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Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
SEASONS OF GRACE
CLOSER TO HOME, a group of
Sisters of St Joseph, Lochinvar
have been celebrating golden
and diamond jubilees of becoming
Josephites. Sisters, families, friends and
communities where the jubilarians work
have been fêting them, and there will be
a Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving at Sacred
Heart Cathedral, Newcastle on 6 October
at 11.30am. All are welcome.
Aurora invited three jubilarians to share
their stories and uncovered a surfeit of
grace and gratitude. Sisters Jeannine
French, 70, Marie Jones, 71 and Tess
Connolly, 80, came to Lochinvar via
different paths but share a deep
appreciation of the myriad opportunities
they have encountered along the way.
Jeannine French grew up in Wauchope
an only child and due to her mother's
illness, the Sisters allowed her to begin
school at 3. She recalls the priest visiting
her class and asking the girls, "Who is
going to be a nun?" and the boys, "Who
will be a priest?" All children raised their
hands, and on arriving home, Jeannine
announced to her parents she would be a
Sister of St Joseph.
They duly enrolled her at St Joseph's
College Lochinvar so she would have a
better understanding of convent life. She
recalls that her mother wasn't able to
come to the station each time Jeannine
returned to Lochinvar, but she would
religiously wave the tablecloth when she
saw the train from her kitchen window!
Young Tess Connolly was educated first
by the Sisters of Mercy but when she
enrolled at St Joseph's Merewether,
Josephite Sr Joan Blake became a key
influence. Nevertheless for Tess, "Nuns
were nuns and that wasn't me," so after
completing school she began working at
Palings music store. After three years,
realising she wasn't satisfied, Tess
visited Sr Joan. The beginning of a new
decade -- 1 January 1950 -- marked the
beginning of her new life as a Sister of
Tess had an older and a younger brother.
Entering a convent then was a very
different, highly-regulated experience and
Sisters could only visit, and be visited
by, families a few times a year. The
graciousness of parents who bid farewell
to only daughters is hard to understand
now, but the common element in these
women's stories is 'the call'. It's neither
ethereal nor mystical, and it could be
downright trying, but it was real, and
remains so for each of them.
Marie Jones grew up next door to
temporary tin shed classrooms used
when the school at Cardiff was burnt
down. She began her education sitting
on the fence listening to multiplication
tables and spelling. The portrait of her
much loved Carmelite aunt, Sr Josephine
Marie, drew her towards religious life.
"Being the first girl after five boys was
rather special, although two brothers died
before I was born. My mother would dress
me in overalls and my brothers would put
me in a billycart and take me everywhere.
We had hideouts in the nearby bush -- it
was just great fun." Marie also had two
treasured younger sisters.
Despite her tomboy ways, Marie says she
knew at 7 that she wanted to enter the
convent. Her parents had two comments:
their door was always open if convent
life didn't suit her, and she would need
to save the money -- more than £100
-- to provide what she would require.
Marie worked at Woolworths in Hunter
Street: "It was a tight budget. I earned
but I made sure I had a vanilla slice at
ninepence every day."
Until this point there is a certain
parallelism in these women's stories.
Each grew up in a home where faith,
expressed in prayer and worship, was
integral. No one imagined that life in
the convent was easy, but life for most
people had its trials and education
for women was often not a priority. As
Tess pointed out, convent life offered
possibilities that secular life didn't offer
women, and although a high degree of
commitment and plenty of hard work were
expected, there were compensations.
'Opportunity' is a word that occurs
often in the conversation. Anticipating
today's trend of a variety of careers, the
Sisters taught for many years, each
being appointed principal, but they also
experienced other working lives.
Jeannine is a gifted singer and musician
and has a passion for liturgy. She bravely
requested a move from school to adult
education. A corollary of this was a year
studying at the National Pastoral Institute
in Melbourne, where "You were able
to face the struggle of coming to adult
faith." Until recently Jeannine served as
support person for Music and Liturgy in
the Newcastle Inner City Parishes.
Tess taught in infants' classrooms
for many years -- in fact she taught
two generations of Marie's family at
St Benedict's Edgeworth; "I felt like a
grandmother!" Inspired by a Movement
for a Better World (MBW) retreat at
Lochinvar, Tess later responded to an
advertisement for a secretary with MBW
and was appointed. "I love office work,"
she says, so she moved to Sydney and
stayed with MBW for 25 years. "If you
had told me I would attend international
meetings in Rome, I wouldn't have
believed it!" Tess also served as pastoral
associate at Shortland "and I loved
the people there too. Now I drive from
Warners Bay to Lochinvar on Mondays
and work in the office there."
Marie too was a teacher and principal,
but for the last 18 years has been
a warm pastoral presence at St
Columban's Primary at Mayfield. She
studied psychology along the way and
says, "That's helped me enormously. I've
worked with refugees and I know how
hard it is to find homes for them. Clothing
children, supporting families in times of
grief, whatever the need of the moment --
that's what I'm doing."
Jeannine captures the feeling of these
three graced women when she says,
"God was calling me to do this and I
wasn't going to be happy or fulfilled
unless I gave it a go, and so although
it was structured, I didn't find it all that
burdensome. There were times of prayer,
of recreation, of work, of study."
What she describes sounds like a very
balanced life -- something that so many
today yearn for, but struggle to achieve.
On the subject of falling numbers of
Sisters, Jeannine says, "We decided as
a congregation some years back we were
going to live until we die. If eventually we
disappear, something will emerge for the
needs of the Church. God is in control."
Tess has the last word: "Over the years
the nuns have taught young women how
to stand on their own two feet. At 80, I'm
living on my own two feet, doing what I
want to do, doing what I can do...I'm still
going strong, and the best is yet to come!"
The other Jubilarians are Sisters Clare and
Florence Tobin, Ruth Long, Lesley Curran,
Agnes Burke and Maureen Metz (60 years)
and Sisters Patricia McCarthy and Patricia
Boland (50 years).
To encounter the Sisters of St Joseph,
Lochinvar please visit www.ssjl.org.au
Recently the Leadership Conference of Women Religious gathered in St Louis
Missouri. Some 90 nuns assembled, and high on the agenda was the first formal
response to a sharp rebuke by the Vatican s Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith. Keynote speaker, Barbara Marx Hubbard, told the Sisters, "You are the best
seed bed I know for evolving the church and the world in the 21st century."
By TRACEY EDSTEIN
(l-r) Sisters Marie, Jeannine and Tess.
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