Sister Rita Horan


Sister Rita died young at the age of 93. To the end of her days, she was interested in others, their joys, their anxieties, their wellbeing. Rita sparkled in whatever sphere of life she found herself, whether school, community, family, or parish. She was the brightest star in the firmament.

She was born on March 27th, 1905, in Dublin, the fourth child of a family of eight, seven of whom entered the religious life. When she was four, her father, a civil servant, was transferred to England. Her primary school education was with the French Sisters of Charity in Sheffield. After that, Rita was awarded two scholarships, one to a famous public school and the other to the Notre Dame Secondary School. Her parents chose the latter.

When the Free State began, her father decided to return to Ireland. Rita completed her university studies in England and then joined her family in Galway. Whatever glittering prizes she obtained, we certainly never heard about them. With her particular blend of self-confidence and humility, there was no need to speak of her personal achievements. After some time considering the various forms of religious life, Rita was directed to the Society of the Sacred Heart by her Jesuit confessor. She spent a year-and-a-half teaching in Mount Anville. On occasions the novices were allowed to observe her memorable classes. In September 1928, Rita entered the society. Life in a strict enclosed order during the 1920s and 1930s was difficult but somehow her irrepressible outgoing nature prevailed.

Most of her religious life was spent teaching in the Convents of the Sacred Heart. What a wonderful teacher! In September every year, she was like a prima donna returning to the stage. She loved her girls; "all her geese were swans" and they knew it. Her pupils raced along the corridors to be in time for Mother Horan, while leaving the previous teachers' classrooms in disarray. Rita's English class or Latin class was always more important. Wit, excitement and insight into character were the order of the day in her classes. Her homework schedule was demanding and extra "optional" work was given. Her learning was great but lightsome and never dull. One day, when Rita was collecting money for an outing during class time, the Latin inspector arrived unexpectedly and Rita immediately said: "You are very welcome, Mr Bithrey, I was just collecting some denarii."

Rita was a very popular lecturer at the ATE summer schools. She shared her talents and insight with other teachers, even if it was impossible for them to emulate her wonderful personality. With her as teacher, weak pupils improved, brilliant pupils flourished and the difficult pupils were usually won over in the end by her immense charm. "Odium academicum" was present even among religious and in mere secondary schools. A dreadful annual debate was a feature of Sacred Heart schools in the late 1960s and 1970s. Sr Rita's girls were usually teamed in the final with a well-known Dublin Sacred Heart school. Altercations about the motion, the adjudicators, the result were the consequences of this "friendly" debate. The girls became the mouthpieces of two nuns, not "alike in dignity". Rita never started a fight but "being in" she certainly wished to carry home her shield or be carried home upon it like a noble Roman. In those days, retirement was optional at 65, but Sr Rita continued to teach gladly until she was 67. The abandonment of teaching in schools by nuns was a source of grief to her.

At community recreations and discussions, Rita's interventions were fun. She was honest, courageous and sceptical of various interpretations of Vatican II theology a la carte. This did not endear her to some. An aggressive nun asked her what she meant by her use of a particular word, and Rita replied: "As in the Oxford Dictionary. Look it up, dear!" "L'Allegro" and "Il-Penseroso" were names given in jest to a jolly nun and a gloomy nun respectively.

Mount Merrion Parish was the love of her later years. Her great heart and energy were given to the parishioners, young and old, poor and rich. After 10 a.m. Mass, there was a constant queue of people wishing to talk to her. St Joseph's Young Priests' Society and the Legion of Mary were great nights out for her. She counselled Jesuits, bishops, priests, religious by listening, by deep prayer and wise interjections devoid of preaching.

Her last years brought suffering. She, who loved reading, gradually became blind, but "her light was not spent". Sr Rita continued to the very end loving people "in this dark world and wide".

Our deepest sympathy goes to her ever faithful sisters.