearly three years, where she had to collect the means to build her own home and to provide services to the people of Kenya. Not only were she and her three companions the first Sisters of Mercy to go to Kenya, they were also the first religious to go to hostile territories both in the city and outside. She and Gerard were the first religious to set up clinics in and around Nairobi. She built the first interracial hospital amid subtle opposition, in the city of Nairobi. All the schools which the Sisters set up were, and still are, interracial and interdenominational, while at the same time maintaining a Catholic ethos. She paved the way and sponsored the education of many African women, who later held very responsible public positions in Kenya. She went to unchartered areas where she had to build convents, schools and clinics. She pioneered the education of girls and of women wherever she went. As Mary Lavelle remarks, “she followed in the footsteps of another great Dublin woman, Catherine McAuley”.
But there was one pioneer area, which she was unable to promote. It was not her fault not to have taken African girls into Mercy. Archbishop McCarthy, the great missionary that he was, had, however, one blind spot. He wanted all African girls interested in religious life directed to the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi, a local congregation that he himself set up. It was not until Cardinal Otunga’s time, starting in January 1976, twenty years after the arrival of the Sisters to Kenya, that Mercy began to admit Kenyan African girls into the congregation. However, it was in Dolorosa’s time that some Goan girls from Kenya, joined Mercy, four of whom are still in Mercy today. They however, came to Dublin for their formation. Today, November 2003, there are twenty perpetually professed and eleven temporary professed Kenyan Sisters in Mercy in Kenya.
When Dolorosa passed away to her eternal reward on 14 August 1970 at the age of 72, after fourteen years in Kenya, she left behind her in Kenya thirty-eight Sisters living in seven communities, ministering in:
- 3 primary schools
- 4 girls’ secondary schools
- 3 flourishing clinics, two of which had outstations attached
- 1 flourishing modern Mater Misericordiae Hospital
- 2 teacher-training colleges
- 1 girls’ secretarial college.
No small achievement for fourteen years of most generous selfless years of service!
Dolorosa was the truly valiant woman of Proverbs 31: 10: she (got up, at 5.10 a.m.) while it (was) still dark; her (Spouse’s) heart (had) confidence in her. She (set) her mind on a field, then she (bought) it…she (held) out her hands to the poor…she (was) clothed in strength and dignity…her (Sisters) stand up and proclaim her blessed…her works tell her praises at the city gate.
Thank God, for a brave and heroic woman, who loved God and gave her life that Faith and Mercy should take root and flourish in Kenya.
Special thanks to the following for their invaluable contributions to the preparation of this presentation: Mr. Kevin Waldron, Dolorosa’s nephew and godchild and the following Sisters of Mercy:
- Stanislaus Barry
- Dolorita Burke
- Eileen Byrne
- Frances Cassidy
- Cora Ferriter
- Monica Flaherty
- the late Jacinta Galvin
- Cecelia Hall
- Mary Lavelle
- Stella McCormack
- the late Albertus McHugh
- Anna Mescal
- the late Regina Murphy
- the late Consolata O’Keeffe
- the late Redempta O’Riordan
- Irene C. Pinto
- Magdalen Rafferty
- Maire Ryan.
Those Sisters, who have gone to their eternal reward, have left their memoirs behind in one form or another.
- Holy Ghost Fathers:
- Tom Meagher CSSp.
- Gerry Ellis CSSp.
- Tom McDonald CSSp.
- Ned Tiernan CSSp.
- Frank Comerford CSSp.