Sr Philomene Tiernan, third from left, with other members of the Tiernan family in Dodewaard in May this year; mounted on the wall behind the group is a propeller from the Halifax crash which claimed the lives of Patrick Tiernan and Alfie Burns in June 1944

‘We still can’t
believe that
it really happened’

Leo Geraghty read a letter he had received from Burgemeester Kees Veerhoek – mayor of Neder-Betuwe, which includes Dodewaard – at the Poppy Trail night in Kingaroy:

Dear Leo,

Thank you very much for your condolences and the links to the Australian newspapers. We really appreciate this.

The terrible accident with flight MH17 has shocked us. Our nations mourn.

So many innocent people lost their lives. Please accept our sincere condolences.

Friday morning we heard that our Australian friend Philomene was also on that plane. There are no words that can express how sorry we are to hear that terrible news. What a tragedy for her, her family and friends.

We met Philomene during the commemoration of Patrick and Alfie who were brought down during the war.

70 years later history repeats itself. We are stunned to hear this. We still can’t believe that it really happened.

What a very sad and cruel history.

Her (uncle) Patrick did his important mission for our freedom; on his way to the homebase the enemy shot his aeroplane down.

Philomene did her important mission to visit Patrick’s grave; on her way home her aeroplane was shot down by an enemy.

For us it was an honour to have met Philomene in May 2014.

She impressed us with her calm and wise character. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and with you all.

May Philomene rest in peace.

On behalf of the municipality of Neder-Betuwe

– Kees Veerhoek, Mayor

July 24, 2014

The death of Sr Philomene Tiernan aboard Malaysian Flight MH-17 has shocked family members and friends … both in Australia and overseas.

Since the tragic news broke last Friday, people all over the South Burnett have stood silently at functions and events to honour Sr Philomene’s life, and mourn the deaths of the innocents blown from the sky.

Rugby league players paused at Cherbourg last Saturday, soccer players did likewise at Murgon and Kingaroy, and Councillors did the same before the start of their Wednesday meeting. There have been prayers said in churches …

One of the saddest accolades was the moving tribute shown on screen at the “Poppy Trail” night at Kingaroy Town Hall on Wednesday.

* * *

Sr Phil was born in Murgon on June 17, 1937.

On her seventh birthday, June 17, 1944, her uncle Patrick Tiernan – a crewman on board a Halifax bomber – was killed during a raid on the Ruhr, part of the allied air offensive against strategic German infrastructure.

Phil attended St Joseph’s Catholic School at Murgon and then was a boarder at Stuartholme School in Brisbane.

Deciding to become a nun, she entered the the Society of the Sacred Heart on August 9, 1959, and took her final vows on July 21, 1965. She would have celebrated her golden anniversary next year.

Sr Phil taught at both Stuartholme and then Kincoppal-Rose Bay in Sydney, where she worked for more than 30 years as teacher and director of boarding. She also served as Provincial of the order from 1993-1999.

She had been on a trip of a lifetime when her life was cut short by a ground-to-air missile over Ukraine.

After attending the Tiernan and Burns commemorations in the Netherlands in May, Sr Phil took a sabbatical. She visited Dublin where she undertook a faith and spirituality renewal course at All Hallows College, took part in celebrations in England to mark the centenary of the death of Janet Stuart (a former leader of the Society of the Sacred Heart), and attended a retreat in France where she visited the grave of St Madeleine Barat, founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart.

 * * *

Sr Phil took a lead role at the Patrick Tiernan / Alfie Burns commemorations at Dodewaard. She can be seen laying a wreath in this excerpt from Dutch TV news:

Burgemeester Kees Veerhoek signs a condolences book for Sr Philomene (Photo: Neder-Betuwe municipality)

* * *

Sr Phil mentioned to friends in Europe recently that this poem had touched her and she would be bringing it home to Australia with her.

It now seems to be a very fitting tribute to the quiet teacher from Kincoppal Rose Bay school:

by Michael Josephson

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.

There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.

All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.

Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.

It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.

Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.

So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.

The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.

It won’t matter where you came from or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.

It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.

Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought but what you built,

not what you got but what you gave.

What will matter is not your success but your significance.

What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught.

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched,

empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence but your character.

What will matter is not how many people you knew,

but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.

What will matter is not your memories but the memories of those who loved you.

What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.

It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.

Choose to live a life that matters.

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