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Sr Margaret-Mary Birgan OLN passes after illness

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Former congregational leader of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor Sr Margaret-Mary Birgan OLN. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Former congregational leader of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor Sr Margaret-Mary Birgan OLN. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Former congregational leader of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor and member of the Brown Nurses Sr Margaret-Mary Birgan OLN sadly passed away on 9 November at Lake Macquarie Private Hospital after a long illness.

Born in Brisbane and educated by the Sisters of Mercy at All Hallows Convent School, Sr Margaret-Mary was a persistent advocate for the canonisation of Servant of God Eileen O’Connor, who co-founded the Brown Nurses in 1913 alongside Missionaries of the Sacred Heart priest Fr Edward McGrath.

“Sr Margaret-Mary was very much one of Eileen’s girls. She embodied, carried out and imbued that particular raison d’être for the work she did for all those years,” long-term friend Barbara Bowers told The Catholic Weekly.

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The Holy See declared Eileen a Servant of God in 2018 and the Archdiocese of Sydney began examining the cause for her beatification and canonisation.

Despite losing her father at seven years old, Sr Margaret-Mary found consolation in Christ and soon became aware of the poverty of people living in Brisbane, whom she felt compelled to help.

Upon learning about Eileen at a young age Sr Margaret-Mary understood her vocation and looked to give her life to God, entering the convent in 1966.

With Eileen’s influence, she found a shared devotion to the ministry of OLN to provide healthcare, advocacy and friendship for the sick poor and disadvantaged.

In 58 years of religious life, she upheld this vocation across Brisbane, Kings Cross and Mt Druitt, before becoming a respected figure in Newcastle’s Catholic community from 1984 onwards.

Newcastle teacher, friend, and carer during Sr Margaret Mary’s last months, Julianne Galbraith said she was committed to her calling until the end.

“Even up until the last four days of her life, she was still taking calls from clients and providing counselling and spiritual support, saying it was her sole purpose to love the unloved,” Gailbraith said.

A young Sr Margaret Mary Birgan oln attending to an elderly patient ‘on the district.’ Photo: Supplied
A young Sr Margaret Mary Birgan oln attending to an elderly patient ‘on the district.’ Photo: Supplied

“In the few days she was well enough to return home [from hospital], rather than resting, she would handwrite cards, post food vouchers and contact those in her need.”

She would become congregational leader of OLN from 2011-2017 and was both a member of the Steering Committee for the Cause of Canonisation through the Archdiocese of Sydney and leader of the Eileen O’Connor Centenary Project in 2021.

“In these roles she coordinated commemorations to mark 100 years since Eileen’s death in 1921 and seized any opportunity to talk about Eileen to push her cause for sainthood,” Gailbraith added.

“She appeared on TV, on the radio, and visited local schools whilst also having oral histories recorded and transcribed for the cause.”

Sr Margaret-Mary died just short of her 80th birthday.

Bowers said her lasting impact would be “her love of the poor” and devotion “to her calling as a nun.”

“She will be greatly missed through all levels of the community, particularly in Newcastle where up to three generations have known her care and attention.”

A Mass for Sr Margaret was offered at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton, NSW, on Thursday 16 November at 11am.

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