SISTER MAYRA LYNCH
Born: September 10, 1938
Died: December 9th, 2017
The Irish Times 23.12.17
When the Angolan civil war broke out in 1975 an Irish nun attached to the Medical Missionaries of Mary regularly crossed a bombed bridge over the Cunene river to visit medical colleagues at a remote health centre in the south of the country.
There are photographs of Sr Maura Lynch, attired in her white veil and habit, wading through the water and being pulled up the dangerously tilted bridge on the final leg of an 80km journey which she usually made by bicycle.
When she died in Uganda on December 9th - on the day she was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her arrival in Africa - colleagues recalled one such trip when Sr Maura and a Nigerian nun had to repeatedly abandon their bicycles and dive for cover in the undergrowth because of aerial bombardment. They had set off with food and medical supplies because there had been no word for three weeks from the staff at the Cuamato health centre , and Sr Maura was worried for their welfare.
It was feared that travelling by jeep might make them a target, so cycling was the only option. Friends recalled that her only complaint afterward was the sunburn she suffered on that adventure.
Sr Maura’s sister, Breda, remembers their parents worrying during the Angolan war as the only form of communications were letters which could take six weeks to arrive, and many of the more hair-raising tales were not told until years later. “It was a worrying time - Maura and her colleagues treated both sides so there were soldiers armed with rifles in theatre during surgeries”, recalled Breda.
During almost 20 years at Chiulo Mission Hospital in Angola, she shared the entire workload of that 200-bed facility with just one other medical Sister. When UCD awarded her an Honorary Fellowship of the School of Medicine in 2009 - the highest award that the school bestows on medical graduates - Prof Bill Powderly pointed out that in Angola she had to cater for large cohorts of people with TB and leprosy.
Over a 30 year career in Uganda where she was based at Kitovu Hospital, in the diocese of Masaka, it was her pioneering work in the area of obstetric fistula repair which won the Irish nun a reputation as a champion of impoverished African women. Prof Powderly estimated that she was responsible for conducting over 1,000 vesicovaginal fistula repairs between 1993 and 2007 “an astonishing record that one can confidently say will never be bettered”.
“As a result of seeing at first hand the physical, psychological and social isolation endured by African women, she became a champion of dignity and justice for women in the developing world,” according to Prof Powderly’s citation. Breda who had expected her to arrive in Dublin for a holiday this December agrees that looking after vulnerable African woman was her passion. “This was her vacation- looking after these women and babies. She loved Africa. And she always wanted to die there”.
Sr Maura was the fourth of nine children - three girls and six boys - born to Patrick and Jane Lynch. Patrick Lynch worked for An Post and with each promotion was transferred, so the family lived at various times in Youghal, Carrick-on-Shannon, Killarney, Tralee, and Limerick before finally moving to Dublin. Their mother was a teacher, and the family spoke Irish at home.
A founding member of the Association of Surgeons in Uganda, Sr Maura was passionate about passing on her knowledge, and she pioneered innovative training programmes in obstetric fistula repair for Ugandan doctors and nurses. She wasn’t too busy to fundraise and helped secure an Obstetric Fistula Unit in Kitovu Hospital which was officially opened in April 2005. She received many honours from the Ugandan government, including a unique Certificate of Residency for Life in recognition of her contribution to the health and welfare of its citizens over three decades.
Sr Maura is survived by three brothers, Fr Finbarr Lynch SJ, Kevin Lynch and Enda Lynch, and by her sister, Breda Rogers.
She was predeceased by her sister, Kathleen, and three brothers, Brendan, Aidan and Ciaran.
While we know that the Institutional RC Church is rotten to the core - we must NEVER FORGET that there many members of that Church who have absolutely nothing at all to do with the rot and spend their whole lives in service of their God and their fellow men and women.
Sister Maura Lynch was quite obviously one of those very special people.
I'm sure that like all of us she has her personal failings but she gave 50 years of her life serving the poor and neglected women of Uganda and she loved the people there that she wished to be buried among them.
She sacrificed not only the ordinary desire to marry and have a husband and children of her own - but she left her own land to give every ounce of her love and strength to the people of a strange and poor land.
The only reward she wanted was the reward of knowing that she was doing the will of the God she fervently believed in and the normal human satisfaction of knowing that you bring a little hope into utter hopelessness.
She lit the candle of her life in a very dark place and allowed that candle to be consumed with a passion for the God she saw in the suffering women of one of the poorest nations on the earth.
And she did this because she believed that the Man who died on Calvary wanted her to do it.
On this Blog, we so often have to deal with the opposite of people like Sister Maura.
On this Christmas Eve let us acknowledge all those little candles that refuse to let the darkness consume them.