Belfast Telegraph

Down woman who was oldest Sister of Mercy in world, dies at 111

Sister Mary Aidan Donaldson
Sister Mary Aidan Donaldson
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

The oldest Sister of Mercy in the world - who was originally from Co Down - has passed away in the US at the age of 111.

Sister Mary Aidan Donaldson died on October 25 at the Convent of Mercy retirement home in Mobile, Alabama.

The Newry woman was born in 1908 and raised by her father after her mother died at a young age.

After arriving in Mobile in 1929, she influenced generations of people throughout 50 years in an education ministry. Sister Donaldson then transitioned into pastoral ministry, caring for those who were sick.

"You wouldn't be able to count how many people she's touched," said Mercy Sister Carolyn Oberkirch, who lived with Sister Donaldson for 24 years.

"What a full life she led all these years. What a good religious person she was."

Mercy Sister Marilyn Graf, who knew Sister Donaldson for 50 years, credited her love of life and people as among the reasons for her longevity.

Sister Donaldson moved to a retirement home in 1988 and at the age of 89 took up watercolour painting. On her 95th birthday, she sold 20 of her floral paintings following an exhibition entitled 'Praising God's Beauty'.

Sister Donaldson relished a good time and her 100th birthday included a party with mimosa drinks with breakfast in the morning, followed by a nightcap bash at the convent where "400 people came through those doors," Sister Oberkirch said.

"I don't know how she did it," she continued.

"She never sat down in the morning. I got worried. But she loved the attention. And she had two dresses - one for the morning and one for the evening."

Sister Donaldson was also a dedicated reader and was often found reading the news of the day.

"She was a person who was interested in everything," added Sister Graf. "She was always reading a newspaper or magazine. And she was always ready to accept new things and she was a 'go' person."

Sister Donaldson left Northern Ireland for the US following a visit from Mobile's Religious Sisters of Mercy.

Admitting she "didn't know" where Mobile was in an interview in 2010, the Newry woman said the move across the Atlantic Ocean was a call from God.

"When I thought about it I said, 'Well, I did commit myself to God and whatever he wanted was what I wanted'," she explained.

"I had been thinking of nursing when I got the call from these two nuns.

"But it wasn't a call from them. It was a call from God when I made up my mind."

Her first assignment was as a teacher at St Joseph School in Mobile, but much of her time was spent as a teacher and principal at St Ignatius in Mobile.

She also taught at St Mary, Convent of Mercy and St Joan of Arc in Mobile, Huntsville, Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida; and Baltimore before moving into parish ministry in 1978.

Archbishop Thomas J Rodi celebrated the funeral Mass for Sister Donaldson yesterday at St Ignatius Church in Mobile.

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