An appreciation of Columban missionary Sr Marie Galvin

On the journey of life, we are blessed to meet people who really influence us. We are able to genuinely say that they have made a difference. One such person for me was Columban Sister, Marie Galvin, whom we laid to rest on Monday 20th January 2020 at the Sisters’ cemetery in Magheramore, Co Wicklow overlooking the Irish Sea.

Marie was a native of Bandon, Co Cork. Her first mission assignment as a Columban Sister was in California. She was a born educator who loved new challenges. She greatly endeared herself to the Mexican-American children who were studying at Our Lady of Guadalupe school run by the Sisters. She was not only their teacher but also a friend.

After many years in ministry in Los Angeles she was appointed Regional Superior of the Columban Sisters in the USA. Part of her responsibilities was to visit the Sisters in Peru where she felt very much at home with the poor of the ‘barriadas’ of Lima.

After her time in the USA she was elected to the General Council of the Columban Sisters and was based in Magheramore. From 1987 to 1993 she was elected as Congregational Leader. She was a woman with great vision. She had the opportunity of visiting Asia where the Sisters ministered in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Korea.

An Innovator

As a woman with great vision she felt encouraged to start a new mission and in 1990 the mission in Pakistan became a reality. I had the privilege of being in Pakistan when the first group of Sisters arrived. During her time as Congregational Leader she was elected President of the Irish Missionary Union a role that broadened her horizons of mission.

In 1995, after completing her term as Congregational Leader, she took the brave step of being assigned to Pakistan, where she remained until 2018, when ill health forced her to return to Ireland.

A born educator

In the January 2000 issue of the Far East Magazine, Marie wrote the following:

“Pakistan enters a new millennium with a degree of uncertainty. We, Columban Sisters, in Pakistan, are few in number living in a country where the overwhelming majority belong to a feudal Islamic culture. As we look forward the future picture is bleak for the poor, especially for the Christians, whom we accompany. It will take generations of faith and education to break the chains that curb their right to freedom and self-identify. But we are convinced that, despite the odds, it is important for us to be here, if only to share in and be with people in their powerlessness. In this latter capacity we serve both the Punjabi and the Kolhi Tribal communities.”

“Because we have chosen not to work for institutions, we experience the consequent vulnerability. We find ourselves standing, sitting, trudging on the edges, where the minority peoples try to survive. Education offers possibilities which could help in time to uplift and give self-direction to the people. We see in this ‘Education Umbrella’ a means of enabling a respite for the few from the scorching heat of discrimination and non-personhood. Under its shade, too there can be occasions to celebrate when some of the planted seeds take root and or when the fragile buds of hope flower.”

“Some of the ‘spokes’ that keep our Education Umbrella open include:
* Training of political leaders from among the Christian community.
* Catechetics which focuses on the grounding in a faith experience for you, for children and for teachers.
*Awareness seminars in the areas of Justice and Peace.
* Training of teachers from the rural villages and inner city parish schools. Many have minimal education and low self-confidence. It is a slow and tedious task to encourage them to teach in a way that engenders hope and not rote.
*Enabling young girls to pursue post-primary schooling. Schooling for girls is not seen as a value in Pakistan hence the shocking illiteracy rate of about 75%.”

“We Sisters have opted to live in a Muslim area in order to have real every day contacts with our neighbours of that faith.”

“All these are but tiny gestures. Maybe they will convey the message that we are all children of the same God who deeply cares for us. Whether we address our God as Father/Mother, Yahweh, or Allah, we will be heard by the One who listens to us and loves us.”


Since Marie’s death on Friday, 17th January 2020, many tributes have poured in. Emmanuel Lal, who worked closely with Marie in Kunri in the Sindh province, said that on hearing of her death, it was like losing a mother.

Columban, Tomás King, writing from Pakistan said, “Marie lived through many challenging times in Pakistan, from moments like the 9/11, the subsequent Afghan and Iraq wars, to name but a few. They had immense impact on the daily lives of the minority Christian community and other minorities. Movements were restricted. But in the midst of all of this Marie and the Sisters got on with mission and ministry to the poor and marginalised. Marie’s passion and commitment was to education especially to poor children and in particular to young girls. This gave her life and joy and a hope that these children’s future would be better than that of their parents. She was a woman of wisdom, a deep and strong faith with a deep spirituality that sustained her through many difficult times.”

Columban, Dan O’Connor writing from Pakistan said that, “Marie was a beautiful and courageous woman and missionary. She was an inspiration to so many people.”

Personally, I found Marie as one of the most positive, supportive and encouraging people that I have met and who had a most infectious smile. She was somebody who empowered people, especially the poor. I give thanks to God for having known her. She was deeply loved by the people of Kunri and Hyderabad. She made a huge difference for so many people and touched so many people’s lives. She will be sadly missed.


On Monday morning in Magheramore in beautiful sunshine we said our goodbyes to Marie. While we were sad to say our goodbyes, a deep sense of gratitude was very evident. I offer my thanks to the Columban Sisters and the Galvin family for the gift of Marie. A sincere thanks to Sr Mary Nolan for her excellent homily.

A special thanks to Srs Rebecca, Joan, Roberta, Perlita, and all in Pakistan who worked with Marie in Kunri and Hyderabad. Sr Joan McDermott, summed it up very beautifully when she conveyed the following message from Sr Rebecca: “We thank God for Marie and her vision, a woman small in stature. She had the vision to open up the Congregation to the world of Islam and who had a daring spirit which overcame many obstacles.”

At the end of the burial, incense sticks were placed on her grave in accordance with a Pakistan custom.

The following was one of her favourite Scripture passages:
“The loving kindness our God
Who visits us like the dawn from on high.
He will give light to those in darkness,
Those who dwell in the shadow of death
And guide us in the way of peace.”

Thank you, Marie. Until we meet again.

Fr Pat Raleigh

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