Sister Brigid Collins, MM

Born: January 14, 1926
Entered: September 6, 1950
Died: August 2, 1994

Today we gather to celebrate the Liturgy of the Resurrection for our Sister Brigid Collins, to celebrate her life and to be reminded once more of God’s infinite love for her and how she reached out to others to share this love.

Brigid’s call to Eternal Life came suddenly after almost three years of a progressive illness. In the early morning of August 2nd, Brigid died in Phelps Memorial Hospital. She died as she had lived, radiating a sense of peace and an acceptance of what God had in mind for her. These words of a favorite hymn of hers express so well the deep meaning of God’s presence in her life:

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart:
Naught is all else to me save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought by day and by night;
Waking or sleeping They presence my Light.”

Brigid Collins was born on January 14, 1926 in New York City to Martin and Catherine Collins, the eldest of their two daughters. Though baptized, Brigid, she was always called Della by her family. As a young child, her family went to live in Ireland and she attended Saint Bridget’s Grade School in Dublin and Holy Faith Convent School in Clontarf. Brigid returned to the United States with her family when she was 18. She completed her education at Theodore Roosevelt High School taking evening classes while she worked in a New York City Bank.

For many years, Brigid had considered entering Religious Life and had great desires to be a missionary. During this time of vocational discernment she often went to visit our Sister Ellen Mary Murphy in the Bronx for guidance and direction. On September 6, 1950 Brigid entered Maryknoll at the Venard, in Clarks Summit, PA and made First Profession on March 7, 1953 at the Center. While still in the Novitiate she began her studies at Maryknoll Teacher’s College, graduating in 1956 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. Soon after finishing her studies, Brigid was assigned to Chile to study the language and then began teaching in Chillan at Saint Vincent’s Parochial School. While in Chillan, she made her Final Profession on March 7, 1959. Brigid will always be remembered for her wonderful ability as a teacher, and her sincere interest in all her students. These special talents she continued to share the next 9 years in a Parochial School in Galvarino, where most of the students were Mapuche children who walked a great distance to receive their education. During the summer months, Brigid visited and did mission work in the indigenous communities around Galvarino and Temuco. These summer activities were a joy for Brigid as she prayed with the people and shared the Gospel in this remote corner of the world.

Then in 1969, Brigid left teaching and began catechetical work with the surrounding rural communities and the village of Galvarino. These were years of new beginnings after Vatican II, and Brigid was delighted with the changes that led to greater personal involvement with families and adult Evangelization. At the request of the Bishop of the Diocese, she formed a core group of 12 lay people to organize parish activities as there was no resident priest in the parish. In a paper she wrote about “Why I Continue in Mission” she said: “I have discovered a new impetus in my mission vocation through the teachings of Vatican II, ‘the people are the Church’, and that the hour of the laity has arrived.” Brigid felt truly involved with this prophetic, ecclesial thrust. Strengthened by weekly Scripture reflections, this group formed Christian Communities and animated the liturgical life of the parish. In the early 70’s Brigid participated in Charismatic Retreats and this was the beginning of a spiritual nourishment through prayer groups that was to continue all of her life. Also, after the Military Coup of 1973, there was much confusion, persecution and oppression of the people. One evening a group of army men forcibly entered her house but Brigid and a young friend, Anna, who was staying with her were able to hide and escaped without harm. Brigid always felt that God had been with them in a very special way through that suffering and kept them from physical harm.

In 1975, Brigid moved to Temuco where she continued her work in the Holy Spirit Parish of training lay leaders and giving spiritual guidance. Through contact with other Christian Churches, Brigid began reaching out toward a new area of interest, that of Ecumenism. Her great love of Scripture was the basis for dialogue and activities with other Christian Churches. To foster unity was one of the themes that surfaced often in her conversations and while doing catechetical work. After being at the Center for Congregational Service until 1979, Brigid returned to Chile to work in the National Center for Renewal and Ecumenism. Through this Center, Brigid participated with many different groups of people and a variety of churches living out her great desire for Christian Unity. In 1990 she moved to Puento Alto and continued to do pastoral work, prison ministry and spiritual guidance. It was there at the beginning of 1992, that Brigid began to feel her physical health decline. Sister returned to the Center for medical care. This was a hard decision for Brigid to make, but slowly was able to accept that she would have to leave her beloved Chile and say goodbye to many friends.

On her return to the Center, Brigid continued to be challenged in many ways, to live with the uncertainty of an undiagnosed illness and under-going many different treatments, always with the hope of recovery. During this time, the illness continued to progress slowly. She met this situation with deep faith and quiet acceptance, without ever losing hope that she would recover. All during this time Brigid continued to use her talents as a teacher and had several students she tutored in English. Sometimes she used hymns or the Maryknoll magazine as her mediums, always aware of sharing the Gospel message with her students. Brigid was also nourished by prayer in community and personal contemplative prayer, growing in her loving relationship with God and striving for the strength and courage to face the cross of her illness. Today we thank God for her witness of faith, love and acceptance that she lived among us. We will miss seeing her in the wheelchair at meals in the dining room or going down the hall to a lecture or off to visit a friend, but we know that she has finished the race and won the crown of eternal life with God.

I think that Brigid would like me to express at this time, her deep gratitude to all her friends who supported her in so many ways and made her participation in life at the Center as life-giving as possible.

The two symbols present at this Liturgy express Brigid’s two loves, Ireland and Chile. First, the hanging from Ireland on the Reader’s stand proclaiming Gaelic Glory. The second is the “Manta” that graces her coffin, representing the “cloak” of the rural people of Chile who Brigid so loved and who are with us in Spirit today.

We wish to welcome Brigid’s family and friends who are with us today. We are very grateful for your presence with us. We welcome also, our Maryknoll brother, Father Tom Kirchmyer, as our Celebrant. And so it is with a mixture of joy and sorrow we begin this Eucharistic Liturgy of the Resurrection for our Sister Brigid Collins.