Sunderland’s Sister Mary marks 100th birthday with family from across the world

Sister Mary Benedict of the Oaklea Convent, Tunstall Road, Sunderland, who celebrated her 100th birthday on the 27th of January, pictured with family from Ireland and America and Bishop Seamus Cunningham the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.
Sister Mary Benedict of the Oaklea Convent, Tunstall Road, Sunderland, who celebrated her 100th birthday on the 27th of January, pictured with family from Ireland and America and Bishop Seamus Cunningham the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.

An avid Sunderland Echo reader who left her home in Ireland as a young girl to follow her faith to Wearside has celebrated becoming a centenarian.

Sister Mary Benedict, then still just known as the young Anastasia Costello, made the journey from her home in County Galway across the Irish Sea to the North East in 1936 when she was just 19 years old.

Sister Mary Benedict of the Oaklea Convent, Tunstall Road, Sunderland, who celebrated her 100th birthday on the 27th of January, pictured reading her Sunderland Echo

Sister Mary Benedict of the Oaklea Convent, Tunstall Road, Sunderland, who celebrated her 100th birthday on the 27th of January, pictured reading her Sunderland Echo

She came to Sunderland and joined the Sisters of Mercy, Oaklea Convent, Tunstall Road.

It was here here she settled, taking up her role as a teacher at various schools including St Anthony’s Catholic Academy and at St Patrick’s RC schools, in Ryhope and Hendon.

She later retired to Seaham Harbour and then to Oaklea, where she has lived for the last 20 years.

The centenarian, who turned 100 on Friday, also spent time as head teacher at St Mary’s in Hexham. To mark her milestone birthday, she received cards from both the Queen and the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins,

Every year, she would come home for a month. She has always been true to her faith.

Gerard Costello

To mark the special occasion, her nieces and nephews travelled from Ireland and America to see her. Sister Mary’s 92-year-old sister-in-law, Mary-Jo Costello, also made the trip from the Emerald Isle.

The Sister, who has an interest in art and music and is a keen Sunderland Echo reader, was also joined by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Seamus Cunningham.

Father Marc Lyden-Smith, parish priest at St Mary’s Church, also visited Sister Mary, who is the last surviving member of her siblings, which included six brothers and five sisters.

Nephew Gerard Costello said: “My aunt was educated by nuns and decided at an early age she had a vocation. As a young girl she travelled across Ireland by train, then boarded a ship to England.

“When she arrived she travelled by army truck in darkness.

“Every year, she would come home for a month. She has always been true to her faith.”

Nephew Vincent Costello added: “She has always been so nice to us and has such a lovely personality.”

The last time the family were all together was 10 years ago, when they visited the UK to celebrate Sister Mary’s 90th birthday.

Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Seamus Cunningham, said: “It’s a great privilege for me to be here. It is wonderful to know Sister Benedict and she is an inspiration.”

Family members who travelled to celebrate Sister Mary’s birthday included Gerard, Vincent, Des, Patty, Bernie, Gretta, Sinead, Peter and Ann Costello; Mary and Bernard Cannan, Tony Ward, and Nula Morris.