Sister Johanna Heffernan


Maori Mother and Child

Sister Johanna Heffernan died on 10th September 2019, may her gentle soul rest in God’s peace. She was born on3rd September 1922 and made her first vows on 1947.
She spent some years in Ireland and England, in 1955 she went to New Zealand where she worked in different areas, Dunedin, Auckland and Petone were her main places.
On her return to Ireland she lived in Finglas.

At her funeral Sister Catherine Dunphy gave this reflection on Johanna’s life in NZ.
It was in NZ that I got to know Johanna, she had already left Ireland before I entered the congregation. I went to NZ in 1975, and I found in Johanna a warm, hospitable woman., welcoming to everyone and always ready to issue invitations come and to share a meal, and maybe a game of cards, with other LSA, and some of her close friends in Petone. Playing cards with her group was a challenge, they were very skilled at the cards and had to exercise great patience with the rest of us. She was a strong woman, full of confidence and courage, which inspired others to be confident and courageous. She was a steady woman, on whom you could lean for support. Having qualified as a general nurse in Dublin, she did psychiatric nursing in Dunedin and this undoubtedly enhanced her store of wisdom, which she shared generously. Her time in Petone coincided with a big influx of people from the Tokelau Islands who are NZ citizens and therefore had a right of entry. Together with Fr. Pat Greally and others in the parish, she set about helping with their welcome and integration into NZ society with language classes, pre-school for the young children, how to manage their money, and adjust to a very different diet and life style, and other common or garden things that were extraordinarily different from what they were used to. Eventually that help proved so successful that the Tokelauns, who remained a strong community group, were able to save and buy their own homes. She was greatly respected and loved by her Tokelaun friends, and others and she kept up contact long after she left NZ. It is also true to say that even though herself and her family in Ireland felt the pain of exile and distance, all the landmark family moments that were missed, her life was immeasurably enriched by living and working in a multi cultural context, among the local Maori people, and the immigrants from the south Pacific Islands and indeed in the heart of our won communities which were multi-cultural. It was a beautiful life and work and she threw her heart into it, and has left a wonderful legacy of memories, full of gratitude and love. There was a lot of pressure on Johanna about her decision to return to Ireland, people saying that she belonged there, that she part of them etc. But Johanna had made her discernment and her decision and was resolute, and that was a great gift for her family.
I had the pleasure of accompanying her on the journey home.
I had a lovely few hours with her and Josephine on the Monday before she died and that in another sense was to farewell her and bless her on her final journey home.

Father Brian Cummings SM knew Johanna for many years. He sent the following message: ” Johanna was a very special and central member of your family and others including myself and my family.
We have lost someone who was a great gift to us for so many years. At the same time, Johanna has earned her rest and I have no doubt she is already in heaven-and rightly so!
If ever anyone lived their faith, then Johanna did”.