Sydney sister among dead in MH17 crash

An Australian religious sister was among the passengers on Malaysian Airlines MH17 that was shot down Thursday over eastern Ukrainian skies.

The Sydney Morning-Herald reported Friday that Sacred Heart Sr. Philomene Tiernan, a teacher at an eastern Sydney Catholic all-girls school, was on board the flight. She served as director of boarding at the school for three decades.

"She was a beloved, wise and compassionate person loved by all," Hilary Johnston-Croke, principal at Kincoppal-Rose Bay, School of the Sacred Heart, told the newspaper.

In the U.K.-based Daily Mail, a former student of Tiernan's described her as "one of those all-too-rare people that made everyone she met feel special."

Lucy Thackray said "Sr. Phil" would remember details about all she encountered, from where they lived, how many siblings they had, "and even the name of their favourite biscuit.

"How she stored all that information about those hundreds of girls is honestly a mystery," she wrote, stating later "Her entire existence was to bring good into this world."

According to the Morning-Herald, Tiernan was on her way back from a European sabbatical that included a conference in Britain, a theology course in Ireland and a spiritual retreat in France. While in Paris, she visited St. Francis Xavier Church, the burial spot of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat -- founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart. 

Johnston-Croke, who spoke to Tiernan the day before the flight, said the sister "was in a good space."

According to Malaysian Airlines, 27 Australians were onboard the flight headed to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from Amsterdam. Other news reports indicated as many as 100 passengers were headed to an AIDS conference in Melbourne. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members, including at least one American, died in the crash.

Details as to who shot down the airliner and why remain unclear as of noon CST Friday. 

The Sydney school held an assembly for Tiernan Friday afternoon (local time), with hundreds in attendance. The Morning-Herald reported that several people spoke about the sister, and colleagues were seen hugging and consoling one another and students as they left the assembly.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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