Sr Gabriel Forster sm

Gabriel ForsterSr Gabriel Forster sm was born into eternal life on Friday 1st July 2016. At her funeral held on Thursday 7th July Sr Carmel Murray delivered the following eulogy.

On the 23rd July, this year, we will be celebrating the 200th Anniversary of “The Promise of Fourvière”, made by twelve young French seminarians who dreamed of a new society in the Church, The Society of Mary.  It seems so fitting that today, in this Fourvière month, we are gathered to farewell one of our own, Sr. Gabriel Forster, baptized Mary, a sister who entered Marist Life back in 1942 and lived seventy four years following her dream to follow Christ in Mary’s way.

Sr Gabriel, affectionately known as “Gabe”, was born in 1923 to Eileen and Joseph Forster in Bendigo, Victoria.  She was the only girl in the family, having four brothers, all now deceased.  Her family must have been a faith-filled one for from it came one priest, a Marist brother, a Marist sister and a married man whose wife, Connie, and daughter, Michelle, are here in spirit with us today.  Gabriel always had a deep love for her family and was always keen to have news of them as they lived so far from her.  In her later years, she loved to pour over photos of the family, especially Michelle and her two children and to tell us of their exploits.  Connie’s sister, Betty, was another cherished friend of Gabriel’s.

At age 19, Mary decided to enter the Marist Sisters.  To do so, she had to leave Victoria and journey to Sydney, New South Wales, where she was received into the Novitiate at Mittagong, a country town south west of Sydney.  Here the Sisters from Woolwich had moved the Woolwich School and Novitiate for safety as the War in the Pacific was getting closer.   Life in Mittagong was far from easy, but Gabriel’s desire to be a Marist was strong and in 1943 she was professed as a Marist Sister, the first Victorian to do so.

After Profession, Gabriel began her ministry in Education, first teaching at Mittagong and then moving to Karori, New Zealand.  She was to spend about five years in New Zealand as a teacher.  Later she received Teachers’ Training in Sydney and taught in both primary and secondary schools until the early seventies.  During those teaching years, she spent time in Fiji and there became a local superior and also bursar.  Australia was to see her again in the sixties and she was delighted to spend some years in her native Victoria at Burwood.

A big change came for Gabriel in 1973, when she was accepted into the Geriatric Nursing Training Programme at Lidcombe.  There she excelled in her studies and moved into training for General Nursing at Sydney Hospital.  Gabriel was highly intelligent and won the State Medal for Nursing. She truly loved nursing and having an enquiring mind, she delved into all aspects of it.  Her knowledge of nursing procedures was secondary to none and maybe this accounted for her rather meticulous demands when, in later years, she herself needed nursing care.  When the Gilroy Village at Merrylands built a Nursing Home, Gabriel became the first Matron.  Later she became a volunteer for the New South Wales Council for the Ageing and also cared for our own sisters in Marian House.  When health issues prevented her from active nursing, she engaged in pastoral work, volunteering at Westmead Hospital and at the St. Vincent De Paul Society at Lewisham.

Innovation was part of Gabriel’s make-up, and she was always seeking new ways to handle situations, whether it be teaching, nursing, pastoral work or living skills.  This desire to be one step ahead, often led her into some unusual manoeuvres.  Many of us who lived with Gabe at Merrylands, remember her love of driving the car and her delight in shopping, especially during the ‘Sales’.  One unforgettable day, Gabriel set out for Parramatta to buy a pair of sandals.  She left at 9 a.m. and should have returned within an hour or so.  Not our Gabriel.  Not finding what she wanted, off she drove to Warringah Mall, Brookvale, then to the City, then south west to Miranda Mall before finally arriving home about 6 p.m., still seeking that ‘elusive sale’.

A favourite haunt of Gabriel’s was ‘Spotlight’, a haberdashery/craft shop.  She was gifted artistically, in drawing, painting (oils and water colour) and in craft and sold much of her work to help Marist Missions. Always on the lookout for something different, she accumulated boxes and boxes of ribbons, cottons, laces, cushion fillings, paints, brushes and art and craft books.   Needless to say, if we could, we would try to hide the ‘Spotlight Sales’ advertisements from Gabriel’s prying eyes.  However, Gabriel was up to our tricks, and when, every week, she was taken for an outing by her carer at Marian House, she used to go on ‘Mystery Trips’, and would only tell the carer the location after they had left the house.

100_1377In the early 2000’s, the cross became very much a permanent feature of Gabriel’s life.  Her eyesight was rapidly deteriorating, as was her hearing and blood circulation in her legs.  She finally had to have one leg amputated and so for the next sixteen or more years, this very active sister was called to a ministry of suffering and continual frustration.  Possessing a strong, indomitable spirit, she determined to still participate as much as she could.   The telephone became her life-line and in spite of her deafness, she conversed easily.   Card- making became a favourite hobby in which she involved many of her friends and carers (not always an easy task for them), especially as her sight was failing. Communicating via her cards became a priority and Christmas and birthdays saw her diligently cutting out, pasting and printing her cards.  Always family, sisters and friends had to receive ones made specially for them.

Gardening and listening to the radio were always high on Gabriel’s list of activities.  She developed quite expert knowledge of the garden and often rang Gardening programmes on the radio for advice (as she often did, too, about health issues).  At Marian House, from her wheelchair, she would guide our gardener as to the layout of the garden and remind him when it was time to prune or mulch.  Nothing deterred her and often we would see her holding onto the terraced-garden handrail, taking herself down very dangerous, steep steps to water a plant or do some weeding.

Visits from sisters and friends became very important to Gabriel.  I must mention here how much she valued her friends, Fr. Bernard Maxwell, O.P.,  Br. Frank Richardson, fms., Peter(RIP) and Rita Duggan, whom she met through her Marist brother, Br. Sevard, Robyn Smith, from her time in Mt. Wilga Rehabilitation  and the many carers and volunteers from Marian House days who were so attentive to her even after she left there.

When it came time for Gabriel to go into residential care at St. Joseph Aged Care, a real struggle raged within; she who was so independent now had to allow others to direct her.  Jesus’s words to St. Peter at the end of St. John’s Gospel became very real to her:

“I tell you most solemnly, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go.  (Jn:  21:18).

 This was a real learning curve for Gabriel, but very gradually the Lord’s peace entered her heart and in her last months, all was well.  She valued so much any spiritual nourishment she could get, and loved to listen to tapes about the Scriptures or Marist Living. Rosary beads were a life-line for her and many was the time a hunt was on to find a lost pair.   When her condition worsened and she moved to St. Anne’s Nursing Home, she was unable to use her radio or tapes and the suffering she endured, not being able to see, hear or walk, was intense.

The Lord came suddenly for her last Friday, 1st July.  Fr. Ron Nissen, s.m. anointed her that afternoon. She was still able to express her gratitude to him.  Sr. Julie tells us that the last words Gabriel said to her were, “Thank you”.   I’m sure that these words of gratitude were also meant for Chris Mackenzie, our Care Coordinator, Sr Maureen, her special carer and all those who cared for her at Marian House, St Joseph’s and St. Anne’s. A special thank you to Anne Romanous who always took that extra mile for Gabriel.

Now all her sufferings are over.  She no longer has to worry about not being able to see, hear or walk.  Now she is seeing the face of her loving Father, the God she wished to serve from her first steps into Marist Life all those 74 years ago.  May Mary, our Good Mother, accompany her now into the wonders of the Father’s all-embracing life and love.

Good-bye, dear Gabriel.  May that beautiful smile of yours that lit up your face so radiantly here on earth, now be beaming continuously as all those things hidden from you here on earth are now revealed.

Walking for Justice for Refugees

2016-03-20 13.37.26On Palm Sunday thousands of people across Australia joined in rallies marching to demand justice for refugees. Marist Sister Judith Lythall took part in the Sydney rally which was attended by over 3,500 people.

The 2016 rallies sent a strong message requesting that asylum seekers not be sent back to Nauru, and that the student Mogjan now held in detention in Darwin be released back to her school and husband in Brisbane. There were many calls for the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru to be closed.

Speaking About Modern Day Slavery

DSC00590The Australian Freedom Network was launched in Canberra on 2nd December. Seventeen faith leaders signed a declaration committing their faith communities to work for the elimination of modern day slavery.  The declaration was the same one signed by Pope Francis and other faith leaders in the Vatican in December 2014.  Present at the launch representing ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) was Marist Sister Noelene Simmons.

Following on from this event, John Cleary, host of Sunday Nights, ABC Local Radio’s weekly national program that opens up conversations on important issues concerning religion, spirituality, ethics and values, invited four guests to speak on modern day slavery. ABC Sunday Nights2Noelene was one of the guests along with Jenny Stanger (Salvation Army), Sheikh Ahmed Abdo (NSW Muslim Police Chaplain) and Fuzz Kitto (Stop the Traffik). Listen to the podcast here.

Sr Rose Shields sm

Rose ShieldsAt the funeral for Sr Rose Shields held on October 26th eulogies were delivered on behalf of Rose’s family by her niece Christine and on behalf of her Marist sisters by Sr Gail Reneker sm. Segments of these eulogies are given below.  For the full text click on the link at the end of each section.

Rose was born on 9 March 1929, the youngest of six children of Catherine (nee Cannon) and Peter Shields.  Peter and Catherine both grew up in Glenfin, Donegal, Ireland. They first met on board ship in 1919 while emigrating here. Their shipboard romance began when Catherine caught influenza and Peter cared for her. They married and settled in Cabarita, not far from Mortlake Gasworks where Peter worked. Their local parish was St Mary’s at Concord. The family held a strong Catholic faith.

During the Depression, Peter lost his job at the Gasworks where he was also active as a union rep. This put pressure on the family, especially during the wartime years.

The oldest 3 siblings, Joe (Tony’s father), Mary (my mother) and Peter all married and had families while the youngest 3 entered: John became a Christian Brother, Rose became a Marist nun and Tess became a Sister of the Good Shepherd. A well-balanced family. Rose is the last sibling.  Many nieces and nephews and grandnieces and nephews survive her. Two sisters-in-law will remember Rose fondly – Terry, who married Peter, and Miriam, Joe’s wife.

Terry told me recently, when Rose was thinking about becoming a nun, she chose the Marists because ‘they wore Our Lady’s blue’.  And, from what Sr Carmel says now, Rose is still today wearing ‘Our Lady’s blue’.

Rose was a very calm person. She would be ready to join in the family fun but also seemed happy to sit quietly with a contented smile on her lips. Read more…

Rose & JoanRose was one of a number of early Marist Sisters whose vocation was fostered by Fr Nolan a popular confessor at St Patrick’s Church Hill.  Having discerned her vocation Rose joined the Marist Sisters in 1950, was received as a novice in July 1950 when she was given the name, Sister Stanislaus, and made her first profession on the 15th July 1951.

Her parish priest’s reference that had accompanied Rose’s application to join the Marist Sisters reads: “Rose is a girl that one admires not only for her piety, but for her generosity and good works.  She has always been a faithful Child of Mary, and an active and effective Theresian, also a member of the Altar Society, and she has done all these works with a quiet and gentle ubotrusiveness”.  This could almost read as a description of our foundress Jeanne Marie Chavoin’s life in Coutouvre before her call and decision to leave home to found the Society of the Blessed Virgin.  Like Jeanne- Marie, having left home and committed herself to God as a Marist, Rose lived her life given to the Congregation and its mission and available to go wherever she was called.

Her ready response to the call of the Congregation took her to communities in Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland as well as to New Zealand.   Rose did her teacher training at the Sisters of St Joseph’s Training College at Mount Street North Sydney and her love for children found expression in the teaching roles she had in St Margaret Mary’s Merrylands, Villa Maria Hunter’s Hill, St Scholastica’s Bennettswood, Star of the Sea Gladstone, St Therese’s Karori, Sacred Heart Herne Bay and St Augustine’s Keilor.  In Burleigh Heads, Mudgeeraba, Auburn, and Blacktown Rose was provided the opportunity to serve in pastoral ministry, particularly to the sick, elderly and housebound.  Within the Congregation itself Rose’s yes to God led to her being called at a relatively young age to the role of Assistant Novice Directress at the novitiate in Merrylands and to participate in the formation of future Marist Sisters.  100_1596Further she accepted the appointment to leadership roles in communities both large and small and in several schools.  She was also elected to serve a number of terms as a Provincial Councillor in Australia and under three different Provincials was appointed to assume the additional role of Assistant Provincial. Read more…

Sr Patricia de Coek sm

Pat de CoekOn 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.

Pat Mar de coekIt 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.”

Magnificat~Final Profession of Sr Lilibeth

LilibethIn this Year of Consecrated Life, Sr Lilibeth Cajes sm made her Perpetual Profession as a Marist Sister in Davao, the Philippines. In a simple and beautiful celebration on July 23, Lilibeth vowed chastity, poverty and obedience for life in the Congregation of Mary. Her vows were received by Sr Grace Ellul sm, Congregational Leader of the Marist Sisters. The Profession Mass took place in Immaculate Conception Parish, Mintal. The main celebrant was Bishop Guillermo Afable, the bishop of Digos, Lilibeth’s hometown.

FP5Almost 200 people attended the celebration. All branches of the Marist Family were present. Lilibeth’s family came all the way from Digos with some of their relatives and friends. The Marist Laity were present in full force even though it was a work day.

A large number of Mintal parishioners attended and expressed their gratefulness at witnessing a Perpetual Profession of a sister for the first time. They spoke of how touched they were by the whole celebration, and especially when all the Marist Sisters present embraced Lilibeth as a sign of peace and welcome to heFP3r. The reception that followed was held in the Parish Hall. Entertainment was provided by the various branches of the Marist Family. Hazel and Terube were joined by the Marist Missionary Sisters to perform a dance from Kiribati while the Marist Fathers’ novices sang a song they had specially composed for Lilibeth. See more photos…

Congratulations Diamond Jubilarian

DSC00478It was with great joy that Marist Sisters in Aotearoa-New Zealand gathered to celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Sr Margaret Therese. During her sixty years as a Marist Sister Margaret Therese has missioned in Aotearoa-New Zealand  and Australia.

The Jubilee Mass, during which Margaret renewed her vows, was celebrated in the convent chapel in Mt Albert with Fr Chris Skinner sm presiding.


Mass was followed by a celebratory meal, some sharing on Margaret’s life as a Marist Sister, the cutting of a jubilee cake and the opening of gifts.

Aotearoa-New Zealand Assembly

DSC00464Marist Sisters in Aotearoa-New Zealand have spent two days assembled in Auckland.  They gathered to reflect on the outcomes of the recent Marist Sisters General Chapter and to begin planning a Design for Life and Mission.

DSC00468This Design will enable the sisters to be Women of the Word Embracing Life as they journey through the coming years. The sisters were grateful to have Br Graham Neist fms as their facilitator over these days.

Graduation Celebration

IMG_4633Congratulations to Marist Sister Celina Gavia. After much hard work Celina has now graduated with a Certificate IV in Community Service Work from New South Wales Technical and Further Education Commission Australia.  Celina is now putting her skills into practice through her ministry with refugees and the homeless.

Being Marist in the Year of Consecrated Life

During the Year of Consecrated Life Pope Francis has invited Religious to Wake up the World.  How do we do that as a Marist sister? One way we hope to do this is by the relationships we have with others, especially those to whom we minister. Sr Celina Gavia explains that for her one aspect of being Marist is extending hospitality to those who are in need. Hear what she has to say by clicking here.