May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved!
All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ captured me. (Phil .3: 10-13)
These words were chosen by Sr Sheila to be included in her funeral liturgy: during her long life they offered inspiration.
Sheila Marian Larkin was the sixth of the eight children of Percy Edmund and Esther Bertha Larkin. Her six brothers and her sister have predeceased her. Sheila was born in Hurstville on 7th February, 1923, and baptised by Fr Michael Farrell in St Declan’s Church, Penshurst, on 25th September, 1923. She grew up in Como, a very beautiful location, like its namesake in Italy. Her father was a teacher and he and her mother, who were both devout Catholics, gave their children their religious instruction and prepared them for the sacraments. Sheila received the sacrament of Confirmation on 28th June, 1934, in St Aloysius’ Church, Cronulla. As with most families of that time, home life at the Larkin’s was simple as it was the years of the Depression. For the most part, the children were unaware of this; however, it was not always easy for Percy and Esther.
Sheila attended the small local public school and at the completion of her primary education was delighted to gain entrance to St George Girls’ High School, Kogarah, on the results of her Primary Final Examination. In both schools she was very happy and many of us can recall her singing the St George School Song with great pride and gusto. Sheila was always grateful for the years spent at St George Girls’ High School where academic excellence was esteemed: it was here that her life-time love of language and the classics began.
After obtaining the Intermediate Certificate Sheila transferred to St Mary’s Cathedral Commercial College. Its proximity to the Cathedral afforded many spiritual advantages and gave it a special character which Sheila valued. It was here that she had her first contact with religious sisters, the Sisters of Charity. She always spoke fondly of the Sisters of Charity not only for the fine education they provided but because she strongly admired the reason they came to Australia: the care of women prisoners who had come on the First Fleet and subsequently.
On leaving school Sheila gained employment as a stenographer and book-keeping machine operator. Within months, in 1939, World War II broke out. Sheila recalled that her brothers, relatives and friends were in the armed forces and there was a great feeling of uncertainty about life: ordinary life seemed to be suspended.
A short time before peace was declared, on 31st May 1945, Sheila, attracted by the missionary orientation of the Congregation, entered the Novitiate of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at Bowral. She was professed on 6th January, 1947, and then began her long and fruitful life of study and teaching. This lasted, with some significant changes, until 1992. Vatican Council II’s Declaration on Christian Education states: “Splendid and of the highest importance is the vocation of those who undertake a teaching career. This vocation requires special qualities of mind and heart, most careful preparation and a constant readiness to accept new ideas and to adapt the old” (par. 5). Sheila was a passionate exemplar of this wherever she taught and whatever the subject matter. Her range of expertise was wide indeed. She taught English, Mathematics, French, Latin, Physics, Chemistry, Shorthand and Typing across the secondary school and at the highest level. Over the years she taught at Kensington, Bentleigh, Corinda, Enfield, Darwin and Bowral. For a brief time her missionary desires were fulfilled and she was appointed to Kiribati. While quite young, she served as Principal at both Enfield and Darwin. At Enfield she was asked to commence the secondary college. It began with the Year 7 primary class at one end of the room and the Year 8 secondary class at the other! For Sheila there was more to education than academic knowledge. Life lessons were important and students have written in appreciation of the well-rounded education they received from her.
The “significant changes” referred to above were the years Sheila spent studying English, French and Latin at the Flinders University, South Australia, from 1970 to 1973. She relished this opportunity and gained excellent results. She then went to France to improve her French language skills, initially in 1975 and then again during 1979 and 1980. Sheila found France and her short time in England like “a home coming,” as so much was familiar to her through previous study of history, culture and literature. On her return to Australia, in addition to teaching, Sheila translated important documents relating to the Congregation’s history from French into English and so made them more widely accessible to the Sisters. She was meticulous in her attention to detail and produced what can only be called perfect translations. Among these documents were Father Jules Chevalier’s writings on Our Lady of the Sacred Heart – a real treasure.
Sheila’s love of the French language and of European culture and literature never displaced her pride in Australian heritage. Her great grandparents (Larkin) were pioneer residents of Camperdown in Sydney; her great-uncle was the first Mayor of Camperdown and one of the first directors of Paddy’s Market. She kept the Australian flag and coat of arms in a place of honour in her room and was very interested in politics as she said politics was seen as a Christian virtue in her family. As Marian was her middle name she wanted to honour Our Lady in a special way and chose as her feast day that of Our Lady Help of Christians, the Patroness of Australia.
Sr Sheila loved life and was an interested and interesting conversationalist across a wide range of subjects. She was a great story-teller and often kept the community entertained. She wrote, “Nothing can take away the joy of being alive and open to the world and its wonders”. This was a wonderful attitude to have in her next field of ministry in the Parish of St Therese, Mascot, from 1992 until 2011. In Mascot she did housework and shopping and looked after the house accounts, visited people in need in the parish and attended parish and school events. Her final task at Mascot was the sad one of packing up to leave the parish after one hundred years of service of the people.
Sheila then joined the Maristella community here at Kensington. She was often answering the phone and doorbell and her smile and cheerful words were much appreciated by all whom she met. She also enjoyed sitting in her room with her books and memorabilia: Keats’ poems, significant English quotations, French novels and her current religious readings.
Sheila lived a long and full life and her last illness came rather unexpectedly. She was briefly hospitalised and then returned to our Aged Care Facility, St Joseph’s, where she died a week ago yesterday while engaged in conversation with the nurse attending her.
We praise God for his many gifts to Sister Sheila.
We thank God and the Larkin family for their gift of her to our religious family.
We honour you, Sheila, and thank you, and we give you back to God,
grateful and privileged that you have been our Sister and our friend.
May your soul rest in peace.
Teresa (Tess) Ward FDNSC
with Helen Simpson FDNSC
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Chapel
13 June 2017