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The Columban Sisters' Centenary

The First Superior General and her Council in 1924; F. Collins, J. McKey and B. Walsh, F.X. Mapleback and T. Brannigan.
Mother Mary Finbarr Collins Profile

By Oscar Bryan

Oscar Bryan recalls the life and contribution of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban’s first Superior General, Mother Mary Finbarr Collins.

Mother Mary Finbarr Collins (1885-1977)
Mother Mary Finbarr Collins (1885-1977)

A natural starting point in our reflection on the early pioneers of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban is the first Superior General, Mother Mary Finbarr Collins. Born in Kilinga, Cork, Ireland, in 1885, Nora Collins was one of ten children in a dairy-farming household. Growing up, Nora craved opportunities that were not readily available on the family farm. Crossing the Atlantic in 1907, she trained to be a nurse in New Hampshire. By 1915, Nora had decided to make her way back to Cork, hoping to apply her new-found vocation closer to home. Her tenure at Mercy Hospital, Cork coincided with the onset of the Irish War of Independence.

After reading reports about the Maynooth Mission in China, Nora entered into correspondence with Columban Fr. John Blowick, expressing her desire to contribute to overseas mission work. After making the short-list of candidates for the new Congregation, Nora arrived in Cahiracon in 1922, and made her First Profession on September 29, 1924. Granted the religious name Mary Finbarr, she ranked among the more senior members of the first group of professed Sisters.

Owing to her unique life experience, Mother M. Finbarr was appointed to serve as the inaugural Superior General. The task before her was a daunting one — preparing a new Congregation for the uncertainties of a life-altering voyage to China. Taking these first bold steps out into the unknown, it was November 1926 before the Sisters arrived at their new headquarters in Hanyang. Although the Sisters enjoyed much local support, they were frequently in the crossfire of local conflict. Despite these challenges, Mother M. Finbarr volunteered her nursing skills, and organized the Congregation in preparation for the rigorous demands of this new cultural context.

Columban Sisters' Co-founder Mother  Mary Patrick Moloney (left) and Superior General, Mother Finbarr Collins.
Columban Sisters' Co-founder Mother Mary Patrick Moloney (left) and Superior General, Mother Finbarr Collins.

Her responsibilities as Superior General made an early return to Ireland inevitable. Within a few short months, she was back in Cahiracon, overseeing the recruitment and expansion of the Congregation. When her mandate as leader concluded in 1930, Mother M. Finbarr became director of the infi rmary at the Columban Fathers’ seminary in Dalgan Park. She invested almost forty years going about her duties in Dalgan, touching the lives of those she served with subtle grace.

When her body could no longer keep up with the responsibilities of overseeing the infirmary, she was offered the opportunity to relocate to Magheramore in 1968. As an experienced voice of encouragement, Mother M. Finbarr often acted as a mentor to the younger Sisters in the convent. Her death on January 19, 1977, was a poignant moment for the Congregation as she was the last remaining direct link to its foundation. Her selfless devotion, and vision in connecting the Congregation’s inception to the modern age, inspired many of those who followed.

Oscar Bryan is the Archivist of the Missionary Sisters of St Columban.