By Paul Dobbyn
THE death of Murgon-born Sacred Heart Sister Philomene Tiernan aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 has impacted on many of her students both past and present including communities at Stuartholme School in Brisbane and Kincoppal-Rose Bay School in Sydney.
Sr Tiernan completed her secondary education as a boarder at Stuartholme School, Brisbane, and eventually was a teacher and boarding director at both the Brisbane and Sydney schools.
The Sacred Heart Sister was returning to Sydney aboard Flight MH17 from a retreat at Joigny in France. She had also attended a theology course in Ireland and a Sacred Heart Spirituality Conference in the United Kingdom in early July. Several students and associates spoke of Sr Tiernan’s “kindly nature” and the fact she “would always give the time of day and show interest in the lives of everyone in her care”.
Stuartholme’s acting principal Andree Rice said: “Due to the strong, personal international links in the Society of the Sacred Heart, Sr Tiernan had friends in many parts of the world, all of whom will deeply feel her loss.”
Sr Tiernan had been associated with Kincoppal for three decades.
Brisbane woman Ann O’Donovan, a former boarder at Kincoppal-Rose Bay School, said she was very upset by Sr Tiernan’s death.
“She was a great lady and nun and really lived her vocation,” she said.
“Sister Philomene brought a family feeling of love into the boarding situation.”
The responses to the 77-year-old sister’s death drove home Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s comments that there would be few Australians who had not been emotionally affected by the tragedy.
“You look at the faces of the dead and they’re your neighbours, they’re your friends, they could be your kids because, let’s face it, we are a people who like to travel,” the Prime Minister said during a memorial Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, on July 20 for the victims aboard the doomed flight.
It’s been confirmed 37 Australians, seven of them Queenslanders, were among those killed when Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukrainian territory on July 17.
Also among the dead was Darwin-based Emma Bell, 30, daughter of Southern Cross Care (Qld) chief executive officer Peter Bell.
Ms Bell, over the past 18 months, had travelled from Maningrida College along bush tracks to the smaller outstations in Arnhem Land, teaching students aged one to eight.
A spokeswoman for Kincoppal-Rose Bay, School of the Sacred Heart said the school had held two memorial Masses for Sr Tiernan.
“On Saturday (July 19) Monsignor Tony Doherty celebrated a memorial Mass at St Mary Magdalene Church, Rose Bay,” she said.
“On the Sunday morning in the school chapel, families and students also attended a Mass in Sister Tiernan’s memory.”
The Kincoppal-Rose Bay School community plans further celebrations of their beloved sister’s life in the coming weeks.