(1933 - 2020)
The Barnes family are mourning the loss of a much-loved sister and aunt. Those of us in We Are Church Ireland are grieving the loss of a dear friend and staunch supporter of Catholic reform groups.
The one and only Elena Barnes – a lifelong and devoted spouse of Christ – passed away with the Lord of the Dance on Easter Sunday, 12th April 2020. May her gentle and prayerful soul rest in peace. She is sorely missed by her devoted sister Irene, beloved brother Joe, extended family, friends, and her basic Christian communities. We offer our sympathy, love, and prayers to them all at this time. A Mass of Remembrance will be celebrated at a future date. She had been living contentedly in the HSE run home at St. Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park for several years. She was always full of praise and grateful for the professionalism and loving care provided by the staff for all residents. However, the evil serpent Covid-19 trespassed during Lent 2020 and took a very severe toll in nursing homes worldwide. We entrust all those good people to the Risen Lord.
Elena gave a short synopsis of her life story in an essay named “A Voice in the Wilderness” within a book entitled “Unspoken Truths” published in 1996 by the Irish Museum of Modern Art. She was born on the 14th March 1933 as the eldest girl in a large family in Inchicore, Dublin. Those were tough times in Ireland but the hard work and resourcefulness of Hannah and Patrick, her parents with Wicklow roots, sustained the family. In 1951, she joined a religious order in a far away mission in New Zealand. Over the following decades, she devoted herself to her teaching work as well as an extensive range of chores within her community. She did not see Ireland again for 21 years and her only contact was by letter. During that time, two of her brothers as well as her parents had died. She began to experience ill health due to the trauma of exile and long years of very heavy workload. She received some medical treatment and, eventually, returned to Ireland in 1984. The Eastern Health Board provided some assistance and Dublin Corporation helped her with accommodation first in St. Michael’s Estate, Inchicore and later in Killester. She involved herself with the Family Resource Centre in Inchicore and provided what help she could to poor people suffering under societal injustice. In 1987, she joined a group named Leaven. Leaven was a support group for former Catholic clerics and religious which spoke out in the media for much needed reform in the Catholic Church. Elena volunteered much time to Leaven in the following years as Secretary and lobbied for justice for religious sisters who found themselves in poor health and circumstances outside their communities after long years of service. She also became an active supporter of other progressive reform groups such as Pobal and Basic (Brother and Sisters in Christ). Her prayers in more recent years supported the ongoing work of We are Church Ireland. She was strongly opposed to the evils of the patriarchal virus in Church and Society. She longed for justice for women in the governance, teaching office and ministry of the Roman Catholic church. A picture in her room in St. Mary’s showed her protesting with others outside the gates of Maynooth Seminary at the time of a bishop’s conference against the injustice and abuse of enforced or mandatory celibacy. She always sought to speak her truth to power and wanted an end to poverty and injustice. In later years, she was blessed to encounter the good volunteers in the organization Alone. This group provided her with appropriate accommodation for several years before her move to St. Mary’s became necessary.
Elena’s voice cried out for many years in the wilderness and she tried to communicate her experience of foreign missions in the pre-Vatican 2 era. She spoke out as best she could against oppressive and unreformed Catholic systems which had sadly grown sour and far removed from the full life, joy, and the divine humanity of Jesus. Like all Catholic people, she knew many wonderful nuns, brothers and priests doing marvellous work at home and abroad. However, she too read the reports which alerted us that there might be some darker sides, slavery regimes and unspoken truths concealed under sworn obedience and a veneer of piety. Elena wanted all those systemic evils confronted, discussed and changed for the good of all. I think her prayer would be that much change, reform and positive development will happen in Church and State out of all this Covid-19 travail, suffering and death.
Elena often said that vocation is in the heart and is not limited to a place or convent. She remained faithful to her vocation as a spouse of Christ throughout her whole life and we have all been enriched by her faith, hope, love, courage and prayers. I leave the last words to herself; “I now understand the words of Scripture more fully ‘I have come so that you may have life and live it to the full’. He set me free”.