May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved!
And Mary said:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
And my spirit exults in God my saviour;
Because he has looked upon his lowly handmaiden.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
For the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name, … Luke 1: 46-49
As darkness quietly settled over our land on the feast of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, Sr Marie Jean’s long life slowly ebbed and she gently went to meet her loving God. With Mary she too could proclaim, my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord … he has looked upon his lowly handmaiden, … the Almighty has done great things for me. … For Marie Jean, using God’s gifts to her, has helped to spread the love of Jesus to countless souls, throughout her years as a missionary, a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
Marie Jean’s long life began over ninety seven years ago when she was born in Ascot Vale, a suburb of Melbourne, the eldest child and only daughter of William and Myrtle’s seven children. Her parents and her brothers, John, William, Francis, and Peter, no doubt, would be waiting to welcome their only daughter and sister to her heavenly home. To her surviving brothers, Patrick and Nicholas, her nieces nephews and their families, we extend our deepest sympathy and the assurance of the support of our prayers as you mourn the death of your much loved sister and aunt.
Growing up in the Ascot Vale area, Marie Jean attended the local Catholic Primary School, and St Aloysius College, North Melbourne, conducted by the Sisters of Mercy. She obtained her Intermediate certificate, completed Year 10 and also undertook commercial studies. Between 1942 and 1945 Marie Jean undertook General Nursing Studies at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, and graduated as a State Registered Nurse.
Of these years Marie Jean writes: I was the only girl with six brothers. Our neighbours, who were great friends of my family, had one boy and six girls, so we all played together. I enjoyed the girls’ company. They kept me feminine. I played a lot of sport – tennis and basketball- as well as bush walking, swimming and horse riding. We had a riding school. Dad was good with horses. I enjoyed a normal good time; plenty of social life – dancing and dating -, but always my faith was strong, especially to Our Lady. I was very close to my mother and we would always make the novena of Masses for the first Friday.
I joined the Legion of Mary and that was a quick journey of faith to my vocation. I loved the missions. The Mercy nuns always had collections for the missions and we would have concerts and raffles in our garage and our neighbours would make cakes and scones etc., and we would raffle them. We children would do the entertaining.
The desire to go to the missions was always with Marie Jean. In May 1951 she entered the Pre Novitiate at Hartzer Park, being given the name in religion, of Sr M. Josephus, the name she kept until 1986 when she returned to her baptismal name. In January 1953 at the completion of her Novitiate, Marie Jean pronounced her First Vows and moved to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Hospital at Randwick.
It was not long before Marie Jean’s dream to go to the missions was realized and she was asked to go to Papua New Guinea. For the next two and a half years she carried out her nursing ministry at Vunapope and Volavolo, before returning to Australia where she spent the next two years at Calvary Hospital Adelaide studying midwifery.
After successfully completing this course, Marie Jean returned to PNG, where, for the next twenty years, she continued her nursing ministry on the mission stations of: Kilenge, Kaliai, Uvol and Turuk. In 1978, she again returned to Australia, this time to study for the Infant Welfare certificate at the Tweedle Infant Welfare Home in Melbourne.
Upon returning to PNG, Marie Jean continued using her nursing skills in the mission areas of Paparatava, Kilenge and Napapar. There were no radios, no modern hospitals, no doctors, no sophisticated medical equipment and no transport. Sister had to make the diagnosis and administer whatever treatment she could in very primitive conditions, knowing that there was no ‘back-up. For over forty years Marie Jean cared for the health and well-being of the babies, the young and the old, travelling on foot over rough terrain, as she visited the remote out-station posts. In 1986 Marie Jean took on the role of a pastoral worker ministering in the Ononge, Morata, Goroka and Alotau areas, where she continued to care for those in need.
Of these years she wrote: Living in isolation on outstations was for me a purifying experience. I learned to pray and trust in God. As a nurse, having to make decisions was often difficult and worrying. The simple life of the people touched me. They had so little but were very happy and enjoyed life. I was a member of the foundation group of OLSH Sisters who went to the Uvol mission in 1961. This was on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Mary always played an important role in my life. I was to spend a total of ten years on this mission station.
In 1995 Marie Jean returned to the Australian Province. Here she spent the next thirteen years in the communities of Kensington and Botany in NSW, Queenstown, Tasmania and Bentleigh Victoria, where her figure was a very welcomed sight as she ministered to the people in their homes. Her gentle presence, her interest in the people and their families, touched so many. Her visits were eagerly anticipated, especially by the lonely and the ‘shut- ins’.
In 2007 Marie Jean joined the St Joseph’s Community, where for the next nine years she continued to be a smiling, gentle presence to all around her, never demanding, but always concerned for others. Her advanced age and declining health meant that her physical presence was reduced to spending time in the community room and eventually to quietly ‘being’ in her bed. It was so fitting, that on the Feast of Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth, Marie Jean left this earthly life to join her heavenly Mother, whom she loved so faithfully.
Marie Jean may you now rest in peace with your loving Creator God.
Sr Elizabeth Little fdnsc