Bishop Michael Smith celebrated the funeral Mass for Sr Colette Ellis, who died on 24 March 2017.
Her death marked the end of an extraordinary life of a wonderfully humble, courageous and much loved woman just 5 weeks short of her 100th birthday.
Born in Yorkshire on May 1st, 1917, at 16 she went to France as an au pair to a family who lived near Lourdes. With them she visited Lourdes many times and at the age of 21 she became a Catholic. She entered the convent of the Franciscan Mission of Our Lady in Calais in August 1939. In June 1940, Sister Colette was taken prisoner of war and held for 4 years. She recalled that she and her fellow Sisters were not mistreated but had to work very hard.
In January 1946, Sister Colette and three other Sisters left France to go to Aden to set up a mission. She spent 4 years there and then went to Djibouti.
In 1956 Sister Colette was sent to Dollis Hill in London to train as a Nurse. There she met lifelong friends, who kept in contact and visited her until the end of her life.
In 1959 as a trained Nurse Sister Colette was sent to Ethiopia to a town called Nazareth. She was to set up a Health Centre but when she arrived she was told to establish a school. This she done without question. This school is now one of the top-class schools in Ethiopia with many Ethiopian Sisters working there.
In 1965 Sister Colette was sent to Wassera in Southern Ethiopia to set up Mother and Child Health Clinics and women’s projects. In 1975 she went on to commence her Mission in Dubbo near Soddo. There she worked tirelessly and established many clinics in that area. She did unending work and fundraising during the 1984 epic famine. Some of Michael Beurke’s BBC films were taken at feeding stations set up by Sister Colette and run with the help of Concern, Goal and Oxfam volunteers. Sister Colette was highly regarded by the Ethiopian authorities and was granted permission to carry out her work in very difficult times and areas.
Over her 38 years in Ethiopia Sister Colette had many volunteer teachers, nurses and engineers, working on her projects. All these volunteers loved and respected her and many kept in contact and visited her all through her life. At the age of 80 Sister came to live with her community in Ballinderry in Mullingar. There she became famous to all who visited the Hospital as she worked on the reception desk there in the evenings. Bishop Michael Smith had special affection for Sister Colette and visited her very often until the end of her life. Her dedication to Our Lady of Lourdes never failed and until 2012 she went to Lourdes with the Meath Pilgrimage each year.
In 2013 in failing health she went to live in Newbrook Nursing Home where she made many friends and was loved and cared for by all the staff. Sister Colette will be forever remembered by her Community and the wide circle of people whose lives she touched in so many ways.
Following her death, Cardinal Souraphiel, Archbishop of Addis Abeba, sent a message of condolence, assuring the Franciscan Sisters of his grateful, fond and prayerful remembrance of Sr Colette.
May she rest in peace