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‘Above all I believe in people’

Tributes were paid this week by the international Jesuit network to Winnie Ryan of Irish Jesuit Missions (IJM) who died peacefully on Sunday after a long illness. Winnie was Finance and Operations Manager of IJM for ten years, during which time her warmth, humour and enthusiasm touched many people.

Winnie’s good friend in IJM, Rosaleen Kenny, wrote of the positive influence Winnie had on the office and of the sadness felt by the staff at her loss. “For more than a decade, Winnie Ryan was the heart of Irish Jesuit Missions (IJM), brightening the office with her warm smile and infectious laugh. As Finance and Office Manager, she supported and encouraged the whole team, who were inspired by her dedication to her role and her commitment to the people we work with around the world.”

Rosaleen also recalled something Winnie said that showed the mark of who she was.”She summed up her philosophy in her own words, saying ‘Above all, I believe in people!’ Because of her own inherent sense of fairness, Winnie felt an affinity with the work of the Society of Jesus and felt there was a reason why she found her way into the organisation. As someone who hated injustice, she valued the way the Jesuits challenge it. She was also motivated by her sense of responsibility to others, which is a cornerstone of the Jesuit ethos. Winnie played an integral role in IJM in providing encouragement and support for Jesuits and volunteers overseas, something that is as important to the success of projects as providing funding. ”’

In her ten years at IJM, Winnie collaborated on a host of projects with Irish Jesuits overseas, building lasting working relationships and friendships with the global Jesuit community. One project that she said she got a lot of satisfaction from, involved a visit to Zambia to set up a financial management system for a Jesuit organisation there. She said it left her with a “huge respect for and a real understanding of what it means for a person to be called to service”.

Rosaleen says that all the staff are heartbroken to say goodbye to Winnie, but adds that “her positive influence on our office is felt by all us, every day. We will remember her beautiful smile, energy, humour and enthusiasm for all she did, even as we mourn our loss. We will keep her daughter Julie-Ann in our thoughts and prayers.”

Members of the Irish and international Jesuit community also paid tribute, in terms that reflected how well-loved Winnie was for her kindness and generosity of spirit. As Brendan Carmody SJ remarked, “What a lovely person she was! A delight to deal with. Any problem for Winnie was no problem.”

Winnie’s travels to Jesuit works overseas and her collaboration with Jesuits around the world was also honoured. Charlie Searson SJ, of the Zambia-Malawi Province said “As well as meeting Winnie in the Mission Office over the years, we here in Zambia have very happy memories of her visit to Zambia. She took great interest in all the men here and in what we are doing. Always fresh and vivacious in her honest to God comments.” Provincial of the Zambia-Malawi Province, Leonard Chiti SJ said “I will miss her cheerfulness and her warm presence every time I encountered her.” Kyara Corbinian SJ of the Eastern Africa Province recalled the “many times I was in touch with her in the course of my work and the many ways she kept supporting and encouraging us.”

Closer to home, people mentioned her character and warmth. Joe Greenan of the Irish Jesuit Provincialate called her “a beautiful person, with a heart of gold” while Fran Flood, now of JCED Malawi and formerly of IJM simply said “We have lost a good woman and a good friend.”

Jesuit tributes reflected the courage and positive attitude that Winnie held on to as her health failed. “The last time I saw her was at the garden party in Cherryfield. Even though she was struggling physically at that time her exuberance and zest for life continued to shine through” said Joe Keaney SJ. Treasurer of the Irish Jesuit Provincialate, Bill Toner, echoed this sentiment saying “She was a wonderful person and she carried out her job in the Mission Office with great skill and dedication. She will be sorely missed. I hope the ceremony does justice to her memory and the great cheerfulness and optimism with which she faced her illness.”

A celebration of Winnie’s life was held on Tuesday, 19th November at Dardistown Chapel and Crematorium and was attended by her family, friends, colleagues from the Ballymun Drugs Task Force and members of the Irish Jesuit network. It was a joyous occasion, in keeping with Winnie’s wishes. Her happy demeanour and sense of humour were present throughout the ceremony, which ended with the song Don’t Rain on my Parade. It was a fitting send-off for a woman who never let life get the better of her.