News

Funeral held of highly respected Omagh drama teacher

Thursday, 10 August 2017

THE huge gathering of mourners for the funeral of a highly respected and well-known Omagh drama teacher is "testimony to the important part she played in people's lives".

Those are the poignant words of tribute from Monsignor Joseph Donnelly, who addressed the hundreds gathered at the funeral mass for Sister Aengus Fitzpatrick at the Sacred Heart Church, Omagh, on Saturday.

Sr Aengus passed away on Thursday aged 74 after a short illness. Founder and director of the Hazel Wand Theatre School in Omagh, she was a stalwart of the organisation for more than 20 years.

Her passing will be a huge loss within the local community and further afield, in particular the countless students and inspiring actors who honed their talents under her tutelage. Sr Aengus was awarded an MBE for her services to the performing arts in 2010.

"She has been very much part of the wider Omagh community for the past 36 years," said Monsignor Joseph Donnelly.

"During that time she had a huge impact on the life of the area and made an enormous contribution to the education of the young people over the years.

"Those who came to the wake, to the church yesterday evening, and who have come for the funeral Mass today give clear testimony to the important part she has played in their lives."

Sr Aengus was born and raised in Dublin. After qualifying as a teacher and teaching in Dublin for a number of years, she took up a post in St Brigid's High School, which is now known as the Sacred Heart College in Omagh.

She then decided to set up the cross-community drama group in 1993, after resigning from her post at St Brigid's.

So successful it has been that the local theatre school now has a wide range of young people involved from the age of five right up until early adulthood, where they will then join the follow-on group known as the 'Golden Apples'.

With the Hazel Wand Theatre Group giving many local aspiring actors the perfect foundation to their career, Sr Aengus had a number of past pupils who have gone on to achieve outstanding success within the industry.

"Her project was hugely successful and generations of pupils will be eternally grateful to her for her encouragement and assistance and the generous use of her time for their benefit," continued Monsignor Donnelly.

"She was awarded an MBE for her undertaking and was honoured by the Omagh District Council for her successful work of promoting the arts among the youth of Omagh and district. Many of her pupils were successful in GCSE drama and AS and A Level theatre studies.

"Her students, past and present, will be especially saddened by her untimely death. The relatively recent news that her condition was terminal came as a shock to those who knew her. Her family, community and friends kept vigil at her bedside and were with her when she died. The time had come for dying, as did the time for mourning, the time for tears, the time for letting go. The 'wand' has been handed on and it is for others to pick it up. Today we have the sense that the lights are dimmed and the curtain has come down as we acknowledge the tremendous contribution Sr Aengus has made to this community."

In an interview with the Tyrone Constitution in September last year, Sr Aengus spoke of her love for the Hazel Wand Theatre School.

"It has been a very big part of my life," she said at the time. "I put a lot of energy into it and it takes up a lot of time and I am very happy with that. I love working at Hazel Wand. If I had to give it up it would be a big loss to me and I wouldn't have the same zest for life without it."

Following the funeral, Sr Aengus's remains were interred at Loreto Abbey Cemetery in Rathfarnum, Dublin.

Monsignor Donnelly concluded: "I offer my deepest sympathy and that of the priests of the parish to her sister, Siobhan, to her brother-in-law, Robert, to her nephew, Shane; to her Loreto Community, to the Hazel Wand Theatre School, pupils past and present and to the wider community, and to all who will miss her presence."

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