MH17 claims leading light of the Society of the Sacred Heart

Sr Philomene Tiernan

On July 17, Sr Philomene Tiernan, a former leader of the Sacred Heart Sisters in Australia, was one of the 298 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine, writes The SMH.

Sr Philomene was returning home to Sydney after a series of retreats and seminars on spirituality in Ireland and France.

Before that, she had attended a memorial to her father's younger brother, Pat, a RAAF airman whose plane was shot down in 1944 over the Netherlands.

Sister Philomene was a nun, aunt, friend and mentor who brought the directness and warmth of her rural childhood to a life that influenced many people across Australia.

She came from the small town of Murgon in Queensland's South Burnett farming region and, as she moved to larger centres and around the world, she maintained the commitment to family and steely focus that typified life in Depression-era country Australia.

As a publican's daughter, she saw the best and worst of Australian life early, and gratefully accepted her mother's view that there was wider world to be explored and that she would not have to live in Murgon all her life.

She joined the Society of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ) order of nuns soon after leaving school and worked hard over the next half century fulfilling the order's commitment to turning girls into well-educated and strong-minded young women.

During her career, she trained and studied in Australia, France, Italy, the US and the Philippines.

From the late 1950s, she studied and worked at Rose Bay (now Kincoppal) in Sydney, then Stuartholme in Brisbane. In the mid-1960s, she studied at Boisfleury (France) and the RSCJ convent in Rome.

Returning to Australia in 1966, she spent the next four years at Stuartholme, then most of the 1970s at Rose Bay as an educator and boarding master.

She studied in Chicago and at the Kadesh RSCJ community in the Philippines in 1981-82, then dedicated most of her professional time to the RSCJ order, working on the provincial council from the Braybrook community in Melbourne before assuming the role of RSCJ Provincial for Australia in 1993, leaving the role in 2000.

However, although she was very serious about her work as a spiritual and lay educator, she was quick to laugh, as she viewed laughter as like prayer in that it brought people together.

Read full obituary: Educator Sister Philomene Tiernan had a passion for faith and family (The Sydney Morning Herald)


A Mass of Thanksgiving for the Life of Philomene Tiernan was held at her parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Randwick on 25 July. 

Eulogies were given by Madeleine Wright (Sr Philomene's sister) with her daughter Josephine, and by Sr Mary Shanahan RSCJ. 

The full texts can be found at HERE and HERE respectively.


Australia remembers those lost in MH17 (Archdiocese of Melbourne)

A lesson in loss as youngsters mourn Sister Philomene Tiernan (The Daily Telegraph)

MH17 victim's legacy of care and compassion as Catholic nun (The Australian)


Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart begins the MH17 memorial (ABC/YouTube)

Prime Minister's address at St Patrick's Cathedral Memorial Service, 7 Aug (ABC/YouTube)

MH17: remembering Sister Philomene Tiernan (The Canberra Times)

Sr Philomene Tiernan on Procession of the Lanterns (YouTube)

IMAGE: From The Catholic Leader

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