Mission Connections


Reaching out to others beyond our shores is a firm Irish trait.  Sometimes it can, quite literally, run though successive family generations.This summer, two medical students currently on volunteer placement in Tanzania and Malawi respectively follow in the footsteps of mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and even a grandaunt. Some of these have strong OLA connections. 

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Clockwise from top left: The late Sr. Mary de Lourdes and Grand Aunt of medical volunteer Mags Carey; David O'Connell, medical volunteer at an OLA clinic in Tanzania; Sr. Eileen Cummins with Cora Judge, Aunt of David O'Connell and who also worked at an OLA nursing home in Mayo; Bishop David O'Connell, Uncle of the afforementioned David O'Connell. Bishop David was appointed to the role by Pope Francis due to his work on behalf of the poor of Los Angeles.

David O’Connell from Co. Cork is one of the six Surgeon Noonan volunteers currently completing a four week work experience at the OLA-run health centres in Bugisi and Mwamapalala in Tanzania. David’s family are no strangers to reaching out to others. Indeed, his uncle and name sake, was appointed as auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles in 2015 by Pope Francis due in his work among the poor and marginalized.

Bishop David O’Connell, born in Co. Cork, is a Knight of Claver – the largest African-American lay Catholic organisation in the United States.

Speaking to the Angelus News in 2015, soon after his Epispocal Ordination, Bishop David said:

"When I work for immigrants, work for the poor, work for prisoners, work for gang intervention, it’s to help them know that Jesus cares for them, loves them. We have to keep on translating our faith into action. There’s a world of hurt out there people are in.”

The connections don’t end there.

David’s Aunt, Cora Judge, worked at Castlemagarrett – the OLA Nursing Home in Claremorris, Co. Mayo.

On a recent visit to the OLA community in Claremorris, Cora shared about her connection with Tanzania and the OLA Sisters.

“I was delighted when I heard that David was going to Tanzania to volunteer with the OLA Sisters. It holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons: Claremorris was the host town for the Tanzanian athletes during the 2003 Special Olympics. We raised a large amount of money to fund their stay in our town. I also had the personal connection with the OLA Sisters since I worked as a chef in their nursing home for many years. I always heard about Tanzania and the other mission areas from the late Sr. Josephine Birmingham among others. I was thrilled that David would get first-hand experience of the compassion, warmth and dedication which the Sisters exemplify on their missions.

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David O'Connell pictured at the OLA clinic in Bugisi following the safe delivery of a baby at the unit.


In all, over fifty Surgeon Noonan Society volunteers are currently completing their work experience across Africa. Along with bringing many essential medical supplies, the volunteers have packed many teddy bears for the young children in Tanzania. The UCC Knitting Society has also knitted many of these teddies over the last number of months. Each stitch a physical demonstration of kindness and care for others in our world.  The teddies are destined to leave a lasting imprint on the lives of many children.

The pictures of the teddies on the OLA Facebook page caught the eagle eye of one Catherine Carey, and another story full of connections and symbolism.

Catherine’s daughter Mags is the current Auditor of the Surgeon Noonan Society. Mags is presently in Malawi completing her four week elective. Also, Catherine's sister, Carmel Ring, knitted 49 of these Africa bound teddy bears. Speaking from Cork last week, Catherine proudly explained how Mags continues the nobel path of serving others following on from her late Grandaunt who was an OLA, Sr Mary De Lourdes, who devoted her life to being of service to others in Ghana.

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Some of the Africa bound teddy bears knitted by Carmel Ring, niece of the late Sr. Mary de Lourdes, and the UCC Knitting Society. Image courtesy of the Surgeon Noonan Facebook page.


Speaking from Malawi last week, Mags shared some of her experience from her time in Africa along with her connection with Sr Mary de Lourdes:

"Greetings from Malawi! The days are very busy here! Great experience so far though. My mother pointed out the connection! It's absolutely incredible. I never met Sr Mary de Lourdes myself but I've heard some lovely stories about her from my parents. She sounds like such an amazing person, I would have loved to have meet her!  I remember going to Ardfoyle as a child but my memory is very vague and it's mostly of my twin sister and I playing!"

"Surgeon Noonan is a phenomenal society and I consider it such a privilege that I was the Auditor this year. My inspiration comes from my parents. They visited Ghana ten years ago and since then they have set up a feeding program within a Ghanaian community which definitely inspired me. Also, a huge inspiration is the work of the years gone before us. Every year they do so well and it's great to have done so well this year."



  • Click here for more on volunteering with OLA
  • Click here for the latest updates from the Surgeon Noonan volunteers currently in Tanzania