Nun celebrates 100th birthday

Nun celebrates 100th birthday

7 February 2024

A NUN who has devoted her life to the service of God has celebrated her 100th birthday at the Assumption Convent in Ballynahinch.

Born Annie Harkin on February 5, 1924, Sister M de Chantal celebrated her birthday at the same convent she entered when she was a teenager.

On Sunday – one day before she turned 100 – she was joined by her sister, Kathleen Boyle, brother Colin and the sisters of Assumption Convent for a special party.

Born in Swatragh, Co Derry, Sr de Chantal was one of seven children who moved to Ballynahinch when their father bought the Deer Farm.

Coming from a religious family, Sr de Chantal received a calling from God to enter the sisterhood.

She joined the Assumption Convent and took her vows in 1940, aged 16, which was a rarity for someone that young to join the sisterhood.

Sr de Chantal, who suffers from dementia and is very hard of hearing, now relies on carers to look after her, having been moved from a care home in Spa to the convent just before the pandemic.

Described as a very witty, spiritual and private person by her fellow sisters and staff at Assumption Convent, she has served her order for 84 years.

John Millar, the convent manager, explained some days can be harder than others for the district’s latest centenarian, but said she is so easy to work with.

“Sr de Chantal loves the simple things in life – she’s more than content to sit and watch the world go by, enjoys a nice book and loves to take part in the daily prayers. She very much keeps herself to herself,” Mr Millar said.

“If you ask a silly question, she’ll always respond with a witty remark.”

Most of Sr de Chantal’s service was spent in South Africa, where she helped build and teach in several schools to thousands of children.

First becoming an assistant teacher in 1947, the nun enjoyed the vocation for many years before retiring as an active teacher in 2011 in Maryvale, South Africa.

Some of her most notable achievements as a teacher include becoming the first principal of Zingisa Comprehensive High School in Mthatha in Africa in 1989 and becoming the superior of Assumption Convent in Malvern in 1991.

As well as teaching, Sr de Chantal was the Mother Superior to many of the schools she taught in.

Sr Maureen, who worked under Sr de Chantal as Mother Superior in South Africa, described her as a wonderful teacher.

“She was so creative, artistic and had brilliant ideas on how best to educate the children,” said Sr Maureen. 

“She was a pleasure to work with and many of us owe her a great deal of thanks for her tutelage.”

Sr McAvoy who also worked with Sr de Chantal said: “She was an excellent superior.

“We couldn’t have asked for a kinder person as a superior. She was very balanced towards the children and treated every pupil fairly.

“Knowing her as I do, I can honestly say she would do it all again – there’s no doubt about it.”

Sr de Chantal enjoys a sing-song, watching nature programmes and observing others.

“She’s a very knowledgable lady,” said her carer Maeveen Rodgers.

“There are some days where she is very astute, and if you speak loudly enough you can have really lovely conversations with her. Mind you, she is a very private person.

“Prayer is still something that is very important to her,” Mrs Rodgers added.

“Sometimes when I’m reading or saying the prayers, she’ll correct me midway through them.

“She has a very disarming sense of humour and her mind is still very active.”

Maeveen continued: “Sr de Chantal loves doing word-searches, playing card-games and reading.

Her favourite hobby is a sing-song she loves all the old songs like ‘it’s a long way to Tipperary’ and ‘Coming round the mountain.

“I have asked her before during one of our conversations if she had a happy life and she told me that she was so lucky that God chose her and that she was so happy that she became a nun.”