Mary Jo Corcoran a sister of the Order of Loreto has been based in Ballyclare for over 15 years at the Church of the Sacred Heart.
Originally from Wexford, the 54 year old is one of the chaplains at Antrim Area Hospital and is the supervisor and director of training programme Clinical Pastoral Education for the education of chaplains in healthcare.
She has been a nun since 1987 and has worked in Dalkey, Fermoy, Cork, LetterKenny and at the St Vincent and Mater Hospitals in Dublin before moving to Ballyclare. A town which she has a great love for.
She told the Times: “I am really happy living and working in Ballyclare.
“I always say the only people leaving Ballyclare at Christmas are those that have come to the town to do their shopping.
“There is nothing that you need that you can’t get in Ballyclare and if you can’t get it in Ballyclare you don’t need.
“Everything I need, whether it is clothes, food or electrical items, I buy it in the town, you really do get the best of service and there is no need to go anywhere else.”
For Sister Mary Jo the preparation in the lead up to Christmas is almost as exciting as the event itself.
She said: “Our church has fantastic liturgies and prayers in the run up to Christmas and it is a great time to be involved in the church.
“I really look forward to the Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services. There is a really lovely atmosphere and its a lovely time of year.
“The whole advent time, with the preparation and excitement and the fuss is sometimes as exciting as the event itself.
“And of course in Ballyclare there is no scarcity of churches so there is always an opportunity to celebrate and people can’t have an excuse on missing out.”
She went on: “It’s at this time of year that we see the best of people come out and we see the best of humanity.
“Especially in a town like Ballyclare where people are so, so generous. Our schools do the shoe box appeal for the missions and each of our churches contribute to food parcels for the homeless and even within our own neighbourhood we are kind to each other.
“We make big strives for Christian Aid, Trocaire and other different charities and we have a lot of fundraising events and carol services with lots of people joining together to help collect money.
“And of course here in our own parish we have one of the singing priests, Father Eugene, and a substantial amount is raised through their concerts.
“And also at this time of year it brings out the best in me. I would be a little more thoughtful and generous.”
Sister Mary Jo also stressed the need to be conscious of others over the festive period.
She continued: “For some people it’s a time of loneliness having lost a loved one or a time of tension or financial strain. While others may have an anxiety or a big romantic notion of how Christmas should be and how it is portrayed and it may not turn out that way.
“Certainly it is something I would be very conscious of.
“It’s a good time for the church and certainly people involved with it are more alert and aware of the needs of people in our community.
“At Christmas our antenna is a little more sharpened and we can demonstrate that we are there for folk.
“We would also receive more people into the church because so many are returning, not just to their homes but also to their church, which is really lovely to see.”
For Sister Mary Jo though the meaning of Christmas has not changed over the years.
“No, the real meaning of Christmas is the very same,” she continued.
“That Jesus came to die - and that was a good die - because it is what saved us.
“It’s a time for thanks happiness and freedom which is best represented by the Christmas tree. It is evergreen, full of lights, decorated and often with gifts around the base. Christmas reminds us of the greatest gift ever made.
“Over Christmas people go to church, decorate their towns and homes and go to so much effort and expense and why would you do all that if it were not to celebrate the best thing that ever happened.
“I look at families who have a young baby and that is the greatest possible thing that could happen to them. And it was a small little baby who came to save the world.
“At Christmas we are all called to be midwives - to bring to birth the newness and beauty of salvation.
“The message is to go back to basics and enjoy it, that’s what I would say to people.”
Sister Mary Jo plans to spend Christmas Day with her religious community and then after with family in Wexford.