Obituary for Sister Austin Cairns, FMSJ

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Posted on: 20 February 2019

Author:Sr Joan Kerley


Yours prayers are requested for the repose of the soul of


Who died at Franciscan Convent, Blackburn on Tuesday 19th February 2019

Sister Austin was born on 18th October 1937, the second child of Patrick and Mary Cairnsin Burnopfield, Co.Durham. She was baptised Winifred Mary on 23rd October 1937 at Sacred Heart Church, Byermoor and confirmed on 21st July 1946. She is predeceased by her older sister, Joan, and is survived by her sister, Barbara, and her brother John who lives in Canada. She entered the Congregation in Altrincham and at her clothing received the name Sister Mary Austin.She made her First Profession on 1st November 1963 and made her Perpetual Profession on 11th February 1969.

Sister Austin was first appointed to work in Catholic Children’s Rescue Society in 1963 and she continued in this demanding work in a variety of roles until 1991. As a social worker with families in difficulties and later as Fostering Officer, the anguish of the children she worked with affected her deeply and made her determined to find foster families for them. When she was appointed to West Bank Approved School, she loved the teenage girls and believed in them. Her sense of humour really came to the fore at this time.

During these years she also served as local Superior in Didsbury, as a Chapter delegate on many occasions and as a General Councillor between 1987 and 1993. She was the first Sister to work with Volunteers, nurturing several vocations to our own congregation and to others. She was Novice Director in 1987 and in 2008 she was appointed to the Associate Membership Team. She also served for eighteen years on the Congregational Investment Committee stating that she knew nothing but proving that she had a great deal of wisdom quietly tucked away in a good brain.

In 1991 Sister Austin started work in Francis House Children’s Hospice, touring parishes to raise money for the actual building and then spearheading many social events for fundraising. She was a gracious guest at many functions collecting cheques from generous donors and organising beautiful displays for memorial days and open days at the Hospice. She remained a highly valued member of staff until 2018 when ill health forced her to retire but she continued to be passionately interested in everything happening there.

Sister Austin seemed to have family genes for acting as a number of her family worked or still work in this field. She was very talented and shared her gifts generously producing beautiful Mass booklets on many occasions and equally beautiful Chapter documents when she was the Chair of the pre and post Chapter Commissions. She had a keen sense of humour and excelled at writing sketches for long nights and for Chapter entertainment. With the late Sister Anna Maathuis she produced hilarious songs and poems and yet, despite being so gifted and very popular among all the Sisters she remained unassuming, happy to be part of a team in the background and never seeking praise or thanks. She was also a trusted and loyal friend to many, a great respecter of persons and non judgemental.

Sister Austin spent a number of years living with and caring for the late Sister Aloysius with whom she had worked for so many years. They were close to each other and shared similar interests and memories of the development of the Rescue Society and the 'birthing' of Francis House Hospice. Together they documented a history of Rescue which has since proved to be extremely valuable.

In 2018 Sister Austin was diagnosed with bowel cancer which had spread to her liver. She accepted the diagnosis with courage, faith and a deep trust in God and continued to work tirelessly for others, keeping in touch with families who had adopted children and families who had lost children at the Hospice. When she became too sick to work she continued to keep in touch via her ipad and when she became too weak for that she handed everything over to the Lord whom she had served so faithfully as an FMSJ. She was often heard to say "Each morning I thank the Lord for giving me another day and just say I will do whatever you want me to do today."

In December 2018 she asked to move from her flat in Didsbury where her sister, Barbara and occasionally Sister Rosina, had helped to look after her, to Franciscan Convent, Blackburn. Here she regularly praised the staff for their kindness to her and enjoyed the company of the Sisters. Her many visitors often exhausted her but she thanked all of them for coming and was always gracious in receiving them right up to the day before she died. Father Tom Mulheran with whom she had worked for many years was a frequent visitor and gave her the Sacrament of the Sick. On Monday 18th February Sister Austin could no longer respond but she was not in pain and she died , as she lived, very peacefully with her beloved sister, Barbara, by her side at 5am on Tuesday 19th February 2019.

On Tuesday 26th February in the afternoon Sister Austin will be brought to the Franciscan Convent, Blackburn chapel where she will remain overnight and will be taken to the Church of the Good Shepherd, Northfield Road, Blackburn BB1 7ND on Wednesday 27th February for the funeral Mass at 2pm. This will be followed by interment at Pleasington Cemetery. It is also hoped that a Memorial service for Sister Austin will be arranged at a later date in Manchester.