In recalling today this cherished name, Sister Mary of Mount Carmel, our hearts breathe forth feelings of regret equally painful as on the day, sadly memorable for us all, when we had the sorrow of closing the tomb on her much loved remains.
This ever lamented Sister in her long and difficult religious career was looked upon as one of the pillars of the Institute, having always taken an active part in its more important and disciplinary regulations. We cannot, therefore, content ourselves with an ordinary obituary notice. No, she who, by her virtues and goodness has acquired a claim to our respect, love and recognition, merits on our part a more distinguished, eloquent and lasting testimony of our inviolable attachment and filial love.
This too brief record is then, the respectful homage of our esteem and love for this virtuous Sister, whose memory we wish to preserve among the present and future members of this Institute which she loved so much and served with so much generosity, devotion and fidelity.
YOUTH AND NOVITIATE
Sister Mary of Mount Carmel, known as Ellen Byrne, was born in Halifax, February 12, 1846, of James Byrne and Ann O’Reilly. Her virtuous parents brought her up most carefully, she grew in the fear of God under the paternal roof, and the example of virtue that she imbibed in the midst of her respectable family, impressed on her soul a taste for the things of God that raised her above the things of earth.
Following the example of her two elder Sisters, at this time members of our Community and known as Sisters Mary of the Sacred Heart and Mary Francis Xavier, she abandoned the world to follow the Divine Master.
The doors of the Providence were gladly opened at the knock of the young aspirant, May 14, 1867, and her Superiors were not long in recognizing the high destinies of their little charge. The beautiful dispositions, the unequivocal marks of vocation that they observed her, caused them to admit with joy, this promising young postulant to the Holy Habit, November 19, the same year.
Her piety appeared to take a new flight and the fervent Novice was a constant subject of edification to the entire Novitiate, in the progressive exercise of all the virtues proper to her state: docility, charity, modesty, and piety.
At last the day shone forth for which she had longed all her life, this was August 27, 1869, when she bade farewell to the world to become the Spouse of Jesus Christ, under the name of Sister Mary of Mount Carmel.
ASSISTANT AT HOLYOKE MISSION
After four years of Religious Profession passed piously and actively, in the service of the poor and sick at the Mother House, our dear Sister whose solid virtues and business capabilities were unanimously recognized, was chosen Assistant for the new mission at Holyoke, Mass.
To every duty she devoted herself with great assiduity, never allowing the delicacy of her constitution to serve as an exemption from difficult labors. During her stay at this mission she rendered valuable assistance to the Local Superior in every detail. Always on foot, exercising vigilance that in time became proverbial and which made people maliciously say, that everything struck her little eye. Regardless of her scrutiny, she received in a thousand ways, the most sincere evidences of religious respect and confidence from all with whom she lived.
Being a member of the General Chapter, which had been convoked for the purpose of holding a General Election during the month of July, 1875, our little missionary assistant was called to Kingston and at the close of voting Sister Mary of Mount Carmel found herself raised to the very responsible office of General Treasurer of the Community. This important employment frightened the humility of our dear Sister, who was naturally of a modest and reticent character, while the business of her office necessitated intercourse with extern to a certain extent, she accepted it tremblingly, and renewed with ardor, in the depth of her soul, the entire oblation she had already made of her whole being to God.
The financial progress of the Institute soon became perceptible, and how could it be otherwise; full of confidence in God, she inclined her will and put herself to the work with all the devotion that distinguished her well-regulated life.
During her term of General Treasurer, Sister was sent twice to the mission of Holyoke, to supervise the erection of new additions and to make other extraordinary improvements. In all these business transactions she proceeded with that prudence and cautiousness so peculiarly hers, and to which may be attributed, in no small degree, the favorable issue of all she directed or undertook.
Sister Mary of Mount Carmel was one who always shared with her Superior the trials it pleased the Almighty hand to offer her Community from time to time, and it is well worth noting her, that she accepted in a truly religious spirit of resignation the bitter cup of affliction when presented, knowing well, that the cross has always been the portion of the children of God, and the powerful lever which sustains and animates all great works. Every Institution grows and develops itself in the shadow of this sacred wood. These green trees of religion could they flourish, could they shoot forth and extend their numerous branches, if they were not watered and nourished by the bitter waters of tribulations?
This was in 1881. The House of Providence was then twenty years in existence and formed already, by the grace of God, a considerable family. The grain of mustard seed planted by the Venerable and Most Illustrious E.J. Horan, our founder and guide, had providentially and marvelously increased.
This year the General Elections took place in the month of July as usual, and the vote of the members of the Chapter called to this post of honor and confidence, one who was fully conscious of the grave responsibility of governing and ruling with order and discipline, the subjects of such an Institution, and it was evident to those who made the choice, that they were placing at its head, a Superior, who to all the virtues which form the true and holy religious, joined talents and qualities that make the worthy Superior. Sister Mary of Mount Carmel was the only one that the choice did not satisfy; alarmed at the sight, and enormous weight of the burden with which she was charged, she grew disheartened and eagerly yearned for a release from the heavy responsibility. In fact, she determinedly set about obtaining her dismissal almost immediately, and to accomplish this, she repeatedly begged with great earnestness His Lordship, Bishop Cleary, to relieve her of the charge. But it was only after an administration of twenty-two months, that the resignation of our timid little Mother was accepted, and publicly announced during the Pastoral Visitation in 1883, which our Illustrious and ever interested Bishop held during the month of March, when the government of the Community passed into the hands of the mild and self-sacrificing Mother Mary John, of happy memory.
Still our worthy Sister did not rest in the shade as completely as she would have wished, on account of her appointment to the Office of General Secretary. Sister M. of Mount Carmel, aiming always at perfection, has left us in her writings a strong proof of her desire to have predominant the spirit of simplicity, humility and charity.
GENERAL ASSISTANT AND TREASURER
The death of our beloved Mother Mary John, occasioned a new election in the month of August, 1884. At this session Sister Mary of Mount Carmel was named General Assistant and Treasurer, from which period till her death she held the former, and it was particularly while she exercised the functions of this office, that her virtues rendered her forever worthy of the love and veneration of her Community, as well as those who have had the advantage of doing business with her. The consideration of which she has so justly been the object in the care of our Institute gives her right to the homage of an immortal remembrance by the Sisters of this Community.
In the difficult and varied employments that were confided to her, she was an accomplished model of what she ought to be. With great purity of purpose and loftiness of aim, did she invariably toil to fulfill the duties of a true daughter of St. Vincent de Paul. Her zeal in this particular was directed towards the poor already sheltered in the Institute.
Her exertions to increase the comfort and happiness of the aged and infirm, as well as those of the little orphans, were constant and generous. One of her favorite delights among the poor, was to provide a good substantial tasty meal, and go herself and serve these poor old creatures. In these services her spirit of faith was still more prominent, being well impressed with the truth that the poor were her Lords and Masters and should be served with respect, care and devotion.
By her respectful submission, regularity, and conduct our dear Sister, proved the profound esteem she professed for the perfect observance of our holy Rules and this religious love became still more striking towards the close of her life. Moreover, the uprightness and devotion with which she directed all her actions gave general edification.
Her fraternal charity manifested itself daily in her exquisite politeness towards all her Sisters, in the mildness with which she corrected or advised any one who came under her jurisdiction, as well as her goodness in pardoning the errors of others.
The piety of Sister Mary of Mount Carmel, was remarkable, but solid, and bore not mark of singularity; above everything, fidelity and punctuality in the common exercises was her first principle, and surely, on this point her example preached still more than her word.
While aiding in the functions of the administration, she also directed the care of the Chapel for some years, making it a particular study to adorn the Altar with exquisite taste and richness, and those privileged Sisters who learned the art under her supervision, now bear witness to the fact, that Sister Mary of Mount Carmel brought into her every act and movement around God’s Sanctuary, an admirable spirit of faith and a perfect modesty, and well may we believe, that in the fervor of her soul these words of the Psalmist frequently fell from her lips: “The beauty of Thy House, I have loved O Lord, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.”
Pious and prayerful, she spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament and entertained a singular devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Whatever were her occupations, her fatigues, or her sufferings, this true daughter of the Virgin, never allowed a day to pass without offering to Mary a testimony of love and filial piety.
ILLNESS AND DEATH
Sister Mary of Mount Carmel’s emaciated form, excessive weakness, and absolute disrelish for nourishment, even for the daintiest preparation, gave rise to much alarm in our circle, at the dread thought that our little Assistant would not be long in our midst.
In spite of these grave apprehensions, the Superior General was forced to burden her with the government of the Community, a circumstance which was very afflicting; knowing the mental anguish such a charge would cause her dear and ever faithful Assistant. But Mother was obliged to spend the greater part of this year 1892, at the mission in Holyoke, for the purpose of quelling disturbance and various other annoyances fomented on account of a question between our Archbishop and Rt. Rev. Bp. O’Rielly of Springfield, Mass. of separating the Houses of that diocese from this Mother House in Kingston.
A few weeks after her release from this responsibility she was sent to the Infirmary and in addition to her former infirmities, a cruel contraction of the brain quickly reduced her to the last painful extremity.
Her patience, resignation, and submission never failed her for an instant in the midst of the intense pains to which she was a prey.
On the morning of August 21, 1892, the fourth day of our annual retreat and just one month after her entrance to the Infirmary, our cherished Sister peacefully rendered her beautiful soul to God. From that valley of tears where she endured a large share of affliction she passed smilingly to the abode of eternal repose and happiness.
Sister Mary of Mount Carmel was sincerely regretted and mourned, one of the columns of our Institute had fallen, chief among the lights of the Community was extinguished, a devoted faithful Assistant was dead!
The requiem services were chanted in the Convent Chapel, that Chapel she so often adorned and where she prayed and wept. The remains were conveyed to St. Mary’s Cemetery where she sleeps in peace under the constant regard of our filial remembrance. Perfect religious though she was, fervent must be our prayers for her eternal repose, she may still need our help, for bright is the light that may shine forever.
Ah, beloved Sister Assistant, shall we ever forget you, you who have struggled with us so long here below! Enjoy sweet repose, with the ineffable goodness that your works and virtues have obtained for you! Continue to us, the good offices of your maternal tenderness, and receive our feeble tribute of sincere, grateful and faithful love!
May she rest in peace and pray for us in heaven. Amen.
REQUIESCAT IN PACE.