Sr. Mary Agnes Woods

SISTER Mary Agnes Woods, of the Convent of Mercy, Downpatrick, who died on March 8, was born on February 26, 1916, in Belfast.

Even as a young child the then Madeline Woods showed a remarkable talent for music. Anxious to afford her every opportunity to develop her talents, her parents were keen for her to receive a convent education.

Consequently, at the age of eight, she came to Downpatrick as a boarder in the Convent school. Shortly after this, her sister May, who survives her, joined her in Downpatrick.

Having completed her education in Downpatrick, Sr. Mary Agnes furthered her musical ability by spending two years at the Ursuline Convent School in Zaventem in Belgium. On her return to Belfast she studied organ music with Dr. Werner, the organist in the Holy Cross Church, Ardoyne. Under his tutelage she played the organ both there and in St. Joseph’s at the docks where his daughter Rosamund was the organist.

On April 26, 1934, aged 18, Sr. Agnes entered the convent in Downpatrick. Having completed her novitiate, she was professed as a Sister of Mercy on November 16, 1936. Following her profession she trained as a teacher at St. Mary’s Training College in Belfast, after which she returned to teach in the convent primary school in Downpatrick.

She taught in the infant department of the school, preparing generations of young boys and girls for the sacraments of First Confession and First Communion.

Many fondly remember the part she had played in their spiritual and academic education. During these years she worked closely with Sr. Mary Philomena, both as organist for the parish choir and as accompanist in the production of many musical extravaganzas both in the school and parish.

In 1964, on taking up a post in St. Anne’s Convent Primary School, Sr. Mary Agnes moved to the convent in Donaghadee. Sr. Mary Philomena was then principal of St. Anne’s and Sr. Mary Agnes succeeded her in 1968. Again, she taught in the infant department and continued preparing pupils for their First Sacraments.

In addition to her teaching duties she was both choir mistress and organist for the parish choir in Donaghadee. She remained in Donaghadee until her retirement in 1981, following which she spent a spiritual year with the Cistercian Sisters in Glencairn, Co. Waterford.

Sr. Mary Agnes came home to Downpatrick where she once again became parish organist, a role she continued on a part-time basis while her health permitted. Sr. Mary Agnes was much sought after in the Lecale area as an organist for many special occasions, such as confirmations, “40 hours” and parish missions.

During these years Sr. Mary Agnes devoted a lot of time to visiting the sick and housebound in their homes, demonstrating those very virtues extolled and promoted by her foundress, the Venerable Catherine McAuley.

She displayed these same characteristics in the warmth and hospitality she showed to all who visited the convent. She was, as Canon Sean Rogan described her, “gentle and soft spoken, humble, courteous, welcoming — a radiant smile always on her countenance”.

Three years ago she suffered a severe stroke which confined her to bed. Prior to her leaving the convent in Downpatrick to go to Our Lady’s Home in Beechmount, just under a year ago, she was given the utmost love, care and attention by the dedicated convent staff along with her Sisters in the Community.

Sr. Mary Agnes became unwell on March 4 and died in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast four days later. Like St. Cecelia, the patron saint of music, Sr. Mary Agnes’ life was a harmonious melody lived in fidelity to her Lord. Indeed as a child her first piano teacher, Dr. Hay, often referred to her as “my little St. Cecelia”.

Requiem Mass for Sr. Mary Agnes was celebrated in St. Patrick’s Church, Downpatrick, on Saturday, March 10. Bishop Anthony Farquhar presided at the Mass which was concelebrated by the Very Rev. Canon S. Rogan, P.P., the Very Rev. Canon N. Conway, the Very Rev. Canon B. Murray, Rev. F. Glavin, Rev. B. Mulhall.

The music for the Mass was provided by the parish choir. The soloists were Mary McCabe and Cathy Gough. A guard of honour was formed by pupils of St. Mary’s High School as the funeral procession made its way to the convent cemetery.

Sr. Mary Agnes will be sadly missed by her community, her sister May, her niece Madeline, nephew Edmund, grandniece and grandnephews, the family circle and the parish communities in Downpatrick and Donaghadee.

Sr. Mary Agnes’ Month’s Mind Mass will be celebrated in St. Patrick’s Church, Downpatrick, on Saturday, April 21, at 5.30pm.