Maura Egan with Bishop Colm O’Reilly and Bishop Francis Duffy

Local woman chosen for Papal Award

Benemerenti medal awarded to Maura Egan

by David Flynn

Maura Egan has been a well-known and popular Athlone figure since moving to the town in the late 1960s and after more than six decades of dedication to infirm and sick pilgrims at Knock Shrine she has been presented with the Benemerenti Medal Honour from the Vatican.

The medal is awarded by the Pope to members of the clergy and laity for services to the Catholic Church. The Benemerenti medal was presented to Maura in a ceremony recently at St Mary’s Church, Athlone by Bishop Francis Duffy. Covid-19 and lockdown delayed the presentation to Maura, because she was originally to have received the medal on Easter Sunday 2020 but it had to be cancelled, due to the restrictions.

Maura has dedicated 63 years to the Knock Shrine Society as a handmaiden for the sick and infirm, beginning in 1956.

“I was living in my homeplace of Swinford, Co. Mayo at the time when myself and a friend were invited to look after invalids in Knock, and we were both very young at the time, and we took our time deciding whether we would or not, and we decided to go for it,” said Maura.

Maura had a connection with Knock Shrine going back to the 19th century. Her great-grandfather and his son, her granduncle, were involved in the building of the tower of the old church in Knock. English, was their surname and they were both stonemasons. As a child, Maura and her three brothers visited the shrine around the time of the apparition anniversary in August.

Maura remembers in those days of the 1940s and 50s, people walking to Knock from all around the country.

“From August 15 to the anniversary of the apparition on August 21, people walked from all over Ireland and the road was covered with crowds,” she said. “There were no shops there then, just a few caravans selling things.”

Maura joined the Knock Shrine Society in 1956 and still has the same veil that she wore during those early years, which features her own creation of an embroidered rose.

“The veil will soon be going into the museum in Knock,” she said. “I had two appointments to go there for that to be done, but it had to be cancelled because of Covid-19.”

Maura was friends with Dame Judy Coyne, who started the Knock Shrine Society in 1935, to help the sick who came to the Co. Mayo pilgrim site.

“She was a wonderful woman with a great mind, and the handmaidens were made up of great people,” she said. “You had to do eight Sundays in the year as a handmaiden, but you could do as many more as you wanted.”

Maura drove to Knock on many Sundays throughout the years and in later times when there was a rest-house for the sick in Knock; Maura volunteered a week of her own holidays. She also did administrative work for the Society as well as being a handmaiden at the shrine. Maura was also a Eucharistic Minister in Knock Shrine several years before she also became one in St Mary’s Church, Athlone.

“It was all done around prayer, and we’d say the rosary and have mass and we all had done our first aid courses to help people if needed,” she said.

Maura said that she was in Knock Shrine when three miracles occurred, including a man with a spinal problem getting up and walking, a man who had cancer on his face being cured, and the famous Athlone incident of Marian Carroll being cured of multiple sclerosis in September 1989.

“Only three times have I ever missed services at Knock and they were to do with going to a wedding and two times being involved in Tops of the Town,” she said laughing.

Maura has always been involved in music and as a soprano she has sung in many choirs including at St. Mary’s Church, St Anthony’s Friary and in Athlone Choral Group. She has treaded the boards at Athlone Little Theatre, the Dean Crowe Theatre with Athlone Musical Society and she had a long association with Clara Musical Society.

“I’ve had a life-long devotion to Our Lady and to saying the Rosary from my early life,” she said.

Maura was also involved in Cura, the Catholic organisation for single mothers, and said that she is still in contact with many of the women that she met at that time. She has done courses in counselling, visited schools and in recent years was involved in the Breakfast Club at St Paul’s School.