Sr Carmel dedicated her life to educating children

The late Sr Carmel O’Leary had a number of key anchors – her faith, her family, education and music.
Image source: RIP.ie

VERY warm and genuine tributes have been paid to the late Sr Carmel O’Leary, a hugely respected member of the Mercy Order who dedicated over 40 years of her life to educating and caring for thousands of children in Killarney.

She was remembered with great fondness and admiration at her Requiem Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral this morning where the principal celebrant, Fr Jim Lenihan, was joined on the altar by Bishop of Kerry, Ray Browne, Fr Nicholas Flynn, Fr Ger Godley, Fr Eamonn O’Driscoll, OFM, and Franciscan Friary Guardian Br Pat Lynch.

A native of Gneeveguilla, Una O’Leary became Sr Carmel when she joined the Mercy Order and she went on to become one of the most innovative, valued and effective educators in the town for four decades and more.

Fr Lenihan said Sr Carmel, who passed away last Tuesday in Our Lady of Fatima Home in Tralee, lived a long and fruitful life and, through her commitment and dedication, so many people received so many blessings.

Sr Carmel with then Mayor of Killarney, Cllr Michael Gleeson, at a civic reception to mark the 170th anniversary of the Mercy Order in 2014

Symbols brought to the altar to celebrate Sr Carmel’s life included a family photograph, her office book, a roll book from the Holy Cross Mercy National School, a CD to mark her passion for music and an image of the Divine Mercy which is symbolic of her extraordinary faith.

The congregation heard that her devotion to God affected all of her activities, including her work. She had a real love for education and her aim in life was to ensure that every young girl and boy she taught would become the best version of themselves they could be.

Sr Carmel taught in the Mercy Convent National School, later to become Holy Cross, from 1949 to 1980 and she was principal there from 1980 until her retirement in 1991.

In a wonderful eulogy, Sr Carmel’s niece, Ursula Coffey, who is the current principal of Holy Cross Mercy National School, said her aunt was born in the 1920s, the youngest of nine children.

In her formative years, she had a number of key anchors – her faith, her family, education and music – which guided her through the difficulties the world was experiencing at a time when Europe was in turmoil between two World Wars.

Sr Carmel (front row, second from right) with her fellow Mercy Sisters in 2014. Back, from left, Sr Rose O’Donoghue, Sr Joan O’Sullivan, Sr Eileen Courtney, Sr Catherine Courtney with, front from left, Sr Perpetua Cahillane, Sr Regina Hickey, Sr Colette Dennehy, Sr Dolores Aherne, Sr Carmel and Sr Pius O’Brien.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

She became a qualified teacher and entered Holy Cross Convent in Killarney and she never expected to see home again which was the way it was in religious life at the time.

Ursula said Sr Carmel was a force of nature, a perfectionist with great organisational skills and family was hugely important to her. In her teaching career, she was especially passionate about the importance of education for girls and it was considered somewhat revolutionary in the early 1970s when she left the classroom for a year to study catechetics in Dundalk.

“She spent 40 years in education and she was always innovative in her teaching as were the sisters of the time. They were often way ahead of what was happening in many other schools,” she said.

Sr Carmel O’Leary (left) and Sr Pius O’Brien sign the distinguished visitors’ book in Killarney Town Hall in 2014

Ursula remembers her aunt as a fantastic mimic and an engaging storyteller who was gifted with an exceptional talent for music, drama and choreography and, in collaboration with Rena Kennelly from Killarney, she created and produced a number of legendary talent shows for the Tops of the Town talent show back in the day when it was the entertainment highlight of the year in Killarney.

She said Sr Carmel was always eloquent and she was a great orator who was always willing to share her skills in that regard.

Predeceased by her parents, Charles and Mary, siblings Sr Teresa, John Joe, Margaret, Sr Annunciata, Sr Margaret Mary, Eithne, Cormac and Fr Padraig, Sr Carmel is lovingly remembered by the Mercy Sisters, her nephews, nieces, grandnephews, grandnieces, great-grandnephews, great-grandnieces, other relatives and many friends.

She was laid to rest today in Aghadoe Lawn Cemetery, Killarney.