Sr. Lelia Boyle – An Appreciation

The late Sr. Lelia Boyle,Ardfert and Presentation Convent, Castleisland. ©Photograph  John Reidy
The late Sr. Lelia Boyle,Ardfert and Presentation Convent, Castleisland. ©Photograph John Reidy

The late Sr Lelia Boyle of Presentation Convent, Castleisland, used to say that a person needed only five books in life – a dictionary, an atlas, a cooking book, a prayer book and the Good News Bible.

She’d list them out on the fingers of one hand, then she’d laugh, with the greatest glee, if you repeated them back to her. It was a list worth memorising because armed with even some of the knowledge in those five books, you wouldn’t go too far wrong.

Words of Wisdom

At her funeral last month, her other sayings and many words of wisdom echoed round the church in Castleisland. She made a genuine and lasting impression on her past-pupils who spoke about her with deep affection. When she died on Monday, 28 August, they posted a series of warm and heart-felt comments to pay tribute to a woman who devoted her life to her vocation and to teaching Home Economics and Religion at Presentation Secondary School in Castleisland.

“Rest in peace, Sr Lelia,” wrote one former pupil. “You were an amazing woman ahead of your time. You taught us so much about life. I often refer to things you said to us about life.”

Another recalled how she used to say that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, but it was wrong to believe you could change someone by marrying them.

Sr. Lelia Boyle reflecting in the Presentation Convent Chapel in Castleisland. ©Photograph: John Reidy 26-9-2013
Sr. Lelia Boyle praying in the Presentation Convent / Nuns’ Chapel in Castleisland. ©Photograph: John Reidy 26-9-2013

Patent Shoes Under A Skirt

Others said her class was their favourite in school, although she was a teacher who had no favourites. “Everyone was the same in her eyes,” wrote one past-pupil. She “gave us plenty of advice even though at the time we took no notice but realised in later years what she had to say was very true”.

As former pupil May Stack put it: “Sr Lelia didn’t wear pearls. Instead, she dispensed pearls of wisdom and knowledge to generations of students.”

She had many pearls of wisdom and many pithy sayings, for instance: “Never wear patent shoes under a skirt!” and “Dark eyebrows and fair hair are a sure sign of beauty” but what stands out in the memory of her former pupils most is her warmth, gentleness, generosity, wisdom and playful sense of humour.

Quiet Hours of Needlework

Sr. Mary Buckley at Castleisland recalls: “Past-pupils are always singing her praises for the lovely way in which she prepared them for life. They appreciated her words of wisdom during the quiet hours of needlework classes where she spoke to them like a second mother and prepared them for whatever journey life was to hold for them.”

At her funeral, past-pupil Cathy Murphy O’Shea said she had some beautiful memories of her in Home Economics. “She taught me everything I know about cooking and sewing, but most of all she taught us about life. She really was ahead of her time. I remember she told us that marriage might not be for everyone – she said she had chosen to become a nun, and others might follow different paths, and to be open to that.”

Sr Lelia kept up contact with many of her former pupils. She wrote to several of them and many others visited her later in life at the convent.

An Avid Letter Writer

She was an avid letter-writer and, at Christmas, she got many cards. “Lelia had a wide network of friends. She had a fantastic memory and could recall all the names of the pupils, their parents, their grandparents and sometimes even the great-grandparents,” Sr Mary said.

First and foremost, however, Lelia was a woman of prayer. Names of people who asked for prayer were listed in a little notebook and daily remembered. As the years went by, the list grew as many parishioners and past-pupils sought prayers for various intentions to help them through life’s tough challenges.

Lelia also told her relatives that she remembered them daily in her prayers; she went through every name in her address book and prayed for each person listed.

When I’m a Woman

She gave each student a copy of ‘When I’m a Woman’, a poem she was inspired to write after hearing a version for men recited by boys in Sr Vianney’s first class at a concert to mark the official opening of the new Castleisland Presentation Primary School on 11 February 1966.

She explained how that came about in an article she wrote for the Castleisland Parish news in 2013:

“The next day while I was at private prayer in the Nuns’ Chapel, which is situated at the top right hand side of Castleisland Parish Church, the thought struck me… ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something similar for girls’?

“The lines from ‘When I’m a Woman’ came to me there and I wrote them down. It is based on a Thank You Prayer to God.”

Words by Heart

When the poem was recited at her funeral, many in the congregation knew the words by heart. Several of her past-pupils still recite it with their own children. It is a poem that cherishes the simple things in life and emphasises how belief in God and compassion, love, unity and dignity can make this world a better place.

It starts: “When I’m a woman –

I’ll be a Saint if I can.

I’ll rise each morning bright and happy

And with courage and conviction face each day.

I’ll let my heart expand with love

And thank my Creator from above.”

Born Joanna Boyle

Sr Lelia was born Joanna Boyle on 23 August 1924 at Killeacle, Ardfert, to Patrick and Julia (née Leahy) Boyle. She had a sister Rita and two brothers, Paudie and Willie. She went to the local primary school in Ardfert and later went to Presentation Secondary in Tralee where she sat her Leaving Certificate. She had a prodigious memory and often recalled cycling to and from school in all kinds of weather.

Her vocation was to the Presentation Congregation and she entered the novitiate in Oakpark, now Collis-Sandes House, on 24 September 1942. She was appointed to Castleisland in 1945 and went on to qualify as a Home Economics teacher at Sion Hill College in Dublin. She spent all her working life in Castleisland and was very happy to be able to stay there after her retirement in 1986.

She never forgot the tools of her trade and spent many busy days and weeks with knitting needles, making Aran sweaters for members of the community and her many friends.

Time and Energy

She was generous with her time and energy and was always ready to help out with culinary pursuits. The apple tart at Castleisland convent is legendary.

The sisters of the Castleisland community remember her as a quiet, unassuming and sincere lady who left her mark in life. She was always happy with her lot and enjoyed the peace and silence of the convent and a life of love and prayerful solitude with her God.

As she grew older, she couldn’t say enough for the carers who looked after her so well. One of those carers said she was a wonderful person inside and out and, even in her nineties, was still teaching them how to live in the world. “Words can’t describe the person she was. She took the world as it was and taught us so much and how to deal with life. She made us all better people.”

Tralee Bon Secours

Sr Lelia Boyle died in the loving care of the matron and staff of Tralee Bon Secours hospital shortly after her 93rd birthday. It was a happy coincidence that her beloved niece Karen, husband Van, grandniece Kaitlin and grandnephew Will were visiting from Detroit. They were with her on her final journey. They visited her every year and spent many precious days with her in Castleisland.

Her passing leaves a void in the heart of her Presentation community, her loving brother Willie and his wife Katherine, her niece Karen and husband Van, her extended family and in the lives of so many who loved her dearly.

As one of her former pupils said: “Rest in peace, Sr Leila, you will never be forgotten by us.”