It was Sr. Lucy Bello, the FMDM Regional Leader in Nigeria who made this announcement: “We the FMDM family Nigeria, regret to announce the death of Sr. Finbarr Clancy, FMDM, who served as a missionary in Nigeria Yola/Jalingo dioceses, for 57 years. She died at 2.15 pm in our Motherhouse, Ladywell Convent, UK, today, the 21st of April, 2022”. With this, the news spread like wildfire in Nigeria, jolting many who hold Sr. Finbarr in very high esteem and appreciate her decades of selfless service, especially to the poor.

Since the news of her passing, so much has been said about Sr. Finbarr. At a requiem Mass in Yakoko on the 27th of May, encomiums and eulogies from the clergy, lay men and women and youths who knew Sr. Finbarr personally were not in short supply. The Bishop of Jalingo, Most Rev. Charles Hammawa, renamed the polio centre founded by Sr. Finbarr as “Sr. Finbarr Special Education Centre”. I am here in Ladywell representing many in Nigeria who would have loved to be here, to bring to the religious and biological families of Sr. Finbarr our condolences, even as we celebrate the well-lived life of a missionary colossus, who for 57 years kept giving especially to the poor without counting the cost.

Like many others in Nigeria, I am a major beneficiary of fruitful missionary work by the FMDM sisters whose immense support I experienced as an altar boy, a priest, a Bishop and now as an Archbishop. I told Her Excellency, Sile Maguire, the Irish Ambassador to Nigeria, visiting me recently, that I was coming for this burial, as a way of paying homage to a great soul, and other FMDM sisters like Sr. Breda Foley, gone to their eternal home; also to meet some of the retired missionaries whose lives poured like a libation remain a great inspiration, and to acknowledge the gallant efforts of the thirty expatriate sisters still living who served in Nigeria.

For the departed, we are consoled that death is no longer a master since Christ has in His hands the keys of the kingdom of death (cf. Rev. 1:18). Death has been swallowed up and destroyed (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54) and Christ assures that He will prepare a place for us (cf. Jn. 14:3), so that where He is; we shall also be, because He is the resurrection.

Each time on my computer I wanted to type “Sr. Finbarr Clancy” my computer would instead come up with “St. Finbarr Clancy,” convincing me that like Prophet Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 1:4-9), Sr. Finbarr, who chosen and consecrated as a religious and sent to Nigeria, came, saw, served and sowed good seeds among the poor, the sick, the prisoners, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the youth, by the standard of Matthew 25:31-46 is now in heaven, and will tell Jesus about the situation of the poor in Nigeria and the security challenges Nigeria is facing.

“Suffering and smiling” is the title of a song by a late famous Nigerian musician, and the sentiment describes the disposition of Sr. Finbarr and her FMDM sisters in those more difficult early years of missionary work when Sr. Berard Clay had to hunt with her rifle to provide guinea fowls for dinner and rode on horseback to go places.

I began experiencing the generosity and friendly disposition of the FMDM sisters as a teenager during their medical outreach to our minor seminary in Jauro Yinu. Some of us were happy to escape especially Latin class, and the sisters knew this, and would apply a generous dose of calamine lotion even on the stomach on those who were pretending they were sick. I have not forgotten the motherly affection shown me in 1977 in my lonely days in Lafia, during my first apostolic work, when Sr. Theresa O’Sullivan and Kitty Cashman returning from Jos stopped to greet me. Sr. Angeline Lim in Yakoko spent time writing out for me a recipe for cooking when I got my first appointment in 1982 as a parish priest to Bare. Sr. Helena McEvilly helped me a great deal to put order in my office files in Jos. Every Christmas we looked forward to a lovely party organized in Yakoko by the FMDM sisters which brought priests and sisters together to enjoy delicious food under the culinary expertise of Sr. Celsus. Srs. Kathy, Dorothy and Helena worked with me as Health Coordinators of Jos Archdiocese with the same efficiency and quality as the FMDM sisters did in the Yakoko clinic, where patients including Fulani Muslims from far and near, came. The sisters were so well known that the children thought every white person was a sister. Late Fr. Colin Fives, OSA, told the story of arriving in Yakoko to take possession of his parish when the local children saw him and waved frantically, “welcome sister,” and he retorted, “I am not a sister”.

The famous Women Teachers’ College in Sugu was a major contribution by the FMDM to women empowerment in the then Gongola State and beyond. In Jos where the sisters currently run their Postulancy programme, they engage in prison ministry, children in the remand home and promote dialogue, peace and reconciliation through the Damietta Peace Initiative in, the face of inter-ethnic, inter-religious and political challenges in Nigeria.

In 2019 Sr. Finbarr sent me a card:

“I entered FMDM on our Lady’s birthday on 8th September, in the Holy Year 1950 – 69 years ago today and I am still here!”

Now that she is not here, may she see God face to face and enjoy the company of our Blessed Mother, the Angels and the Saints (cf. Rev. 21). May the soul of Sr. Finbarr and all departed FMDM sisters rest in perfect peace.

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