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 imposing.
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 them. 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.
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 lifeguard 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 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.
Her death on July 20 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
Text: Sr Mary Francis Ridler, F.D.C. (with input from the Sisters, staff and friends)