Sr Philomene Tiernan RSCJ pays her respects at Patrick Tiernan's grave at Dodewaard Cemetery
(Photo: Leo Geraghty)
Sr Philomene Tiernan ... on board Malaysian flight
(Photo: Julia Charles)

July 18, 2014

It is almost unbelievable to think the tragedy of war has again struck Murgon’s Tiernan family … Sydney nun Philomene Tiernan, in Europe for the recent Dodewaard commemorations, was on board Malaysian flight MH17 which exploded mid-air over eastern Ukraine last night.

The death of Sr Philomene, 75, a member of the Sacred Heart order based at the Kincoppal Rose Bay School, has shocked members of the South Burnett party who were at Dodewaard in the Netherlands to mark the 70th anniversary of the death of Patrick Tiernan.

Nanango historian Liz Caffery said she was stunned to learn that Sr Philomene was on board.

“I worked with her a lot constructing the Patrick Tiernan book,” she told

“I had many communications with Philomene. Together with her cousin Bob Tiernan, Philomene was one of the few surviving family members who had memories of Patrick before he left to join the RAAF, so getting her personal reflection was a very treasured inclusion in the book.

“She was extremely helpful to me and encouraging of my work and very dedicated to preserving the memory of Patrick and the Tiernan family.

“I didn’t meet her until we were together in Dodewaard and it was another of the moving experiences while I was there … to meet Philomene who was a very beautiful person.

“She repeated her accolades regarding my work which were cherished by me (even more so now) as a confirmation that I had written Patrick’s story in a way which was valued by his family.

“Of course the significance of the fact that Philomene has lost her life shot down in a plane (as Patrick was) having shortly left The Netherlands and only a few weeks after we shared the 70 year commemoration for Patrick and his fellow airman, Alf, cuts very painfully.”

Sr Philomene, the sister of former Murgon publican Dermot Tiernan, stayed on in Europe after the Dodewaard trip to attend a retreat in France.

It is believed she was returning to Australia when the latest tragedy occurred.

There were 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, including at least 28 Australians.

It is believed the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was struck with a surface-to-air missile, possibly launched by pro-Russian separatists.

The Queenslanders on board included Toowoomba pathologist Roger Guard and his wife Jill.

* * *

Sr Philomene’s memories of Patrick Tiernan – who was killed when his Halifax bomber was shot down over the Netherlands during World War II – now have an added poignancy:

“Although my childhood memories are fairly sketchy and vague, I still have the sense of the incredible pain of war and what it meant to the families. It is impressed forever on my heart. Both of my parents had a younger brother fighting for Australia’s freedom, Uncle Pat Tiernan in England and Uncle Paddy Carroll in Papua/New Guinea, and there was great pride in that, but the anguish of what could be happening to them, day by day, was ever present. They were both in our family prayer daily, and often in the table conversation …

“The bus from Murgon and the bus from Kingaroy stopped when they met. We hopped off our bus with Dad, and Uncle Pat stepped off the Murgon bus … We knew that Uncle Pat was leaving for war, and I noticed the tears in Dad’s eyes, so when we were back on the bus, Ray, Dad and I all sat close together on two seats, instead of three. I can remember we both held Dad’s hands, very tightly, all the rest of the way …

“The next we heard about Uncle Pat was that he was ‘missing in action’ and from the way my parents spoke, I realised that was very serious. After that, I just remember a certain cloud over our home as we awaited news.”

Sr Philomene Tiernan, front row, at right, with members of the Tiernan and Burns families in Dodewaard for the 70th anniversary of the deaths of Patrick Tiernan and Alfred Burns
(Photo: Liz Caffery)
Dermot Tiernan Jnr with Sr Philomene Tiernan at Dodewaard Cemetery (Photo: Leo Geraghty)

One of the first photos last night of the crash site (from Reuters):

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