‘Home’ is where we feel closest to God

Mary Ann O’Driscoll’s short life was a life distinguished by Gospel service, says Fr Thomas Casey SJ

This past Monday I had the privilege of concelebrating at the Funeral Mass of Mary Ann O’Driscoll, a young lay missionary from my home parish of Our Lady of Dolours: the parish church is about a hundred yards from the entrance to the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. At a time when we need role models of Christian commitment more than ever, Mary Ann’s exemplary life stands out as a shining beacon.

Mary Ann was working for the religious charity Franciscan Works as the director of their Liberia Mission. She was on her second stint as a lay missionary in the country. This African nation has been ravaged by the Ebola epidemic, but in fact it was a speeding vehicle that tragically ended her life, knocking her down, and although she was not killed on the spot, she died soon afterwards on July 15 at the all-too-young age of 24.


Her parents, Betty and Paddy, and her seven brothers and sisters, had to endure an agonising few weeks before Mary Ann’s body was finally returned to Ireland late last week. They found solace in their marvellous faith, and in the prayers and support of their relatives, neighbours and friends.

You can get a sense of the extraordinary calibre of Mary Ann from a recent letter she wrote to the people of Glasnevin parish:

“I couldn’t really explain it in words but Liberia made me feel so close to God. My first time on the mission was so difficult; it was a real struggle and challenge accepting my vocation and my limitations. We all want to change the world in some way, and it is true that we must start with ourselves. The hardest part for me was accepting that I probably would not be changing the world or the mission in the idealistic way I had imagined. I started out as a teacher and packed that in quickly, it took me a long time until I realised I had to stop trying to ‘fix it’ and start allowing God to use me how he wished. 

“It is a huge challenge surrendering everything to God. Your weaknesses, your strengths, your worries, your anxieties and your ambitions. There is incredible joy in giving it all to God even if it means you feel powerless. 

“My stomach turned at first but I just allowed God to use me as His instrument and the rewards were plenty. I did not even realise what Liberia meant to me until I returned to Ireland and realised what a home Liberia had become. It was a home to me because it is the place I feel closest to God.”

Mary Ann took up God’s challenging but wonderful invitation to surrender everything to him. She lived out this surrender in the midst of the duties of directing the mission. 


Surrender is the journey of a lifetime, because each day we must repeat this full ‘yes’ from the deepest place in our hearts. Busy with the work of overseeing the construction of a new science lab and pushing forward the project of building a 100ft well, she missed simply ‘wasting’ time with the local children as she had always loved doing: “I miss having the chance to spend time just chatting to the children. I loved when I could sit on the step and talk to them. Now that is my sacrifice; I have to accept my new calling and focus on being the best version of myself to glorify God.”

In his homily at her Funeral Mass, Fr Sean Mundow spoke of Mary Ann’s infectious enthusiasm, her sheer joy in life, which came from having given herself to the God of life. Mary Ann cared about human life in all its stages and phases – the young children and students in Liberia, and also the fate of the unborn children of Ireland, working hard between her two stints in Liberia to prepare the National Vigil for Life in Dublin last year.

Leading the prayers at the removal for Mary Ann in Glasnevin last Saturday, Ethiopian priest Fr Sintayehu Gelan Gemchu sang a hymn in the ancient language of his people. 

The tune sounded uncannily similar to an Irish caoineadh or lament. Although the music was melancholic, the lyrics (which he translated for us afterwards) were full of hope. As we know from chapter eight of the Acts of the Apostles, the apostle Philip baptised an Ethiopian eunuch soon after the Resurrection of Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and the man returned back to his country to spread the Good News. 

It seemed particularly appropriate to hear a priest from one of the first Christian nations on Earth paying this tribute to Mary Ann. It was as though Fr Sintayehu was not only singing on behalf of the continent of Africa, but in the name of Christianity itself.

Mary Ann’s short life was a life distinguished by her service to the continent of Africa and to Christianity itself. How many of us call home the place we feel closest to God – or have yet to discover where that place is?

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam uasal.