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Irene McCormack

religious sister, missionary,
martyr for her village people in Peru

She presided at Eucharistic celebrations with her people.

Kununoppin, Western Australia, 1938 -
Huasahuasi, Peru, 21 May 1991

Irene grew up on a wheat & sheep farm in Western Australia and received her schooling form the Sisters of St Joseph. By the time she was 15, Irene McCormack had decided to become a nun. In a letter that shows remarkable maturity, she raised the subject with her mother: “I hope I can rely on you to do what is best, and I thank God for the wonderful parents he has given me. I hope I am not proving a disappointment to you, but it is my duty to God to follow in his calling no matter where it leads.” That calling set her life on a path of devotion and, in 1957, she entered the Sisters of St Joseph in Melbourne.

Irene qualified as a teacher and taught in a number of schools in Australia. Her pupils remember her as feisty, difficult, caring and very human. ‘She was an extraordinary person, she was ordinary, with human frailties like the rest of us.’ After 30 years of teaching in Australian schools she made her decision that she wanted to serve the poor.

Irene was sent by her Order to live and work among the people of Huasahuasi - a poor mountain village in Peru. She provided homework facilities for the people and a library where she taught children to read and write. Her letters to her family and congregation express her sense of belonging and affinity with the people. And it can be seen in her smiling face in the photos posed with the local children. Shortly before her death, having returned from a retreat with the Josephites in Lima, she came bearing the ceramics she'd made expressing again her love of God and of the people.

The risks of living in Huasahuasi, an impoverished village of 5000 Pueblos in a valley high in the Peruvian Andes, had been made known to Irene and her companions. The threats and violent activities of armed terrorist groups operating across the mountainous region were a daily reality. Despite warnings, Irene chose to stay with her people. On the evening of 21 May, 1991 a terrorist group known as ‘Shining Path’ invaded the village and subjected Irene and four local men to a sham trial in the village square. Irene was accused of being a 'Yankee imperialist' and managing the Caritas foodstuffs, a form of aid for the poor of which they disapproved. All five of them were shot.

Besides her life’s devotion to the Church's apostolic cause, she left something specific to her fellow religious in describing the spirit that motivated her call to mission in Peru. On a hot January day at St Columba’s church, South Perth, in 1987, she explained to family and friends the revelation she had had at age 40. It was only then, she said, that “this overwhelming experience of the unconditional, gratuitous love of God became a reality in my life- not just an intellectual conviction.”

On this website we honour Irene especially because she explains in her letters why she presided at the Eucharist for the villagers when the local priest could not come.

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