Eileen’s parents were John James Birchall and Elizabeth Mary Birchall (nee Pedley). From her parents Eileen received a sound grounding in the Catholic faith and despite the tough times following World War I, and the years of Depression she had a happy home life. She used to say that she had been nurtured ‘with lots of love and with plenty of food on the kitchen table’. Her spirit of prayer started during her family life, and developed even more so during the years of her religions life.
Prior to entering the Sisters of Compassion, Eileen worked at the Marist Father’s presbytery across the road from the Aubert Home of Compassion in Guyton Street. Two other young women from Wanganui were also drawn to enter religious life, and the three of them arrived on 22 February, 1941, to begin their training. Eileen received her religious name Sister Mary Christopher, on 15 September, 1941, and two years later made her first Profession as a Sister of Compassion, confirming it finally on the 15 September, 1946. The very next day she was off on her first appointment to St. Vincent’s Home of Compassion in Auckland, where she stayed for eight years. However, from 1954 until 1963 she resided in our Loreto Home, in Wagga Wagga. It was here that her ability to ‘keep the books’ and her efficiency in managing financial affairs was discovered, and from then on, wherever she was transferred, it was always to the position of Treasurer. This was also linked to the duty of ‘House Councillor’ as well as being in charge of the kitchen. Her two specialties in the department were pavlovas and shortbread.
In 1963 Sister Christopher returned to New Zealand. This time she spent six years on the Mission at Jerusalem, and won the hearts and respect of the children who were boarders there, and also when she took over ‘playground duty’. There was a presence about her that the children knew just how far they could go!
Her next appointment was to St. Joseph’s Home of Compassion at Silverstream, where she spent eight years in the usual position of Treasurer and Councillor. From there she left once more for Australia in May 1978, but this time to Broken Hill until 1984 when she was transferred once more to Wagga Wagga. Christopher loved living in both Broken Hill and Wagga Wagga, and almost as if she couldn’t make up her mind which place she liked the most. She loved the people, and never quite understood why others didn’t share in her enthusiasm.
Sister Christopher loved to be with people and took a genuine interest in their lives. She had directness in making known a point, a straight look in the eye, a firm voice to deliver the message and a finishing off phrase ‘that’s all I have to say!’ While in Wagga Wagga Sister was encouraged to join the Better Hearing Association, and she took this membership very seriously. She learnt the basic techniques of lip reading which helped her to converse with others regardless of her hearing loss. Sister often reminded her companions that she wasn’t deaf, just couldn’t hear as well as others. She was a valued member of this Association and they enjoyed her company and held her in high regard.
When she returned to New Zealand after a heart attack, there were still people in both Wagga Wagga and Broken Hill who continued to keep in touch with her. Sister Christopher settled into the Home at Silverstream once more, and became a well-known figure in the Chapel, always at the door before any ceremony to welcome visitors and make them feel at home.
The climax of her life came on Friday, 18 January, when Sister Christopher died in the presence of her own relations and Sisters of Compassion. She remained conscious throughout and said her goodbyes with dignity, acceptance and with peace in her heart. Requiem Mass was celebrated on Wednesday 23 January in the Chapel at St Joseph’s Home, with a very large congregation of relatives, friends and Sisters attending.
Born Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
16.07.1918 22.02.1941 15.09.1946 18.01.2002 Lower Hutt Karori Cemetery