A County Monaghan family has marked a significant milestone in the Catholic church in Ireland, with over 350 years between them in religious life. There was double cause for celebration at the St Louis Convent in Dundalk as two of the McCluskeys from Inniskeen, a priest, Fr Peter, and a nun, Sr Ethna, held their diamond (60) and platinum (70) jubilees respectively. Mass was concelebrated by their youngest brother, Canon Brian, a priest for 52 years. Sr Ethna McCluskey entered the Louis convent in Monaghan in 1942, 100 years after the order was founded in France. Her brother Peter who studied at St Macartan’s seminary in Monaghan entered the Oblate fathers (O.M.I.) in 1945 and was ordained on June 22nd 1952. Sr Ethna trained as a national teacher at Our Lady of Mercy College, Carysfort in Dublin and went on to teach at the St Louis Convent in Rathmines. For many years she was Principal of the Girls’ National School in Clones before taking up a similar position in Dundalk. Her final appointment was as superior of the St Louis Convent in Kilkeel, Co.Down. Since her retirement in 2004 she has been residing at the Convent on the Castleblayney Road in Dundalk, a few kilometres from her family home at Blackstaff in Inniskeen. The poet Patrick Kavanagh was a near neighbour. Canon Brian recalls how he used to borrow books from his mother’s private library at the local national school where she taught. Fr Peter’s first posting as a missionary priest sixty years ago was to South Africa. His journey by cargo boat to Cape Town took three weeks. He worked in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg from 1952 until his return to Ireland in 2007. He witnessed the end of the apartheid regime in 1994 and the election of Nelson Mandela as President.
Sr Ethna is the eldest of the family of eight. Six of them gathered at the convent in Dundalk for the Mass celebrated by Fr Peter, who since 2007 has been living at the Oblate house at Inchicore in Dublin. Joining him at the altar was his younger brother Canon Brian McCluskey, a retired priest of the diocese of Clogher, who served as a curate in his home parish of Inniskeen and was a parish priest in Threemilehouse and later Roslea. He now lives in Belfast with his sister Maire, who worked for the Northern Ireland orthopaedic service. Canon McCluskey studied at the Irish College in Rome and celebrated his golden jubilee two years ago along with his classmate, Monsignor Ambrose Macaulay. He still says Sunday Mass at St Brigid’s parish. They were joined by two other sisters Una McMahon, a retired nurse living in Belfast and Sr Nuala, a St Louis nun now retired and living at the Convent in Dundalk with her older sister Ethna. She worked on the missions in Nigeria for many years and in 1985 was appointed to take charge of the Louis House nursing home in Monaghan. She has been a nun for 57 years. Following the Mass, members of the family and friends gathered for a meal at a local restaurant.
Two members of the family, both with 59 years in religious life, were unable to be present. Fr Gerry McCluskey is a Kiltegan priest who has been based in Sao Paolo, Brazil, since 1961. Previously he served as a missionary in Kenya. He is also a former pupil of St Macartan’s seminary in Monaghan, like his two brothers. Sr Aileen is a Mercy nun who is in Dublin and like her brother Fr Gerry is just one year short of her diamond jubilee. The five sisters were all boarders at the St Louis convent in Monaghan. So the total contribution of the McCluskey family to religious life reads as follows: Sr Ethna SSL 70 years, Fr Peter OMI 60, Sr Nuala SSL 57, Fr Gerard SPS 59, Sr Aileen RSM 59 and Canon Brian 52 years, giving a combined total of 357 years’ service to the Catholic church. Ad multos annos. Copyright: © Michael Fisher @fishbelfast 2012 This story has appeared in the Northern Standard (front page), the Irish Catholic, the Dundalk Democrat & Monaghan Democrat editions, as well as the Dundalk Argus.
UPDATE: For a glimpse of what life was like at the St Louis (then boarding) school in Dundalk in the early 1960s, see this blog by “A Silver Voice from Ireland”.