May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved!
And eternal life is this:
To know you, (Father), the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. …
I have made your name known
to those you gave me. …
I have given them the teaching you gave to me. …
(John 17: 3, 6, 8.)
During the evening of the First Friday of July, with some of the Sisters gathered around her bedside, Sister Mary Lenaghan was finally freed from her earthly sufferings and gently and peacefully entered eternal life, where we pray that she is now in the presence of her Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ His Son, whom she had tried to serve so faithfully from her earliest years.
Mary Bridget Lenaghan was born eighty eight years ago in Tourello, country Victoria, the third of Richard and Josephine’s ten children. Her parents and her siblings, Daniel, John, Richard, Leo and Eamon would, have given their daughter and sister a big welcome as she joined them in their eternal home. To Mary’s surviving sisters, Joan, Margaret, Elizabeth and her brother Thomas, her nieces and nephews and their children, we offer you our deepest sympathy, as you mourn the death of your much loved sister and aunt, who also loved you dearly.
Mary has left us a short autobiography of her early years. She wrote: My father owned a very nice farm which has been in our family since the Eureka (Ballarat) Gold Rush in 1853. We went to a little State School in Tourello, -where there was one teacher and eight classes, and after Grade 8 we went on to the Christian Brothers or the Mercy Sisters in Ballarat. Father was aware that there would not be enough land for such a large family, so he took on the huge burden of educating all of us through boarding schools and university. When that ‘project’ was finished, my parents offered society: four doctors, (all specialists) two nurses, one agricultural scientist, a teacher and a farmer. Mother believed in work. To motivate us she’d say, “Surely you don’t want to grow up useless’! As small children we started by looking after the eggs, chickens and fowls and graduated to the cows and horses and finally to the farm work, potatoes and hay in season. As the boys left to go to university, mother would say, “Apply yourselves to your studies so that you won’t be maiming or crippling anyone’. Mother was Irish and colourful.
The Brothers and the Mercy Sisters helped my father by withholding accounts for school fees until he could sell the wool etc., This was a great help to us and year by year we managed. My parents were certain in their ambitions and they did work hard for that. Father took everything quietly. They were people of faith who expected everything would be right with their big family with God in control.
After completing the Leaving Certificate Mary went on to begin her teacher training at Sacred Heart College Ballarat East. The ‘call’, however, to be a missionary, which had been with Mary from about the age of seven, became stronger and at the age of seventeen, Mary wrote to the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at Kensington, having read about them and their missionary work in the Annals publication.
Just eight days after her eighteenth birthday, Mary entered the Postulate at Bowral and on January 6, 1948 she made her First Vows. For the next ten months, Mary lived at Kensington, where she continued with her teacher training, gaining her registration as a Primary teacher. Mary was sent to Kilburn, South Australia as a relief teacher for the last two months of the school year. Darwin was her first formal appointment. Here, Mary spent one year in primary education, followed by the next three years in secondary education. Between 1953 and 1974 Mary taught in the secondary schools in Enfield, South Australia; Bentleigh, Victoria; Nauru, in the Central Pacific; Darwin; the Juniorate at Leura and then she returned to Bentleigh. While at Bentleigh in 1965, Mary became a student again and gained her matriculation certificate. Then followed two years at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, studying Politics and a further seven years at Melbourne University studying, part-time and full-time to gain a Batchelor of Arts degree in 1974.
After waiting for over twenty six years as a Professed Religious, to be appointed as a missionary Mary’s ardent desire, since her childhood days was realized, and she was appointed to Papua New Guinea, where she was a lecturer at the Kabaleo Teachers’ College. For the next five years, Mary used her own gifts as an enthusiastic and dedicated teacher, to try and instil in the indigenous trainees, a love for teaching and the readiness to accept the challenges and responsibilities involved in providing a quality ‘all-round education’ to the vulnerable young people who would be entrusted to their care as educators. Mary’s enthusiasm in her own teaching vocation would have been infectious, as she provided the methodology and skills to these trainee teachers, awakening in them the desire to go back to their villages and to use their new found knowledge and skills to form the young minds, as they were exposed to the excitement of discovering new horizons through study, investigation and experimentation.
In 1980, Mary was appointed as Deputy Principal to the Blessed Peter To Rot Catechetical Training Centre, at Vunapope. Over the next thirteen years, Mary pioneered the training of catechists for: rural parishes in New Britain, where there may or may not be a resident priest. The Catechists also were required to teach in government schools and teach the people who worked on the plantations. Those enrolled in this course had to be sponsored by the Bishop, live away from home for a year at a time and ‘live in’ at the Catechist Centre. One Sister who knew Mary at this time has written: Mary seemed to cope almost single-handedly with all that was entailed, from seeing to accommodation providing food, meals, dealing with health and cultural issues and fights, while running the Courses. Catechist candidates could have any level of education, from Years 4 up to perhaps year 8; years 9 and 10 were very rare. Sr Mary was brilliant – not in a ‘detached, ‘academic’ way, but in the way that she could present topics in understandable terms for her students.
Another Sister has written: When Mary entered she was given the name’ Andrew’, somehow I think that this was prophetic, for like Andrew the Apostle who brought Peter to Jesus, Mary was inwardly ‘driven’ to bring the Good News of Jesus and his revelation of God’s love to as many as possible, and she did this through the call to the apostolate of teaching. …Mary also understood the importance of training the wives of the Catechists and she was instrumental in creating programmes for them over the two year course, which allowed them not only to understand better the vocation of their husbands but to be excellent co-helpers and have a special role in regard to other women.
Mary helped to promote devotion to Blessed Peter To Rot, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday. He was the first PNG citizen to be beatified. He had been a catechist and was killed by the Japanese during World War 11. As there was no image of Peter To Rot, Mary commissioned Paul Fitzgerald to paint a portrait of him. When the people saw the painting they exclaimed ‘that’s him’, to the delight of Mary and the artist.
Mary also had a special gift for being able to speak in Pidgin, fluently, using the correct intonations and vocabulary, as did the local people. Among her other gifts and skills was the ability to produce, in her spare time, a number of text books for teachers and catechists and workbooks for the students, which were used nationally. Another of her publications Life Forever was very popular, with over two thousand teachers’ and fifteen thousand students’ books being printed This series was also translated into Indonesian, Samoan and Pidgin. Between 1994 and 1996 Mary lived in Goroka where she worked for the PNG Religious Education Commission as she continued to prepare more religious education materials to be used in the schools throughout the country. Mary had a great compassionate heart, especially for the poor. She noticed the children roaming around the plantations, so she started a school – that is: she found the land, arranged for the buildings to be constructed and found the teachers. The people called her “Sister-one-gear’ because they said she always drove around in second gear! Even though she spoke her mind and did not put up with any nonsense, she was greatly loved.
In 1996 Mary asked to return to Australia, for health reasons. She continued her pastoral work amongst the elderly and the lonely, the ‘shut-ins’ and the sick in the communities of Elmore in Victoria and Tara in Queensland. Mary was known and loved for her dry humour and her ‘no fuss’ approach to life. It was this approach to life that she brought to her years at St Josephs, where in spite of being plagued with ill-health and times near to death, she would ‘bounce’ back, even though it was evident that she was becoming increasingly weaker, until that time came last Friday, when she heard the Lord say ‘Come to me’ (Mtt 11, 28) and Mary could rightly say: I have glorified you on earth and finished the work you gave me to do. (John 17, 4) Mary, may you now rest in peace in the arms of your loving God, whom you have served so faithfully.
Sr Elizabeth Little FDNSC, Kensington, July 8, 2016 `