I was one of 10 children and born at home in Kildangan, Co Kildare in May 1940. My father was a soldier and later worked in Bórd na Móna in Kilberry. We lived beside my grandmother who was blind. We had a good relationship and I spent a lot of time with her in the evenings. I would read to her from the newspaper as well as from the Africa and The Far East magazines. We prayed the rosary and the 30 day’s prayer together. My Grandmother was a very contented person and I never heard her complain.
Eilish Whelan rsm
I attended the local school where we had very good teachers. I left school after completing my primary certificate. When writing essays at school I expressed a wish to become a nun, though I had never met one. My teacher asked me if I was serious about this and I confirmed that I was. She told the local Parish Priest who in turn informed my mother. My mother and Grandmother were very pleased to hear this news. He offered to introduce me to the Sisters in Carlow. My expectation was that I would be educated by the Sisters. This did not happen and I was sent to Lady Lane in 1953 to the Sisters of Charity in Waterford for two years. When I reached the age of 15 I was ready to enter with the Sisters of Mercy in Carlow. This did not happen however as I was still too young. I was sent back to Waterford for six months and then transferred to Temple Hill to train as a Nanny.
While I was there my mother asked me about my future plans and I told her that I hoped to enter with the Sisters in Carlow. She advised me to make contact again to let them know that I was still interested. My mother accompanied me to St. Leo’s Convent where we met the Sister in charge. My request was granted and I was given a date to enter. I joined the Sisters of Mercy on the 22nd August, 1956. My first night in the Convent I was very happy that I had arrived at last! My companions entered on the 24th of September on Mercy Day. I did not join them at prayer or at recreation, and instead remained with the Sisters who worked in the kitchen. I was confused by this and wondered what was wrong with me? I overheard one Sister explain to another Sister that she was a “Lay” Sister. It was only then I realised that I too was a Lay Sister. I worked in the kitchen at the boarding school. In 1957, I was received as a Novice and was given the name: Sr. Sarto. In August 1960 I made First Profession. That year I was sent to Monasterevin to replace a Sister who was dying. In 1961 I was transferred to Graiguenamanagh Convent. I experienced a great sense of fulfilment in my work here, as I cared for Sisters who were sick or dying and for people in need.
St. Leo’s Convent of Mercy, Carlow
In 1969 I was transferred back to St. Leo’s in Carlow to work in the kitchen of the boarding school. After Vatican II, new changes came about in religious life. Pope John the XXIII eliminated the distinction between Lay Sisters and other Sisters. There was an emphasis on education for all Sisters. There was an appeal for Sisters to volunteer for the African missions. I volunteered to go, but as I did not have any formal education, unfortunately I could not go. I began my formal education and did my O Levels through distance learning with a London University. I reached the required standard of education. I did my nurse training in Lewisham Hospital in London followed by Midwifery in Sidcup in Kent.
When I was in the UK I came across various individuals who wanted to talk to me about their faith. I felt ill equipped to have these conversations and I joined the Catholic Pentecostal Movement. When I joined this movement it helped me to wake up to God’s love for me. One day at work a patient said to me “you are in love nurse”. I knew that I was and was acutely aware of God’s love for me.
I was part of a prayer group led by a lay man. I experienced the gift of tears though I was not crying! I had several of these types of experiences until it occurred to me that I had a desire to join a monastic community. I was advised to contact the Dominican Sisters in Glasgow and I spent 2 weeks with them. I was half way through my midwifery training so I decided to complete my studies. On returning to Carlow after completing my nurse training I informed the Sister in Charge of my desire for monastic life.
On March 25th, 1978 I transferred to the Cloistered Dominican Sisters in Glasgow. The rhythm of life appealed to me greatly, prayer and work were synchronised into each other. I made solemn vows in March 1980 and I experienced great happiness. When I was on retreat in 1986 during confession a Priest said to me “I have a message for you”. He told me to leave the Dominicans and that there was a call within a call for me, and that I would know what to do. As I saw it, I had already responded to a “call within a call”. After several days of discernment I felt compelled to leave. The Priest said he would meet me in Ireland and that I would be guided from there. After some time in prayer and reflection I chose to re-enter and was accepted back into the Sisters of Mercy. I met with the Priest again during my time in Novitiate. He again advised me to enter a contemplative order. I decided against it and remained in Mercy.
My mother became ill and I went home to take care of her until she died. On completion of my Novitiate I went to the Sacred Heart Hospital in Carlow. I did a reflexology course and set up a clinic at our house in Pinewood on my days off from the hospital. I then completed a counselling course. I moved from Carlow to St. Teresa’s Gardens, Dublin in 1997. I was asked to work with children who were troubled in the local school. I loved this work and I am on the school board of Scoil Treasa. I am still involved in Bethany Support Group in Donore Parish.
I am grateful for the experiences that life has offered me. Whatever God wills for me is my wish: “May God’s will be done”.
Eilish Whelan rsm