Sr Cora Bergin sm died peacefully at St Anne’s Nursing Home in Hunters Hill, NSW, on 28th September 2013. The following is the eulogy prepared and given by Sr Fidelis at her funeral Mass on 3rd October.
The woman whose life we are celebrating today was most aptly named – ‘Cora’ being derived from ‘heart’. Cora Bergin, known for a considerable part of her life as Sister Julian Eymard, might have been small in stature, but she was large in life. There is an expression that really is quite profound, even though it has suffered from overuse in recent times. It is an expression that embodies three defining qualities of hers. Cora did, indeed, make a difference.
Cora made a difference as Marist.
At the age of 20, in 1944, she was professed as a Marist Sister at Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim, Ireland. Her home base was Dublin, where the Bergin family lived. They were very much part of the cultural life of Dublin. As well as music being part of this experience, Cora was introduced also to the theatre at a significant time in modern Irish literature, enabling her to meet poets, writers and playwrights. One of these luminaries was James Joyce, who became a family friend. These experiences engendered her love of the arts. Mr Bergin also had a sports equipment business- but this seemed not to have had the same impact on his daughter.
Cora was ever mindful – maybe even proudly so- that the city of her birth had been a British city for five hundred years. For Cora, the almost mythical wooden fence around county Dublin, was her way of defining her understanding of the island of Ireland: anything ‘beyond the pale’ had to work hard to earn her respect.
As well as Cora’s contributions in Marist ministries, and her work within the structure of the Congregation, a standout difference that Cora made as Marist was her significant contribution in community, and this has been commented on in recent days.
As a community leader, her idea was to establish family. She is remembered for her vitality, her acumen, and her wit. She had a wicked sense of teasing, but what gave her away was the twinkle in her eye. Her sense of wonderment allowed her rarely to be less than optimistic. Undoubtedly, this optimism and her life of prayer were intertwined and perhaps she reaped the benefit of this in her lovely peaceful death.
Colleagues of Cora remembered the warmth they felt when she hosted them for meals, or a coffee to be enjoyed between meetings. They appreciated the interest she showed towards their families. They enjoyed chatting with her, and many a vibrant discussion was about the relative merits of English and Australian – or ‘colonial’- writers.
Cora made a difference in mission
Her ministry spanned 60 years and it was lived globally: Ireland, Fiji, Africa . Australia and Germany. Very much part of Cora’s ministry was set in the missions, thus fulfilling a long held belief that this was her calling. Part of her entering the Marists was the possibility that she would be sent to the missions. At the time of her coming here, Australia itself was a mission field.
In Senegal , she taught secondary school students. In Germany her focus was involvement in the parish, elsewhere it was in education, and it stretched across the spectrum from secondary school teacher to teacher education. However, Cora’s longest and most intense work in the missions was in Fiji.
The third dimension in which Cora made a difference was as an educator
Mid twentieth century saw Cora and Sister Mary of the Presentation sail for Oceania with a stopover in Sydney: Sister Mary was off to New Zealand, and Cora to Fiji, where she worked at Nadi. Later, with Sr Doreen ( then Sister Felician) Sr Julian Eymard opened a high school for Fijian girls on the island of Ovalau. Later still, Bishop Foley established a Teachers’ Training School in Suva, and Sister Julian Eymard was asked to be on the teaching staff. Here she worked with Father Bambrick , SM, and Sister Patricia Fitzgerald, SMSM.
As well as what Cora contributed to the day-to-day learning of students at the schools, in the region and in training teachers, she is remembered on three further grounds. First, along with the other Sisters, she had the Nadi students sit for the New Zealand education accreditations. Secondly, Cora encouraged Sisters who were trained as teachers, to become Civil Servants. Her idea was that their salaries would become financial support for the mission.
And finally, at the time of Fiji’s independence, Cora was awarded a special Independence medal by the Government of Fiji for her contribution to education in that country. This was a significant award, and was seen as recognition of the monumental achievement she made in the lives of so many young people, some of whom are here today.
While her roles were different in subsequent ministries , Cora brought to them that same passion for learning. She modelled that passion herself. She loved literature and she loved language, and in her Master of Arts studies at the University of Dublin back in 1948, she specialised in languages. Cora developed quite a repertoire including French, Hindi, Russian and German. She also was proficient in Gaelic, but this achievement tended to be whispered about! Then, when she was on staff at Marist Sisters’ College, the need arose for a teacher of Japanese, and Cora took that on with the same passion, so that classes could be held.
As well as remembering the difference that Cora made as Marist, as a missionary and as an educator, we remember warmly the little imperfections that made her perfect for community. Contrary to her self belief, Cora was not the world’s best driver. Let’s go back to Fiji . One day she was driving Tulip, the convent car, when somehow she managed to knock over a young man. She immediately went to his aid, and offered to drive him to the hospital. Not surprisingly, he declined the offer. He had, after all, been walking on the footpath. We are also told that eventually he would not go out on his bicycle when he could see Tulip on the road.
As well as having a passion for learning, Cora loved her swimming, enjoyed her music, took art lessons, was obsessed with the music of Beethoven, and her opinion of the Jesuits is legend. Indeed, had there been Jesuettes, I am sure Cora would have been a founding member. Heaven for Cora will not be heaven unless the mansion prepared for her has a swimming pool, has the music of Beethoven piped throughout, has a library filled with the classics as defined by her, and is run by the Jesuits.
To share the things Cora did not like is simple: it was all and everything but the above.
Today at Cora’s parting, we acknowledge the love she had for her family and the love and care she enjoyed from them. She often shared stories of her parents, William and Agnes, her sister Joan and her beloved brother Bill and his wife Maureen, and she was proud of their achievement.
So as we farewell Cora,
thankful for having known her,
impressed by her achievements,
appreciative of her legacy and
with the warmth of our love, we are reminded of these words from The Dubliners by James Joyce:
‘Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion,
than fade and wither dismally with age.’