Irish nun speaks of friend lost on Malaysia Airlines flight

Sr Philomene Tiernan of Irish origins and enjoyed a recent stay in Ireland

Sr Philomene (Phil) Tiernan was onboard the lost MH17 flight.

Sr Philomene (Phil) Tiernan was onboard the lost MH17 flight.


Irish nun Sr Aideen Kinlen was one of the last people to see Sr Philomene (Phil) Tiernan before she stepped onto the lost MH17 flight.

US intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile downed the Malaysia Airlines plane on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur yesterday, killing all 298 people on board.

Sr Kinlen, from the Society of the Sacred Heart in Dublin, said she had just spent an eight-day retreat with Sr Tiernan in Joigny, France.

“I was one of the last people to be with her. It was just me and Sr Phil on a retreat in France and we have travelled together after,” she said.

“She was a wonderful person - a happy, committed religious woman. And she was in a very outgoing type of a woman with a terrific sense of humour.”

Sr Kinlen said Sr Tiernan had spent the month of May this year at All Hallows College in Dublin completing a faith and spirituality renewal course.

“She herself is of Irish origin, generations back. She was born in Australia, ” she said.

“Sr Phil really loved her stay in Ireland and said it was ‘great craic’ here. It wasn’t her first time here, she was here a couple of years ago too.

“My nephew was bowled over by the warmth of Sr Phil Tiernan when he met her, he said ‘I’ve never met a nicer nun’. ”

As Sr Kinlen spoke to The Irish Times, she said she was holding a bag of mints Sr Tiernan had given her as they travelled together on the train the day before she was killed.

Sr Tiernan (77) had worked as a teacher in a girl’s catholic school in Sydney.

Sr Kinlen said on the last day of the pilgrimage, Sr Tiernan was taking lots of photographs to show her students, teachers and friends.

As part of her trip, she had also attended a conference in the UK and visited St Francis Xavier Church in Paris, where the founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart is buried.

Sr Kinlen said Sr Tiernan was travelling alone back to Australia and had not been worried about the flight.

“Her only worry was the train ride to Amsterdam and getting her luggage on and off. She’d chosen to fly from Amsterdam because it was cheaper,” she said.

Sr Kinlen said she had first met her friend in Rome in 1993.

She said it had been difficult for Sr Tiernan to come to terms with her brother having been killed when he tried to stop a fight in Australia 22 years ago.

“I got an awful shock when I heard what had happened to her,” she said, in reference to the flight crash. “It was strange she too died a violent death as a result of a fight she too had no involvement with,” she said.

She said as they talked during the retreat, she had suggested to Sr Tiernan to think about her own death. She read to her a poem, ‘So what will matter’.

Excerpts of it read: “Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end. There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.

“What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those that loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.”

Sr Kinlen said Sr Tiernan had looked forward to share the words with others.

“Sr Phil said ‘Oh that’s wonderful’, I’m taking that home to Australia with me’,” she said.

“When I look back now it’s really quite powerful. She was in a good place. She was well ready for heaven, but we will miss her.”