Sr Christopher Mary Callan
Sr Christopher was born in 1920 and hailed from the town of Boyle
Long ago “small ads” were very evident in all local newspapers, after all, there was no Facebook or any of the other ways of getting information, so many people used the “small ads” with their box number.
In early September 1966 I put a small ad into the local Westmeath Independent. In this ad I said, “Person going to Maynooth College to do HDip would like to hear from car sharing people also going to Maynooth College” and provided a box number for replies. I got three replies, Beda Heavey (who passed away three weeks ago), Louis Walshe, a young student in the Marist College in Athlone and Sr Christopher Mary Callan from the Bower Convent in Athlone.
We made up a quartet. I brought the car on each occasion but the others shared the petrol expenses. Early in October 1966 we set off on our educational odyssey to Maynooth College which, in that year, had opened its gates to applicants from outside its regular priestly audience. The course we embarked on was a higher diploma in education. Those four evenings a week journeys to Maynooth were when all of us got to know one another very well. We sat together in the lecture hall under the careful and watchful eye of Bráthar O’Súilleabháin. We got wonderful rigorous education.
Sr Christopher herself, who was born in 1920, hailed from the town of Boyle. The Callan name is well known there in legal circles. Her family are well respected solicitors. Sr Christopher was a late vocation. She fully qualified and practiced as a well-known and renowned solicitor prior to her entering, as a novice, into La Sainte Union. La Sainte Union itself was a French order which arrived in Athlone in 1884 – the same year as the Marist Brothers had also arrived from France. The Mercy Order had been in Athlone since the 1850s.
Coming home in the car each night from Maynooth, we went over the lectures we had each attended that day and we discussed what had been discussed in class. In fact, we performed our own in-house tutorial within the car, or should I say in-car tutorial. In that way, we each did our study and benefited from the close proximity of the four of us in that “car of learning”.
Sr Christopher went on to become the principal of both the Bower Boarding School and the Bower Day Secondary School in Athlone. Later, she was to be responsible for the amalgamation of both of those branches of learning. In the ensuing years, I met her on and off and we always talked about our earlier days on the roads going to Maynooth. The Bower Convent is known, not just in Ireland, but worldwide. There are so many women in Ireland and Europe and, indeed, further afield who had cause to mourn Sr Christopher when she died on February 22nd, and who have fond memories of her as their mentor in school over the years.
Later in my career, when I became Minister for Education, she and I had many conversations together in which she freely gave of her wise advice and counsel to me, and I have strong reasons to remember so much of what she said, on and off, during that time, to me.
Yes, she was a formidable female, imbued as she was with her legal certainty and knowledge, but she was more than that. She was a kind woman who carefully guided all those young minds over whom she was in charge.
I am told she used her legal knowledge on many occasions when there were difficult and sticky situations to be resolved. But, above all, she was a kind person, imbued with her religious calling but, mostly imbued with tolerance and faith towards all with whom she was in charge.
In 1971 she joined the Church Marriage Tribunal and was a very valued member of that august body. She also, at one time, was appointed provincial superior of her order.
The stories are legion about Sr Christopher and I could add so many to them but, to me, she was the young, shy, composed woman who was our companion on those journeys to Maynooth all those years back in 1966.
My sympathies go to the Callan family and to her community of sisters in La Sainte Union.
Sr Christopher Mary was truly an icon. May she rest in peace.
– MARY O’ROURKE