Monday next, December 2nd, will be a day of special celebration for Derry nun Sister Breda O’Connell as it marks the 50th anniversary of her joining the Good Shepherd Sisters.
Sister Breda, a native of Cork and the leader of the local Good Shepherd community at Dungiven Road, Waterside, is a trained social worker. Her ministry as a Good Shepherd Sister has seen her put this training into action in social, community and youth schemes over the past 50 years.
Sister Breda has worked in Limerick, Belfast, Newry and Cork, but for more than 20 of her 50 years as a nun she has been based in Derry, making a valuable contribution to local parish, youth and community projects.
The Good Shepherd Sister first came to Derry in 1970 and after initially working in residential care and youth work at the Waterside Youth Club, she was closely involved in the establishment of the Family Centre in Gobnascale in 1979.
Working with Derry Community Social Services, Sister Breda started a home visitation programme in the Gobnascale Estate and an advice centre which operated one day a week in the local community centre. She very soon realised the area needed an advice centre and with the help of Sister Eilis, another Good Shepherd Shepherd Sister, and a vibrant local committee, the Family Centre was opened at 15 Jasmine Court in November 1979.
Over the years the centre, which was later renamed Hillcrest House, has been a vital community resource for the people of Gobnascale and the wider Waterside area.
During the 1970s Sister Breda was also closely involved in the establishment of another vital local organisation, the Clarendon Night Shelter. Sister Breda worked with representatives of St Vincent de Paul, the Sisters of Mercy and the Methodist City Mission to set up the refuge for women and children in dangerous family situations. Good Shepherd Sisters are still involved in the work of the Shelter today.
Sister Breda left the city in 1983 and worked for 20 years in a number of community projects in Dublin, Cork and Belfast before returning to Derry in 2003. For six years she lived in Gobnascale, working as a parish Sister and hospital chaplain at Altnagelvin Hospital. She was also closely involved in church ministry at the Church of the Immaculate Conception and was a member of the church folk group.
For the past four years Sister Breda has been leader of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Derry and she continues to work as chaplain at Altnagelvin Hospital.
A celebration to mark Sister Breda’s Golden Jubilee was held last Saturday. She was joined by her family, members of the Good Shepherd community and friends for Mass celebrated in Termonbacca by Fr Sean Conlon followed by lunch. Sister Breda’s sisters, Kathleen and Gobnait, her brothers, Con and John and her nieces and nephews were all in attendance, with two of her siblings travelling from Canada for the celebration.
Looking back over her life as a nun, Sister Breda is modest about her many achievements and the valuable contribution she has made to so many community projects. Instead, she highlights the support she has received from the ‘marvellous people’ she has worked with and from her Sisters in the Good Shepherd community and she gives most credit to God for the very fulfilling and spiritually rewarding life she has enjoyed.