Sr Mary Catherine Maguire, F.D.C.
Ist vows: 10th January 1957
Final Vows: 27th August 1963
Died: 20th July 2022
Sr Catherine was born, Annie Maguire in Ballyshannon, Donegal, Ireland. She was the seventh of eight children. Both her parents worked in the family pharmacy in the town and her Aunty looked after the family. She was educated by the Mercy Sisters in Ballyshannon, unlike her older siblings who attended Boarding Schools run by religious in the neighbourhood. She loved her Irish heritage, although she was a reluctant Gaelic speaker. She took some of the Sisters to visit her hometown and her relatives and enjoy the wonders of the green Isle which we fell in love with. She could play the fiddle and dance an Irish jig. She enjoyed taking her home leave with her family, siblings and later her nephews and nieces who called her Aunty nun. She was also proud of her Britishness and over the years there was no trace left of her Irish accent.
Sr Catherine came to Chesterfield to become a student teacher, but became a postulant there in January 1955. She was clothed in Swaffham in January 1955 and Sr Thomas More joined her in the Novitiate in August 1955. They both went to Vienna in 1963 to make their final vows, together with six other Sisters from the Congregation.
Sr Catherine was a good religious with high moral principles, good manners and a strong sense of justice and fairness. She was certainly a strong minded lady and when she drew herself up to her full height looked quite an imposing lady.
She was a great and loyal friend to many of the Sisters but particularly her fellow novice, Sr Thomas More, whom she had known for 64 years. Sr Catherine was renowned for not being overly demonstrative and did not like the traditional greetings of hugs. She had a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality and was an authoritative figure. She was a lady with strong views and leadership powers. She was Superior of the Sacred Heart Community in Swaffham for 18 years. She lived at St Joseph’s Convent, Chesterfield for a total of 35 years. Her direct but pleasant manner left one in no doubt as to what was required and what needed correcting. Sr Jacinta, another good friend, shared the Superior-ships between them for 26 years but always kept the same tasks in the Community.
She was a naturally tidy and orderly person and could not understand the more creative, expressive and untidy soul. She would regularly say: ‘When are you going to tidy up your room? What do you need all that stuff for? Do you know that there is a Jumble Sale next week and you could get rid of anything that you do not need.’
To Sr Catherine her vow of poverty came naturally. She was always conscious of the cost of things and would ask ‘How much did that cost? Do you really need that?’ She was good with the Convent finances. In the days when banks gave interest she got the optimum rate by switching investments. She had one personal weakness regarding money and that was concerning items with a plug on it. She saved her £25 budget to buy items like a good quality CD player. Her old radio cassette player is still in use.
Sr Catherine was an excellent teacher, a natural, but she did not acknowledge that quality and always said that her preferred option was to have run a sweet shop. Indeed, toffees and chocolates were her greatest weakness. Strangely enough when she caught covid recently her desire for sweet treats disappeared and she was grateful for that but she still enjoyed her ice-cream treats.
Sr Catherine volunteered to teach at St Mary’s Primary School when no one else would take up Canon Ryan’s challenge. She went from teaching around 20 senior girls in our Independent School to a class of 54 mixed ability pupils. She took it all in her stride and coped really well with the help of her partner – teacher, Mary Carrol, and the postulant known as Sister Diana. She found her own unique way of managing this diverse group. She would hear two children, one either side of her, read simultaneously and would say an encouraging ‘yes’ or ‘hmm’ to them at frequent intervals. Art was not her subject but, ever resourceful, she borrowed Sr Thomas More’s art work and showed the children these and they copied them, just like the great masters had done. The resulting art work was good. Organising 54 pupils to paint at their desks took great skill and delegation. She had the more able and quicker students marking work and organising all aspects of her well run class. As a postulant, Sr Diana – so called by Canon, was her companion at that time and she looked after her with a motherly no-nonsense attitude. It was a symbiotic relationship as Diana had previously worked in a state school and had known Sr Catherine since she was 8 years old.
An amazing ability with mental arithmetic, probably drummed into her by the Mercy Sisters at her school in Ballyshannon, meant that she could tally lists of figures correctly in super time. She was a match for some of her highly gifted pupils whose IQ’s were off the scale of teacher based assessments. Sr Catherine was trained as a Primary Teacher at Coloma Catholic College, London and took Geography as her specialist subject but was really interested and knowledgeable about History, particularly the war years. She was also intrigued by crime movies and when she watched television this was her chosen subject.
Once Sister Catherine had put her mind to a task she would persevere and move out of her comfort zone. She trained to be a life-guard at the Sacred Heart School in Swaffham and would diligently practise retrieving a brick from the bottom of the pool and rescuing live bodies. Many of the staff remember her Life Saving Test when she saved the acting drowning teacher by nearly throttling her by grabbing her around the neck. She was a good sound, predictable swimmer and enjoyed holidays abroad by the sea at Convents belonging to our Sisters.
She had a phase when she thought that serious exercise would be good for her health. She was not overweight but she was a large imposing lady. She is remembered by staff as going to the Club for serious exercise dressed in shorts and top and wearing her veil. She always had a gadget with a plug on, in the Convent for exercising, like a treadmill or a stationary bicycle. In her latter years it was only a foot machine. Her staying power was extraordinary reminding one that if you put your hand to the plough, you do not turn back.
Sr Catherine was an independent thinker and said what she thought. She was very capable with the use of words, difficult crosswords being a favourite pastime, but did not like putting pen to paper, if figures were not involved. She learnt how to touch type along with pupils at the Sacred Heart and learnt to be amazingly quick at typing in a short space of time. She was the star pupil of the class. It was a sight to behold watching her type without looking down at her fingers but with her face set to her left side following the document. She was often called upon to type up notes from meetings before the days of computers. As she was sometimes impetuous and did not read instructions, she managed to wipe her first laptop clear within the first hour and had to return it to the shop to have the software magically restored. She was not afraid of new technology but was not overly keen on mobile phones.
She loved walking on the level forested ground and sandy beaches in Norfolk and striding out on the beautiful landscapes of moorland and dales in Derbyshire. It was not unknown for her to walk so many miles with her companion that they could not remember where they had left the car. Once, they had to hitch a lift home and then retrace their steps to find the car.
Sr Catherine was a great companion on holidays and was the organiser of trips to foreign countries. Many of us enjoyed walking and swimming adventures with her. It was always interesting, fun and relaxing. She always maintained that she needed the sunshine to build up her resistance for the cold foggy days of our English winters.
Sister needed her strength because she worked hard all her life almost until the time when she fell and broke her hip in January 2022. As well as teaching, looking after Boarders and managing the finances she also cleaned the school buildings in the holidays. In her first few years she also cleaned the classrooms after school with Sr Thomas More. In her early years working many hours spring cleaning the school which meant a thorough cleaning as well as decorating classrooms. She was not averse to the unpleasant jobs such as drains. She was definitely a Martha rather than a Mary.
Sister Catherine had a solid down to earth faith which she practised more with her actions than vocalising her faith. She was not one for flights of fantasy. Sr Thomas More recalls as a novice she was asked to prepare a meditation. After reading her reflection for two minutes she stopped and Sr Teresa, her Novice Mistress, said: ‘Carry on Sister’, to which she replied, ‘I have finished’. Later in her life she undertook to gain more spiritual insight into creative meditations by having a well-known Mercy Sister lead her with St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. She managed the hours meditations and reporting on how it felt to be in the gospel scene with Jesus. This was a spiritual hurdle that she willingly undertook. As with all things she was faithful to her prayers, recollection days and retreats. Her holiness was of a simple nature: she was a humble soul and did not think of herself as of any particular importance and she was always ready to say sorry when she failed or upset anyone. She was also a peacemaker in the Community.
Her death was a very peaceful one in hospital, she slipped away to join her bridegroom while the Sisters recited rosaries at her bedside, having had the last rites and the apostolic absolution. Her Parish Priest, Fr Adrian was at her bedside shortly before she died. Sr Catherine was always very grateful to those who helped her, particularly Sr Jacinta and Sr Mary, during the long months she suffered through her hip injury trying to regain her strength and willing herself to walk.
Sr Catherine, a lady of great practical talents and human perception, will be greatly missed in our diminishing Vice Province, but always in our hearts and prayers. It is hoped that she will put our case forward for more vocations for the Daughters of Divine Charity when she meets her Bridegroom face to face. May she rest in peace and reap her heavenly reward, Amen
Sr Mary Francis Ridler, F.D.C.
(with input from the Sisters, staff and friends)