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Sister Eilish Murtagh, 81, nurse and teacher

Irish Sister of Mercy taught in Lake Worth, ministered as a nurse in Fort Lauderdale

MIAMI | At 81, Sister Eilish Murtagh planned on beating cancer.

Sister Eilish Murtagh of the Irish Sisters of Mercy is pictured here in 2013, on the 60th anniversary of her entrance to religious life. She died Feb. 12, at age 81.

Photographer:

Sister Eilish Murtagh of the Irish Sisters of Mercy is pictured here in 2013, on the 60th anniversary of her entrance to religious life. She died Feb. 12, at age 81.

As she told her fellow Irish Sisters of Mercy this past Saturday: “I’m going into hospice so that all the chemo will get washed out of my body, then my healing will begin and I’ll get strong enough to return to Ireland.”

“I said, ‘Eilish, that will be great and I will accompany you’,” recalled her provincial superior, Sister Rosaline O’Connor, in an email to other members of the U.S. community. “And she smiled.”

Sister Eilish died peacefully, if suddenly, a day later, Feb. 12, in the hospice unit of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, where she had worked as a nurse in the early 1980s.

She was accompanied in her last moments by Sister Rosaline, who had flown out here from the community’s motherhouse in California, and other Irish Sisters of Mercy who work and live in Broward County. Also there to anoint her was a fellow Irishman and retired archdiocesan priest, Msgr. John Delaney.

Sister Eilish Murtagh, of the Irish Sisters of Mercy, is pictured here in the late 1970s, when she served as a teacher at St. Luke School in Lake Worth. She died Feb. 12 at age 81.

Photographer: FILE PHOTO

Sister Eilish Murtagh, of the Irish Sisters of Mercy, is pictured here in the late 1970s, when she served as a teacher at St. Luke School in Lake Worth. She died Feb. 12 at age 81.

“Her death on Sunday was very sudden for all of us,” said Mercy Sister Patricia McManus.

Sister Eilish had been among the early Irish Sisters of Mercy who came to work in the fledgling Diocese of Miami in the early 1960s.

Born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland, Oct. 11, 1935, she entered the Convent of Mercy at Moate, County Westmeath, March 15, 1953, and made her final profession March 12, 1958. A graduate of the Mater Infirmorum Hospital School of Nursing, she ministered in that field until 1962, when she began her ministry in South Florida.

Here, she switched to teaching, doing so at St. Luke’s School in Lake Worth until 1982. Then she returned to her nursing career. Between 1982 and 1992, she worked as director of diabetes education at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale; nursing supervisor at Genesis House in Miami; and assistant director of nursing at St. John’s Nursing Center in Fort Lauderdale.

“I was there for the opening of Genesis and remained as nursing supervisor there ‘til its closure due to lack of funds,” she told The Florida Catholic a couple of years ago. Genesis House was the archdiocesan facility for homeless AIDS patients, located next to Mercy Hospital in Miami.

In 1992, Sister Eilish began working in pastoral ministry at St. Marco Parish in Marco Island, and later at Holy Family Mission in Everglades City. She returned to the archdiocese in 2008 and took up voluntary care of the elderly.

“It was an honor to have been with Eilish at the end of her time on this earth,” Sister Rosaline wrote in her email. “She was blessed and gifted with an amazing sense of acceptance and resignation and she lived them out completely. She always had a great gift of gratitude which she expressed wholeheartedly and generously, and I believe that gift enriched her own life and sense of wellbeing as much as it encouraged others.”

A funeral Mass will be celebrated Wednesday, Feb. 15, at noon at St. Paul the Apostle Church, 2700 N.E. 36 St., Lighthouse Point. Burial will follow in her native Ireland.

Sister Eilish is survived by two sisters, Maura and Bernadette, and a brother, Liam.

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