Sunday, 8 January 2017

Eileen O'Connor 1892 - 1921

January 7-8, 2017
Epiphany of the Lord

Eily Rosaline (Eileen) O'Connor (1892-1921), religious was born on 19 Feb 1892 at Richmond, Melbourne, eldest of four children of Irish parents Charles Fergus O'Connor, clerk, and his wife Annie,  née Kilgallim. She died on 10 January 1921 of chronic tuberculosis of the spine and exhaustion.

Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor co-founder, Eileen O'Connor, was permanently crippled by a fall that broke her spine when aged three. Despite many operations, she was permanently crippled and suffered acute pain throughout her short life.

With limited education and no formal theological formation, Eileen embodied a distinctive spirituality marked by a devotion to Our Lady and her own willingness to bear a lifetime of pain and suffering. Her beautiful spirit inspired people to seek her guidance and prayers. She listened to them, understood their problems and gave wise advice. 

The plight of the sick poor was especially close to Eileen, whose family had been plunged into precarious financial circumstances following the death of her father in 1911.

In 1915, Eileen O'Connor spent several months traveling throughout France, Ireland, and Italy, including a memorable audience with Pope Benedict XV, before returning to Australia. Despite her growing disabilities and constant pain, Eileen continued to guide the work of the fledgling society from her bed.

She died on 10 January 1921, aged just 28, at Our Lady's Home, Coogee, trusting 'the work' to her constant companion, Theresa (Cissie) McLaughlin.


Every morning for almost 16 years, the community at Our Lady's Home walked to nearby Randwick cemetery to recite the rosary at Eileen's graveside.

In 1936, the community gained permission to re-inter Eileen's casket in her former bedroom, which had been converted into a chapel. Mr. W. J. Dixon of Darlinghurst Funeral Directors later made this statement about the events of that day:

After the exhumation at the cemetery, the unopened casket was taken to our Funeral Chapel at 347 Anzac Parade, KKingsford where a large number of Our Lady's Nurses for the poor awaited us. The Nurses asked me to open the sealed lead casket and remove the inner pine lid.

This was done, and I was startled to see Eileen O'Connor lying there as though asleep in her simple blue gown, her hair lying naturally down each side of her face, and her hands joined on her breast. The skin appeared slightly dark and the eyes seemed a little sunken, but, not having the good fortune to know her in life, I could not know if this was natural.

Our Lady's Nurses then gathered around the open casket and appeared not in the least surprised at seeing the "Little Mother" as they last saw her 16 years earlier. The Nurses rested rosary beads on the Little Mother's hand for a few seconds. 

A prayer for Eileen O'Connor's beatification received approbation by His Eminence Cardinal Norman Gilroy in 1962:  

O God, Who raised up your servant Eileen to enrich Your Church with a New Congregation devoted to the spiritual and corporal assistance of the sick and dying poor, grant that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she may be honoured with the privilege of Beatification by Our Holy Mother the Church. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

In 1974, congregational leader Sister May McGahey wrote to His Eminence Cardinal James Freeman asking for approval to instigate proceedings for beatification. His Eminence Cardinal Edward Clancy gave permission for the preliminaries to proceed to a diocesan process in 1990.