Bennetswood Celebration

Srs Cath Lacey and Kate McPhee recently represented the Marist Sisters in Australia at the 60th anniversary of St Scholastica’s Primary School, Bennetswood on 11 th August. The Archbishop of Melbourne (Archbishop Peter Commensoli) was the main celebrant of the Mass which was followed by lunch and an inspection of the school which has been refurbished in the last few years. There was a great crowd of parishioners, both past and present, and a number of ex-students who were interested to hear about the Sisters who had been at St Scholastica’s over the years. Cath and Kate were presented with a commemorative candle and a plaque which acknowledges the work of the Marist Sisters at the school over 20 years.

Sr Margaret Purcell sm

Sr Margaret Purcell sm was called to eternal life on Monday 22nd July 2019.

Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord.
May perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace.
Amen.

We extend our prayerful sympathy to the Marist Sisters in Australia and to Sr Margaret’s family. The following words of remembrance were delivered by Sr Gail Reneker at her funeral on 27th July 2019.

It is a privilege for me to speak at this celebration of Margaret’s life and to honour the person she has been to each one of us.  It is a tribute to her that her family, her friends and her Sisters have gathered together this morning in thanksgiving for her and the blessing she has been in our lives.  Each of us brings personal memories of her.  This morning I would like to especially recall her life as a Marist Sister.

After finishing her school education at Marist Convent Woolwich Margaret trained and worked as a clerk/typist.  In 1947 she began her postulancy with the Marist Sisters at Merrylands, and received the habit in January 1948, when she was given the name Sister Vincent.  (It was in the 70’s that she went back to her baptismal name.) Margaret was professed on the 23rd January 1949 at Merrylands, and on the 13th May 1954 she made her perpetual vows at Woolwich.

After some initial training Margaret went to St Margaret Mary’s school Merrylands as a primary teacher.  The courage that was to become something of a hallmark in Margaret’s character was shown at the beginning of her ministry of teaching.  St Margaret Mary’s was a school where the enrolment of students burgeoned in the 1950’s with the post-war migration.  Margaret’s first class there was a kindergarten of 100 students.  It is reported that she went to sleep each night reciting their names so as to try to remember them all.  This courage was needed to be drawn on further when in 1957 she was appointed Superior of the community at Woolwich, a formidable role at her age in a sizeable community and in a role which also required her having a significant role in the school there.  An instance of the appreciation and regard in which the Sisters were held was the request in recent years received from a woman in Canada thanking the Sisters, and Sr Vincent in particular, on behalf of her mother for the education received there.  In 1960 Margaret went to Burwood Victoria as Superior of the community there and teacher at St Benedict’s Primary school. After Degree studies at Canberra University she was re-appointed to Burwood as Superior.  She also took up the role of Deputy Principal and Secondary teacher at Chavoin College.

In 1970 Margaret was elected Provincial of Oceania, a Province encompassing Sisters’ communities in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.  A very specific task for Province leaders at that time, and so for Margaret, was the implementation of the direction set by Vatican 11 for the renewal of Religious life.  The changes inaugurated a somewhat difficult, challenging period for the Sisters.  The departure of a number of them was part of the upheaval which ensued.  Margaret’s wisdom, calm and inner strength was obvious as she guided the Province, seeking to respond to the signs of the times and the call to renewal while keeping the ship afloat.

These qualities together with her leadership and administrative abilities were recognised by the broader Congregation and she was elected as Superior General at the General Chapter of 1974.  She now had the task, in collaboration with her Administration, of negotiating on the global stage the paradigm shift we’d been called to.  Dealing with the various languages and different cultures with understanding and sensitivity added to the demands.  Given her reserved nature the role of Congregational leader was thus undertaken at significant personal cost.  There were also health issues to deal with and she felt the distance from her family and in particular her ailing mother.

Nevertheless Margaret gave herself wholeheartedly to the role and task confided to her.  It was during her administration that International renewals and pilgrimages for the Congregation’s members were begun.  These provided for participants to engage in a personal renewal program and to have the opportunity to visit Marist places of origin in France and drink of all that new historical research into our Marist spirituality was providing.  It was also during her two terms of office that a rewriting of our Constitutions was begun with a process which included visits from those charged with the task to engage all Sisters throughout the Congregation.

A particular significant undertaking was the discernment and consequent decision of the General Administration under Margaret’s leadership to establish new missionary ventures in Latin America .  This outreach to Latin America had been urged on by the Pope and the call was strengthened by the growing movement for the Church to take a preferential option for the poor.  Margaret called for volunteers from all provinces, and foundations were made in Brazil in 1978, Mexico in 1981 and Colombia in 1984.   These initiated an audacious experiment within our Congregation to embrace a new style of religious life with communities living amongst the poor and involved in less-institutional ministries. Grace our current Congregational leader and a member of the founding group in Brazil recalls: ‘Margaret made it clear that we were to discover a new way of being religious, not to just transplant models to a new place.  Many years later I asked Margaret if she knew what she was doing when she appointed me novice directress – me, with no experience in formation, no course as formator!  Margaret smiled and said:  I think so.  I didn’t want to send a trained formator because she would just do what she had always done.  I wanted someone who would learn how to be a formator in another land.’   Such was Margaret’s vision and daring.

At the completion of her term as Superior General Margaret showed her readiness to do herself what she had asked of her Sisters. She became a founding member of a new missionary venture in the Gambia, West Africa.  There in Farafenni, recognising the needs and possibilities, she set up a training college for local teachers as well as establishing a primary school where children were enrolled at aged 6 rather than at age 8, providing them with greater opportunities of education.  Margaret was particularly happy there.  She was able to take to heart on a personal as well as at a Congregational level, the call to be with the poor.  The sisters experienced obstacles but under her leadership they weren’t deterred and found ways to overcome them.

After three years in the Gambia, Margaret was called back to Australia to take up again with continuing generosity and commitment the role of Provincial of Australia.  In the three years of her term she initiated the move of the Blacktown community to a new house in the area so as to widen from there the apostolic involvement of the community members.  The novitiate was relocated to Bennettswood Victoria and significant extensions and renovations to the Administration house at Haberfield were begun.  It was also at this time that the Pastoral Planning process undertaken across the Congregation was set in motion here.

After completing her term as Provincial Margaret undertook pastoral and social welfare work in the inner city through St Margaret’s Hospital.  It wasn’t long though before another project took root in her heart.  I recall as Provincial of the time meeting with Margaret for coffee at the Centrepoint Shopping Centre to talk about her idea of establishing a community in a needy area.   An initial investigation with her finally led to a meeting with the Department of Housing, Liverpool who saw the value of the presence of the Sisters among the economically and socially disadvantaged in Claymore, near Campbelltown. A community was begun there in Claymore in August 1993.  From this ministry of presence other ministries developed in particular with migrants, refugees, St Vincent de Paul and the Neighbourhood Centre.  Margaret was at home with other cultures and the people warmed to her interest and respect for them.  She had a special and loved ministry with Cambodian families, teaching English and accompanying them with the challenges of life in a new country.  This initial insertion led later to similar communities being established in the Campbelltown area at Airds and at Rosemeadow.

In 2000 Margaret was missioned to Marian House, Woolwich for three years as community leader.   Her next move into the parish at Laverton Victoria in 2003 engaged her in pastoral work in particular with the socially deprived and elderly shut-ins.  After a number of years there she returned to Marian House to again give service to the Sisters there.  As time went on she increasingly needed extra care for herself as a number of health problems developed and she experienced more intense suffering. This led to her recognising and accepting her need for extra care at Southern Cross Homes at Marsfield where she moved in May 2018.  Margaret settled in well, appreciated the care and enjoyed among other things caring for her pot plants.  Her quiet warmth and friendliness there endeared her to staff and other residents.  The return of cancer this year eventually led to her final admission to the Mater Hospital a fortnight ago and to her death on 22nd July.  Despite both emotional and physical struggles, sensitively handled by medical staff and those who loved her, Margaret as usual was mindful of others.  She expressly directed that her gratitude for everything be given to the Sisters, the doctors, nurses, carers and her family.

Marist qualities aren’t difficult to find in Margaret.  From her school days and from the Sisters she knew and loved there and undoubtedly from the values lived in her family she absorbed the Marist spirit.  She had a wonderful sense of Mary in her life and a great love of the Church, of Mary’s place in it and consequently that of Marists.  The gift of self to God was unqualified and found expression in her wholehearted commitment to the Congregation and its mission.  The vision she showed, especially in her leadership, was born of this grasp she had of what it is to be Marist.  Her spirituality too was thoroughly Marist, simple and uncomplicated but quite profound.  Like Mary at Nazareth and Jeanne Marie in Jarnosse she was at home among the people, being with them, sharing life with them, loving and encouraging them in a quiet unassuming way.  There was no pretentiousness in Margaret.  She was a truly humble woman. She had a true understanding of what it was to live ‘hidden and unknown’.   Although quietly friendly by nature, a natural diffidence, even apprehension, sometimes showed in her.  This only highlighted the courage she showed throughout all her life.  So many Sisters have expressed their admiration of and gratitude for her far-sightedness and daring – for her utter goodness.

Her reserve didn’t stop her from enjoying gatherings and entertainment with the Sisters and with others.  She enjoyed the simple pleasures of craftwork, quilting, dressmaking and cooking all of which she developed some prowess in.  She appreciated music and especially liturgical music, enjoyed reading, especially spiritual books and developed an interest in Australian history.  She got to appreciate sport.   She had a special interest in young people, liked being with them, wanting and delighting in their development, their gifts and potential.

This was very evident in Margaret’s deep love for, pride, joy and interest in her family.  You, her nieces, nephews and families always gladdened her heart and she loved sharing news of you.  Her sister Pat, your Mum, was very dear to her and her death left a very big gap in her life.  Coming to terms with it was very much helped by the ongoing love, interest and devotedness shown by you.  The care you have shown to Margaret, especially in this time of her last illness, has I’m sure supported, comforted and reassured her.  Your presence here today gives evidence of the place she has in your hearts and she, together with all those with whom she has been reunited, including her sister, your Mum, surely smiles at you all with gratitude and great delight.

In giving time to ponder and recollect memories of Margaret I was drawn to the image of the valiant woman spoken about in the Book of Proverbs Ch 31.  In a reflection I came across on that passage I was alerted to the Jewish understanding of this valiant woman, in Hebrew an Eshet Chayil.   Margaret certainly warrants being named as a valiant woman.  Such a woman, we are told, possesses unique strength.  She is one in whom a person can put their trust.  Others are strengthened by her trust in them and her ability to channel their gifts for good. She gives selflessly. Her tendency to always have an outstretched hand is an exemplary quality. The valiant woman possesses wisdom and integrity. She manages situations with strength and gentleness.  Her spirituality is reflected in her actions.  She has unshakeable trust in God, who is the centre of her life, knowing that all is in God’s hands.  In short, an Eshet Chayil, a valiant woman, is a woman of inestimable value, more precious than pearls.

Margaret you were all of this and more to us.  We thank you for who you’ve been, for what you’ve given. We thank God for what God did in and through you.  We thank God for blessing us with you – a sister, friend, aunty, companion on the journey and a wonderful inspiration of self-giving love.  May you be at peace and rejoice forever in the heart of our God.

300 Years of Marist Life

On Pentecost Sunday Marist Sisters in Australia gathered in the Holy Name of Mary church, Hunters Hill to celebrate 300 years of Marist life.   Fr Tony Corcoran sm, Provincial of the Marist Fathers, presided over the Eucharist. Joining with the sisters were family and friends of our  jubilarians.  After Mass we adjourned to the Marist Fathers dining room for afternoon where we continued to give thanks for the faithfilled lives of our Golden Jubilarians (50 years), Srs Beverley and Gail, our Diamond Jubilarian, Sr Marie  Berise (60 years) and our Platinum Jubilarians Srs Margaret and Philomena (70 years).Unfortunately Sr Philomena was unable to join us but we remembered her as we celebrated. Represented within the group of Jubilarians were two former Congregation Leaders, Srs Margaret Purcell and Gail Reneker. The following tributes were delivered during the afternoon tea.

Diamond and Platinum Jubilarians
Golden Jubilarians

Farewell to Woolwich

Saturday 8 December 2018 was a day of significance for the Marist Sisters in Australia.

The day began with a prayer of farewell to our property at Woolwich.  Woolwich was the foundation community in Australia when the Marist Sisters arrived in Sydney some 110 years ago.  We had much to acknowledge and remember… including

  • the support, service and friendship shown us by the Marist Fathers from the beginnings till now;
  • the many thousands of teachers, students  and their families of Marist Sisters College, Woolwich;
  • those who had worked with us in caring for the property including the doctors, nurses, carers and cooks who have been so much part of Marian House since its beginning in 1979;

After singing the song “Holy Ground” those gathered were invited to a time of quiet reflection on the people, things, events and experiences which were part of our years at Woolwich.

At the conclusion of the prayer we adjourned to the dining room where we continued to share stories and memories over lunch.

At the conclusion of the meal, during a prayer, members of the former leadership team lit the Unit of Australia candle and passed the candle to the new leadership team of Sr Cath Lacey (Unit Leader) and her two assistants Julie Brand and Ruth Davis.

Discerning and Celebrating in Australia

On Saturday 9th June Marist Sisters in Australia gathered to discern their governance structure for the coming years. The day was facilitated by Marist Brother Graham Neist. We all appreciated the bonds of communion and the open discussion experienced throughout the day. At the conclusion of this day Sr Noelene Simmons was missioned by all present as she prepares to take up the role of General Bursar for our congregation.

 

 

In a spirit of joy and thanksgiving we all gathered again on Sunday 10th June to celebrate our jubilarians – Sr Carmel Murray (Diamond) and Srs Carroll McDonald and Maureen Crick (Golden). Celebrants at the Jubilee Mass were Fr Peter Jones osa(nephew of Sr Maureen) and Marist Father Ron Nissan. Also celebrating her Golden Jubilee this year, our Congregation Leader, Sr Grace Ellul, was remembered during the Mass.

Click on images below to see a larger version of the photo.

Marist Celebrations in Sydney

Marist Sisters in Australia gathered at Hunter Hill on the June long weekend to reflect and to celebrate. On Saturday morning Mrs Margery Jackman led us in a reflection on Option for the Poor. In the afternoon Sr Ruth gave us guidance on how to assist someone who has had a fall to ensure the safety of the helper and the one who has fallen then Sr Kate updated us on some financial matters.

It was with great joy that we gathered in the chapel at Marist Sisters’ College Woolwich on Sunday to celebrate our Jubilarians: Sr Catherine Lacey – Golden Jubilee, Srs Clare Francis and Marie Patricia Toomey, Platinum Jubilee.

Marist Father Paul Mahoney celebrated the Eucharist during which our Jubilarians renewed their vows. This was followed by afternoon tea in Marian House.

We Remember, We Honour, We Celebrate

dsc00752

“We remain faithful
to praying for our Sisters
whom God has called to himself.”
(Marist Sisters Constitutions 46)

Marist Sisters in Australia gathered recently for a liturgy of remembrance and thanksgiving. The liturgy involved a pilgrimage to the grave sites where sisters who have died in Sydney, Australia, are buried. These women and all deceased Marist Sisters have shared our Marist life and lived in fidelity so we remember, honour and celebrate them.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen

Working Towards Divesting from Fossil Fuels

Pope Francis - LSUrged on by the commitment of the Marist Sisters’ General Chapter 2015
to networking with other groups working for justice in order to counteract the violence being inflicted on people and the environment,
Marist Sisters in Australia are working towards divesting
from fossil fuels.

Dependence on fossil fuels is contributing to adverse climate change which affects everyone but especially the poor and vulnerable. In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls on us to reduce carbon emissions and develop sources of renewable energy. Divesting of fossil fuels is one way that we can be stewards of God’s gift of creation so that life in all its forms can be sustained now and into the future.

Christmas Greetings

peace on earthOnce again we come towards the end of another year. We celebrate that beautiful Season of Christmas – the birth of our saviour. Sometimes it is hard to get past the commercialism of Christmas with all the rush and bustle. However, if we can stop and reflect on what great love God has for us we can use this time to give God thanks for all the blessings of the past year and look forward to what is to come. Read more in the Marist Sisters Australia December Newsletter…

Making Room at the Inn

Sefton“This year our minds cannot help but dwell on the millions of people fleeing persecution and conflict and who like Mary and Joseph find that ‘there is no room at the inn’.  Christianity is rooted in history.  Bethlehem is past history.  Yet, the story goes on. It is not Mary and Joseph looking for a room at the inn now, but the millions of people, ordinary men/women/children, who are asking for a place of safety and an opportunity to live normal lives.”  (Extracts from a letter from Congregational Leader of the Marist Sisters to all the sisters.)

In response to the refugee crisis the Marist Sisters in Australia have made one of their houses available for refugee accommodation. In the photo Sr Kate, Bursar of Australia,  can be seen handing over the keys of the property to the refugee support organisation that will oversee the placement of refugees in the property.