Sr Antonia Avey sm was called to eternal life on Saturday 29th April 2017.
Eternal Rest grant to her, OLord.
May perpetual Light Shine upon her.
May she rest in Peace.
We extend our prayerful sympathy to the Marist Sisters in New Zealand and to Sr Antonia’s family. At Antonia’s funeral Sr Francine delivered the following eulogy.
“When I heard last Saturday morning that Antonia had gone to her real home, these lines (with a slight gender change) came to mind – lines from the poem ‘Requiem’ by Robert Louis Stephenson:
Here she lies where she longed to be:
Home is the sailor, home from sea
And the hunter home from the hill
Antonia had a great desire and longing to be with God which in the latter years of her life she expressed often. I will talk about this later.
In “Sr Antonia’s Story” where she writes about her life, and in special detail her 23 years as a missionary in Fiji, she speaks of a happy and united family life with an open door to anyone who cared to call. This characterised Toni’s attitude towards anyone who called at our door during the 10 years I lived with her in Linden and Tawa. It was in her family that her vocation was fostered. She would often accompany her Dad to daily Mass. She said his deep love of the sacramental presence of the Lord rubbed off on her.
Antonia did her primary schooling in Taihape and the convent school in Frankton with the Sisters of the Mission continuing at Sacred Heart in Hamilton. Her final year was spent as a boarder in Mt Albert with the intention of getting to know the sisters before travelling to Sydney. She thoroughly enjoyed that year but admits to ‘not studying terribly hard’ and she writes “At the back of my mind I thought that if I didn’t study too well they might not want to have me in the convent. What generosity! However I was gradually coming round to the truth that Jesus was calling me and I would answer the call.”
This she did in 1940 on the S.S.Mariposa with Sr Margarita at the tender age of 17 years. They both got very sick on the boat and she tells the story of them and I quote, ‘feeling so seedy the second night we couldn’t face going down to our cabin. We staggered down to get a couple of cabin blankets, came back to the deck, made ourselves as comfortable as we could on deck chairs, draped ourselves in the cabin blankets and there we stayed. A couple of times someone came along the deck saying, “Would those with cabin blankets on the deck please return them to the cabins.” Neither of us moved. We thought that if they wanted them back in the cabin they could take them themselves. We weren’t going down again. We awoke next morning to the sound of swishing water with sailors washing the deck.”
The novitiate at that time was in Woolwich, a beautiful spot which overlooked the Lane Cove River in Sydney. Her time there was short-lived as a submarine was spotted in Sydney Harbour and the Woolwich community, the Novitiate and boarding school of 50-60 boarders had to move to Mittagong, a safer place in the country. The hardships during this time were a very good preparation for her time as a missionary in Fiji. This move fulfilled her greatest desire which was to be a missionary.
She travelled to Fiji and spent the next 23 years there as a primary school teacher in different schools. 13 years were spent on a remote island in the Yasawas which was the highlight of her time in Fiji. Travelling on the village boats to reach the island took 8 hours and Antonia was very fearful to begin with but after a couple of trips with the Fijian crews, she lost all her fear because of their prowess at handling the boats. She had many stories to tell of her time there.
Antonia returned to NZ in 1967 where she taught at Mt Albert. She completed her teacher training at Loreto Hall and then taught at both Mt Albert and Herne Bay with several years in Melbourne. Subsequent years were spent in remedial teaching and pastoral work in 7 different parishes throughout the North Island. Her work in Linden, Tawa was mostly with refugees who benefited greatly by Antonia’s teaching skills. One of them who came from Cambodia, wanted to set up a hairdressing business and Antonia spent a lot of time taking him around and showing him what that would entail. He changed his mind but did manage to set up a hairdressing business in his garage later. A young Somali girl was another of Antonia’s pupils and she took infinite pains with her. She came to live in a bedsit opposite our house in Linden where she received a lot of mentoring and instruction. Another Chinese gentleman with his wife went to see her several times at Marian Rest Home as it was called then when she moved North and they still ask after her 10 years later.
In 2007 Antonia moved from Tawa to MacKillop Care and we were told what a wonderful difference she made there, greeting newcomers and visitors with a cheerful smile and a kind word as well as making a great contribution to the life of the residents with her astuteness, sense of humour and prowess at rummykub in the early days and scrabble later. Prue, the Manager, said she was one of life’s special ladies, everyone loved her and she was a joy to have every day. She would walk around humming and singing, often telling someone how nice she looked and that if the admired item of clothing was left around, she’d take it and put in her wardrobe. Gemma recounts that in probably the last game of scrabble she ever played, she beat her by getting TWO words of 7 letters thus receiving two bonuses! This is spite of being in a lot of pain! Prior to her illness, she was a dab hand at cryptic crosswords, crochet and knitting.
Antonia has lived in 15 convents in Fiji, Australia and New Zealand touching the lives of countless numbers of people and many, many children. She was a woman of deep faith, prayer and compassion, totally committed to living out her vocation as a Marist Sister. It was a great hardship for her to live out of her own community in the last 10 years but she did so in a spirit of acceptance and courage. I have already mentioned that Antonia often expressed a longing for Heaven and in St Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians he wrote “We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.” This longing for Heaven, this homesickness for heaven is something Antonia bore within herself daily. She remembered that Jesus said “There are many rooms in my Father’s house, if there were not I should have told you I am going now to prepare a place for you and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me so that where I am you may be too. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
On April 29th in the 74th year of her Marist life, God called Antonia home.