It is appropriate to be reviewing this book on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. This is the day the Universal Church remembers the dedication of the Church which was built by the Emperor Constantine to house the True Cross upon which Our Lord was crucified. His mother, Helena, found it in 326AD. An excellent history of this miraculous discovery can be found here.
Eileen O’Connor was a woman who, like Blessed Margaret of Costello, had a spinal deformity and was short.. very short. Shorter than my 10 yr old daughter is at the moment.
Eileen was bedridden and in extreme pain for most of her life. She was publicly defamed and rejected by the Church authorities at the time. She suffered for the priestly ministry. She birthed a group of Religious Sisters who were committed to nursing the “poor, and the poor only”, with great pain and adversity. But that is the “Cross” part.. it is important to remember the “Triumph” part too.
She founded a religious congregation. She had visions of Jesus and Mary. She is incorrupt. Her Sisters called her “Little Mother”. She had many who not only loved her, but loved her with great affection and dedication. Her sisters walked every day for 15 years after her death from their home to her graveside and said the Rosary. Every day in rain, hail or shine, until they could have permission to have her body interred in their chapel. I don’t know of anyone ever doing that even for a spouse.
“I felt that her outstanding conformity and love for the Holy Will of God were beyond describing. All who met and spoke with Eileen felt that she lived in constant union with Jesus and Mary, and that they were helping her in all undertook, worked and prayed for. God and His Holy Will, we gladly repeat, meant everything to her.” Srs Madrid & Carey OLNP
For a wonderful, 8 minute overview of her life, check out this video .
Reading Eileen’s life is very challenging, as I struggle constantly to run away from suffering and make my life as comfortable as possible. She was no coward, and my own cowardice in the face of such heroic virtue is cause for a lot of personal reflection. It was a hard, short life she lived, but which does not translate well onto the written page. How can those who knew her describe her as exceptional, peaceful, joyful, large-hearted and kind, yet struggle to pass that on to others with words? Words like these from the co-founder, Fr McGrath:
“Instinctively you felt that she was chosen for great things, and the more she tried to hide it, the more eloquent it became.” from ‘ A Life of Little Mother’
It is like I think, perhaps, the feeling I had at Randwick Racecourse with Saint JP2. It is something you experience that goes beyond words and touches your heart, and perhaps this was Eileen’s gift to them, and to this world.
Perhaps Eileen herself should have the last word:
“God is very wonderful, very grand, very powerful, very loving.
His works are wonderful.
His love is love.
To give, to do, to save, to ease pain, sorrow, suffering;
but, above all and before all,
to love with a great love.”
Many of the works that have been written about her are listed here. This includes her own writings which include “The Month of God” from which the above quote is taken. This was a series of meditations written by Eileen for her nurses as they ministered to the sick poor in the Sydney area. She was very mindful of the need to minister to her nurses as they went out onto the streets each day to care for those living in squalid conditions. They would gather around her bedside in the morning and at night, each talking over the events of the day. She really was their mother, so the title they gave her of “Little Mother” is very appropriate. Perhaps at the end of a hard day I would do better, too, to spend some time with Eileen and seek her help in seeing God’s hand in my work. Perhaps I could try and see how I go.
Eileen O’Connor, Little Mother, pray for us.