On the 8th September 2015 our Sr Patricia de Coek was called home to Paradise. It was Our Lady’s Birthday and such an appropriate day for a marist sister to die. Pat would have been 92 years old this coming 5th October, seventy of those she lived as a Marist Sister, a Woman of the Word as our recent General Chapter called us to be. Since her death, we Marists have been sharing many stories and memories of Pat and during this Eulogy I hope to incorporate some of these.
Patricia Mary de Coek was born in Hamilton, New Zealand, on 5th October, 1923 to Rene Aubrey de Coek and Elfreda Rose Shanaghan – an interesting union from French and Irish backgrounds. Pat was the second of four girls in the family – Joan, Cecile and Nanette, all deceased. In 1927, during the Depression, Aubrey moved his family to Sydney, where they settled in Cremorne and belonged to the Sacred Heart Parish, Mosman.
Pat’s childhood was a happy, carefree one, where she experienced much love and joy and this was to influence her outlook on life, as she viewed life with a sense of delight, incredulity, awe and wonder. Although far from her many cousins in New Zealand, the family kept in close contact and it was Jacqui Driscoll, one of those cousins, who arrived on Monday night in time to say good-bye to Patty, as the family affectionately called her. Pat was always so interested in her New Zealand clan and found much happiness when Jacqui and Betty Mortimer were able to attend her 90th Birthday Party and also Nigel, a young cousin, who brought his whole family over for the celebration. Other cousins, especially Maurice Hall and Audrey (now deceased) kept in contact by phone and so Pat felt so much loved, supported and cherished.
In Sacred Heart Parish, Mosman, Pat met her life-long friend, Norma Wood, who was also to become a Marist Sister. The two of them belonged to the Parish Youth Group and were involved in the Liturgy, Children of Mary Sodality and Choir. The Youth Group also provided them with many social activities, such as, outings, walks, picnics, rowing on the Lane Cove River. Belonging to The Legion of Mary became part of these two friends’ lives, and Pat used to say that it was here that she developed a life-long love of and relationship with Mary, Our Mother. She also acquired a sense of the missionary aspect of being Catholic and the responsibility that was hers to spread the Good News. Visitation of homes with Norma was part of their Legion ministry and Pat found it was a rewarding, fun-filled time. This prepared her for her later ministry as a Parish Pastoral Associate.
Soon Pat began to feel a niggling call to give herself to God in Religious Life. She was sent by a priest from St. Patrick’s Church Hill, to the Marists at Woolwich, and as soon as she met the sisters, she knew that she had found the right Congregation for her. Consequently in 1945, Pat became one of the first marist novices at the new, very poor novitiate in Merrylands. That the Marist Congregation was French was also significant for Pat, with her French heritage. The Novitiate was a challenging time for her but a grace-filled one, and she always looked back on those days as very happy.
After Profession Pat was sent to the Marist Sisters College at Woolwich to teach Mathematics and French. Soon she was to be sent to France to imbibe more of the Marist Spirit and to prepare for formation work. After that, it was back to Woolwich for a few years teaching and then in 1958 she was appointed to Merrylands as Superior of the Community there. In those days, the community numbered almost forty and being leader must have been very demanding for Pat.
From 1960 to 1965 Pat was Mistress of Novices at Merrylands. Some of her former novices are here with us today and others have written beautiful tributes to their former spiritual guide. Some spoke of her womanliness and her desire to help them become true marist sisters. One sister remembers Pat as unobtrusively always carrying a tiny statue of Mary in her hand. She also recalled Pat’s surprising tennis prowess and how she could put great spin on her shots.
During the sixties Pat developed a great love of the Scriptures and one sister recalls a talk Pat gave on St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and how that stimulated a deep love in her life for that part of Scripture. As Pat’s love of Scripture grew, so did her collection of Bibles. She must have had a copy of every possible translation. The pages of her Bibles are marked with highlighters of many hues as Pat diligently underlined chosen passages and loved to compare one translation with the other.
In 1966 Pat was elected General Councillor in the Congregation and spent the next eight years in Rome, contributing much as General Secretary to the life of the Congregation in those heady days following Vatican II, with all the changes that religious life underwent. It was in Rome that Pat revealed she received a call to live her Marist Vocation at a deeper level. While making an Easter Retreat, she came to know the Holy Spirit in a new, vibrant way. She wrote once when speaking of her vocation: “The Holy Spirit burst into my spirit and released my heart into a song of praise. I became radiant with joy, noticeable even to my companions”. This joy was to stay with Pat for the rest of her life. Her sole desire was to let people know of the joy of living in the Spirit and how all-embracing that could be. This, of course, was always in the context of her Marist Vocation and her love of Mary who became more and more alive to Pat through the Scriptures.
Pat’s Marist calling was to take her to many places and ministries. One of her favourite ones was as Pastoral Associate in the parishes of Burwood and Torquay in Melbourne where she led Scripture and Prayer groups and participated fully in the life of the parish. Even when she was semi-retired in Haberfield, she still reached out to people from all walks of life and loved to share the Scriptures.
On a different level, Pat was an avid cross-word fan, even cryptic ones, and her dictionaries almost outnumbered her Bibles, not to mention her library of Joshua books which she read over and over. Another hobby was knitting and she produced jumper after jumper, as well as scarves and, in later years, brightly coloured vests. The Lane Cove River was a magnet for Pat when she lived in Marian House. She seemed to know every craft that appeared on the river and what time the different launches and cruise boats would arrive. A sea plane landing and taking off was just heaven.
The cross loomed large for Pat when she became ill a few years ago and she had to move to residential care, firstly in Ashburn House, Gladesville and then St. Anne’s, Hunters Hill. Finding strength in the Holy Spirit, Pat accepted this change and entered fully into her new life where she said she was so busy she didn’t have time to read her favourite books. Attending Mass at St Anne’s was her deepest joy, followed by bus outings which often took her to her old haunts around Mosman. I would like to mention here the happiness Pat got from telephone calls from Jacqui in New Zealand keeping her abreast of her family there and also the visits from her Mosman friends, Helen Stirling and Denise Playoust and her husband, Peter, and of course, her marist lay friend of many years, Rona Agnew.
It is fitting that Pat, this faithful Woman of the Word, whose sole desire in life was to live her Marist life in love and joy, should return to her loving Father in this year of Consecrated Life.
Pat, as you move into Paradise, may you be singing with joy that early marist hymn:
“J’irai la voir un jour
Au ciel, au ciel, au ciel.”